kenya coast logo dhow

Dhows and Traditional Boats

Dhows and Traditional Boats

There are a variety of traditional boats found throughout the Swahili Coast, mainly used for fishing and transport.



The iconic triangular lateen sail of dhows along the coast is a wonderful sight, one that has changed little over the last 2,000 years. Traditional boats are intrinsically linked with the Swahili culture and the people who live here.



The four most well known kinds of traditional seacraft along the Swahili are coast can be split into two categories:
The first two kinds being dugout canoes, with the hull carved from a single piece of wood from a large tree trunk.

• Mtumbwi, a simple dugout found in sheltered coastal waters;
• The Ngalawa an unmistakable sailing outrigger canoe plying lagoons, creeks and near shore waters;
The second two kinds being traditional 'dhows' with a pointed bow and square stern - built from planks of wood being nailed and bound together by various methods. This design of vessel has its origins in Oman, and due to the seaworthiness of the vessel, availability of materials, the ease of maintenance, and the efficiency of the lateen sail, construction and use of these boats has spread throughout the Indian Ocean.
 
• Mashua a general name given to a variety of larger, ‘plank’ built traditional dhow with a square stern, often used for cargo transport, and fishing in the open waters;
• Jahazi - the grand dhow of the Indian Ocean, weighing as much as 30 tons and capabable of crossing thousands of miles of open ocean.
 
One theory on the origin of the design is said to come from the skeleton of a whale. With the backbone as the keel and the ribs forming the skeletal structure on which the wooden planking of the hull is fixed. With the frame of the hull complete, boat-builders fix more planks to form the decking. Remaining parts include long poles for the mast, and the spar (the long wooden pole - or poles) that the sail is tied to; and of course the rudder and rigging.

Other influences on the design of these boats and dhows come from seafring nations further afield. The outriggers of the Ngalawa possibly inspired by similar design in Indonesia and Polynesia. The square stern of the dhows not dissimilar to the Portugese galleons that bought explorers such as Vasco da Gama to the Swahili Coast in the 16th century.

Watamu Dhow Race

on Saturday, 28 December 2013. Posted in North Coast, Watamu, Events, Dhows and Traditional Boats, Community

Monday 30th December 2013

Watamu Dhow Race

The annual Watamu Christmas Dhow Race will start at 3pm in front of Ocean Sports on Monday 30th December.

Jahazi

on Sunday, 04 August 2013. Posted in Dhows and Traditional Boats

Jahazi

An icon of the Swahili Coast, the white triangular sails filled by the monsoon trades are a lovely sight to see, and are a characteristic of all traditional swahili ports such as Lamu, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

Jahazi is a Persian term for a 14th century vessel that was double-ended and sewn together, but is now square-sterned and nailed. Today's Jahazi differs little from early ocean going vessels that traded throughout the Indian Ocean hundreds of years ago.

Mashua

on Monday, 20 May 2013. Posted in Dhows and Traditional Boats

Mashua

'Mashua' refers to a class of Swahili vessels, generally open fishing boats built from planks with a pointed bow and a square / transom stern.

The term mashua, likely derived from similar words for boats in the Indian Ocean, such as Mashwa, machwás, machwa.
'Machwa' originates from India, and is used widely on the Indian coast referring to a variety of vessels. The word can also be traced to Southern Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
The swahili word for a boat is 'Mashua', hence this name of dhow does refer to a broad range of vessels.

Ngalawa

on Sunday, 27 May 2012. Posted in Dhows and Traditional Boats, Fishing

Ngalawa

One of the most common boats seen on The Swahili Coast, the Ngalawa is an unmistakable and charming traditional boat.

It’s slim hull approximately 6 metres long is essentially a dugout canoe or Mtumbwi, which is what this vessel most likely evolved from. The raised bow and higher sides to the hull allow for the Ngalawa to reach out into the open seas. A pointed stern holds the rudder.

Mtumbwi

on Monday, 30 April 2012. Posted in Dhows and Traditional Boats, Fishing

Simple dugout canoe

Mtumbwi

Mtumbwi is the most basic of traditional boats found along The Swahili Coast. It is a simple dugout canoe, generally carved from a large coastal tree such as a mango tree.
These canoes vary in size generally 2 to 3 metres, and rarely up to 6 metres in length. The smaller dugouts have the Swahili name ‘hori’, and are used to move between shore and larger vessels at anchor.
Mtumbwi are usually propelled by a small wooden paddle (kafi) or punting pole.

© Copyright 2011 - 2017