Dhow (//; Arabic: داو, romanized: dāwa; Marathi: dāw) is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with settee or sometimes lateen sails, used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region. Typically sporting long thin hulls, dhows are trading vessels primarily used to carry heavy items, such as fruit, fresh water, or other heavy merchandise, along the coasts of Eastern Arabia, East Africa, Yemen and coastal 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. Some claim that the sambuk, a type of dhow, may be derived from the Portuguese caravel.
The dhow was the ship of trade used by the Swahili. It was a dhow that transported a giraffe to Chinese Emperor Yong Le's court, in 1414. Another source suggests the ship that carried the giraffe to China was part of a large Chinese fleet led by Zheng He.
Ships that are similar to the dhow are mentioned or described in the 1001 Nights including various ports where they harboured. The dhow is also associated with the pearl trade.
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 shipwrights. 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', or 'Daramis' which could be derived from the word 'Hardamis' are still active in making urus in Kerala.
Dhows were extensively used for the Indian Ocean slave trade, which the Royal Navy attempted to suppress. In his 1873 book, Captain G. L. Sulivan described "four different kinds of coasting dhows, as shown in the engravings, viz. the Bateele, the Badane, Bugala or genuine Dhow, and the Matapa boat".
In the 1920s, British writers identified Al Hudaydah as the centre 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. They are distinguishable for their smaller triangular sails on movable bases to harvest the irregular winds of the Red Sea.
Captain Alan Villiers (1903–1982) 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.
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.
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. 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".
The Kuwaiti Maritime Museum in Salmiya, Kuwait, holds replicas of a number of different types of dhows.
The Al-Hashemi-II (1997-2001), in Kuwait City, Kuwait, was recognized by Guinness World Record as the largest wooden dhow ever built; it has never been floated and is used for events.
Dhow seen off the coast of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Dhow seen in the Indian Ocean
A dhow in the desert in Qatar
A painting of a Baghlah, traditional deep sea dhow
Construction and repair of dhows in Sur, Oman
Dhow ferrying passengers near Inhambane, Mozambique
A small dhow in Zanzibar
1937 stamp of Aden depicting a dhow
Model of a Sambuk
Dhow on the Shatt al-Arab (1958)
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