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 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 BC to 600 AD 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.

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

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 2 Briggs, Philip. "Dhows of the swahili coast". Zanzibar Travel Guide. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  2. "The History & construction of the dhow". Nabataea. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  3. "Arab Dhows of Eastern Arabia". 1949.
  4. Taylor, James. "Traditional Arab sailing ships". The British-Yemeni Society. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  5. Prothero, GW (1920). Arabia. London: HM Stationery Office. p. 99.
  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.
  7. Villiers, Alan, Monsoon Seas: The Story of the Indian Ocean, Questia.
  8. "Ancient Sailing and Navigation". Nabataea.net. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  9. "The Traditional Dhow". Oman: Ministry of Information. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  10. Hourani, George Fadlo; Carswell, John (1995), Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton University Press.
  11. "Dhows", China, Facts & details.
  12. "Dhow Ship – Types", Marine engineering, Bright hub.
  13. "Ghanjah", Cog and Galley ships.
  14. Dhow sailing in Kenya, UK: Diani beach.
  15. Agius 2008, p. 316.
  16. Oman, a Seafaring Nation, Oman: Ministry of Information, 1979.
  17. Agius 2008, p. 314.
  18. Xavier, Sandy. "Zaruq". CA: Sympatico. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  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.


Further reading

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