The Dhow's last redoubt? Vestiges of wooden boatbuilding traditions in Yemen
Jansen van Rensburg, J
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies
Researchers from the MARES Project visited Yemen in February 2009 in order to investigate the building and use of traditional wooden boats (‘dhows’, in English parlance) in the country. The survey covered the coastline from Aden to Salif in the Red Sea, and visited centres of traditional dhow building and use, including Ghureira, Mocha and Khokha. The project aimed to assess the state of the industry, establish a vessel typology, understand construction processes, learn about the use of these vessels, and compile a lexicon of boatbuilding and nautical terms. This article offers the preliminary findings of the survey, pending more comprehensive publication in the future. The survey found that, in all locations visited, the building of new vessels had rapidly diminished in the preceding decade, and had now all but ceased. The only ongoing activity witnessed during the survey was repairs to existing wooden craft. In formerly large boat-building centres, wooden boat-builders, mostly elderly, have ceased work, while younger men were building fishing craft using fibreglass – the material used in the great majority of vessels in Yemen today. A preliminary typology of surviving vessel was established. The doubleended cargo-carrying za<īmahs and zārūqs were recorded only as 2 abandoned hulks. Double-ended <obrīs and transom-sterned ‘large hūrīs’, with their stern-quarter ‘fins’, continued to be used in small numbers for sein fishing and transporting livestock. Again, most examples were abandoned. Various forms of small log and plank hūrī ‘canoes’ were observed, few still in use, while the log-raft ramas survives on the Red Sea coast. The terms used for these vessel types form part of a linguistic survey of dhow activity in Yemen.
This research was conducted as part of the MARES Project, a three-year programme investigating the maritime past and heritage of the Red Sea and Arabian-Persian Gulf. MARES is based at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter (http://projects.exeter.ac.uk/mares). The programme is funded by the Golden Web Foundation, an educational charity registered in the UK (www.goldenweb.org), to which our gratitude is due. 27 Thanks are also due to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust, which provided additional financial support for the fieldwork. In addition, the MARES team would like to thank the following people for their assistance: Dr Abdulla M. Bawazir, President of Yemen’s General Organisation of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM); Dr Muhammad Taha al-Asbahi, General Director of Antiquities at GOAM; Dr Raja Batawil, head of GOAM in Aden; our GOAMappointed field companion, Salah al-Mansuri; Mr. Hasan Saleh Shihab; Emily Allardyce, Fuad Mazid al-Matairi and their colleagues at the British Yemeni Language Institute; our driver and guide Muhammad al-Matairi; Edward Prados, Director of Amideast; Chris Evens; the British Council; and the British Embassy. Last but not least, the team wishes to thank the many individual informants along Yemen’s coast who gave their assistance to its research.
This is an accepted version of an article that went on to be published in the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies in 2010. The reference for the published version is: Agius, D.A., Cooper, J.P., Jansen van Rensburg, J.and Zazzaro, C., 2010 " The dhow's last redoubt? Vestiges of wooden boatbuilding traditions in Yemen". Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 40: 71—84. Please use the published version in any citations.
The final version of the article is available from Archaeopress via the link in this record.
(2010) Vol 40: 71—84.
Place of publication