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A dhow in the Indian Ocean, near the islands of Zanzibar on the Swahili Coast.
Fishermen's dhows moored at Dubai in 2014

Dhow (Arabic داو dāw) is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with lateen sails used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region. Historians are divided as to whether the dhow was invented by Arabs or Indians.[1][2] Typically sporting long thin hulls, dhows are trading vessels primarily used to carry heavy items, like fruit, fresh water or merchandise, along the coasts of the Eastern Arabia (Arab states of the Persian Gulf),[3] East Africa, Yemen and some parts of South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh). Larger dhows have crews of approximately thirty, smaller ones typically around twelve.


The exact origins of the dhow are lost to history. Most scholars believe that it originated in India between 600 B.C.E. to 600 C.E.[citation needed] Some claim that the sambuk, a type of dhow, may be derived from the Portuguese caravel.[4]

The Yemeni Hadhrami people, as well as Omanis, for centuries came to Beypore, in Kerala, India for their dhows. This was because of the good timber in the Kerala forests, the availability of good coir rope, and the skilled carpenters who specialized in ship building. In former times, the sheathing planks of a dhow's hull were held together by coconut rope. Beypore dhows are known as 'Uru' in Malayalam, the local language of Kerala. Settlers from Yemen, known as 'Baramis', are still active in making urus in Kerala.

In the 1920s, British writers identified Al Hudaydah as the center for dhow building. Those built in Al Hudaydah were smaller in size, and used for travel along the coasts. They were constructed of acacia found in Yemen.[5]

Captain Alan Villiers (1903–82) documented the days of sailing trade in the Indian Ocean by sailing on dhows between 1938 and 1939 taking numerous photographs and publishing books on the subject of dhow navigation.[6][7]

Even to the present day, dhows make commercial journeys between the Persian Gulf and East Africa using sails as their only means of propulsion. Their cargo is mostly dates and fish to East Africa and mangrove timber to the lands in the Persian Gulf. They often sail south with the monsoon in winter or early spring, and back again to Arabia in late spring or early summer.[citation needed]


For celestial navigation, dhow sailors have traditionally used the kamal. The latter is an observation device that determines latitude by finding the angle of the Pole Star above the horizon.[8]


A Jalibut in the Persian Gulf
  • Baghlah (بغلة) – from the Arabic language word for "mule". A heavy ship, the traditional deep-sea dhow.
  • Baqarah or baggarah (بقارة) – from the Arabic word for "cow". Old type of small dhow similar to the Battil.[9]
  • Barijah – small dhow.[10]
  • Battil (بتيل) — featured long stems topped by large, club-shaped stem heads.
  • Badan – a smaller vessel requiring a shallow draft.[11]
  • Boum (بوم) or dhangi — a large-sized dhow with a stern that is tapering in shape and a more symmetrical overall structure. The Arab boum has a very high prow, which is trimmed in the Indian version.[12]
  • Ghanjah (غنجة) or kotiya — a large vessel, similar to the Baghlah, with a curved stem and a sloping, ornately carved transom.[13]
  • Jahazi or jihazi (جهازي). A fishing or trading dhow with a broad hull similar to the Jalibut, common in Lamu Island and the coast of Oman. It is also used in Bahrain for the pearl industry.[14] The word comes from jahāz (جهاز), a Persian word for "ship".[15]
  • Jalibut or jelbut (جالبوت). A small to medium-sized dhow. It is the modern version of the shu'ai with a shorter prow stem piece. Most jalibuts are fitted with engines.
  • Pattamar, a type of Indian dhow.
  • Sambuk or sambuq (صنبوق) — the largest type of dhow seen in the Persian Gulf today. It has a characteristic keel design, with a sharp curve right below the top of the prow. It has been one of the most successful dhows in history.[16] The word is cognate with the Greek σαμβύκη sambúkē, ultimately from Middle Persian sambūk. [17]
  • Shu'ai (شوعي). Medium-sized dhow. Formerly the most common dhow in the Persian Gulf used for fishing as well as for coastal trade.
  • Zaruq – small dhow, slightly larger than a barijah[18]

The term "dhow" is sometimes also applied to certain smaller lateen-sail rigged boats traditionally used in the Red Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf area, as well as in the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to the Bay of Bengal. These include the feluccas used in Egypt, Sudan and Iraq, and the Dhoni used in the Maldives, as well as the tranki, ghrab and ghalafah.[19] All these vessels have common elements with the dhow. On the Swahili Coast, in countries such as Kenya, the Swahili word used for dhow is "jahazi".[1]


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Briggs, Philip. "Dhows of the swahili coast". Zanzibar Travel Guide. Retrieved 6 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The History & construction of the dhow". Nabataea. Retrieved 6 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Arab Dhows of Eastern Arabia". 1949.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Taylor, James. "Traditional Arab sailing ships". The British-Yemeni Society. Retrieved 6 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Prothero, GW (1920). Arabia. London: HM Stationery Office. p. 99.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Villiers, Alan, An Account of Sailing with the Arabs in their Dhows, in the Red Sea, round the Coasts of Arabia, and to Zanzibar and Tanganyika; Pearling in the Persian Gulf; and the Life of the Shipmasters and the Mariners of Kuwait<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  7. Villiers, Alan, Monsoon Seas: The Story of the Indian Ocean, Questia<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  8. "Ancient Sailing and Navigation". Nabataea.net. Retrieved 7 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "The Traditional Dhow". Oman: Ministry of Information. Retrieved 7 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Hourani, George Fadlo; Carswell, John (1995), Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  11. "Dhows", China, Facts & details<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  12. "Dhow Ship – Types", Marine engineering, Bright hub<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  13. "Ghanjah", Cog and Galley ships<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  14. Dhow sailing in Kenya, UK: Diani beach<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  15. Agius 2008, p. 316.
  16. Oman, a Seafaring Nation, Oman: Ministry of Information, 1979<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  17. Agius 2008, p. 314.
  18. Xavier, Sandy. "Zaruq". CA: Sympatico. Retrieved 6 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Abdullah, Thabit AJ (2000), The Political Economy of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Basra, Social and Economic History of the Middle East, SUNY, ISBN 978-0-7914-4808-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.


Further reading

  • Bowen, Richard LeBaron, Essay on the tradition of painting eyes, known as oculi, on the bows of boats among mariners and fishermen from ancient times to the present. Found particularly in the Indian Ocean region<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Clifford W. Hawkins, The dhow: an illustrated history of the dhow and its world.
  • Anthony Jack, Arab dhows.
  • Kaplan, Marion, Twilight of the Arab dhow<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Martin, Esmond Bradley, The decline of Kenya's dhow trade<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • ———; Martin, Chryssee Perry, Cargoes of the east : the ports, trade, and culture of the Arabian Seas and western Indian Ocean, foreword by Elspeth Huxley<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Henri Perrier, Djibouti's dhows.
  • Tessa Rihards, Dhow building : survival of an ancient craft.

External links