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Keywords:

  • dhow;
  • logboat;
  • Tanzania;
  • Dar-es-Salaam;
  • Zanzibar;
  • Nungwi

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

A wide variety of traditional wooden boats and small ships can still be seen in use and being built on the mainland of Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar. This paper compares different accounts in the literature with observations made in 2012, and documents in detail the various stages of building wooden dhows on the beaches of Zanzibar.

The classification of traditional boats found around the East African coast meets with many difficulties. While modern Europeans tend to use a phenomenological taxonomy of boats, for instance based on construction criteria, the Africans who use the watercraft seem to apply functional criteria (Winkler, 2009: 75). As a result, vastly different boats can be given one and the same denomination, resulting in confusion and a lack of traceability in historical records. Problems of transliteration and transcription of a largely oral tradition add to this, as well as a loose use of terminology and the dwindling number of knowledgeable local people. However, it remains a confounding problem whether people in the past were as precise in their terminology as modern ethnologists and maritime historians would wish. Therefore, the study of the historical evolution of African boats over a time horizon of more than a few decades meets with many difficulties.

In contrast, a wide variety of traditional boats that can still be seen in daily use and under construction around the coasts of mainland Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar (Figs 1 and 2). This paper reports on a field visit undertaken in September 2012 and observations on site are compared with data from the literature.

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Figure 1. Map showing the locations in Tanzania.

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Figure 2. A jahazi sails into Dar-es-Salaam harbour. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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In Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of the modern state of Tanzania, as well as on Zanzibar, one can observe four main groups of boats or small ships: 1) simple logboats (hori); 2) expanded logboats with double outriggers (ngalawa); 3) fishing dhows (mashua with transom, dau double-ended); and 4) trading dhows (jahazi). Historically, there were many more types, namely larger sea-going dhows (Hawkins, 1977; Anonymous, 1979), which now have been replaced by modern coastal freighters. As a ‘living fossil’ the mtepe, a double-ended boat with a sewn hull, propelled by a single square sail made from matting, survived apparently until the 1930s, but little pictorial and no material evidence remains (Gilbert, 1998). The so-called House of Wonders in Stone Town on Zanzibar, which houses the Zanzibar National Museum, has a replica of a mtepe on display. However, the replica builders had to make several concessions to available display space according to the explanatory tables in the museum.

Logboats and expanded logboats

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

Logboats are one of the primordial forms of boats (Greenhill and Morrison, 1995: 101), yet they are still in everyday use along the coast of East Africa, though Morgan (1940) predicted their looming extinction. There are several types of logboats in use in Tanzania today: logboats fashioned from a single tree (mtondoo, Callophyllum inophyllum), logboats with extensions (or worn parts replaced) and expanded logboats (following the nomenclature by Greenhill and Morrison, 1995) with double outriggers. The simple logboats are used for angling and long-line fishing in sheltered waters, as well as tenders for larger dhows.

The lateral profile of individual boats can differ considerably, presumably depending on the shape and quality of the trees available, but also on the region of their construction. Morgan (1940) provides a very detailed description of the ngalawa from southern Tanzania, including the denomination of individual parts. There seems to be also a transition between the simple (hori or mtumbwi) and the expanded logboat. As the former becomes worn out, bad pieces are cut out and replaced by planks, making it finally difficult to decide into which group the boat belongs, as noted by Crossland (1918) and Morgan (1940). Many of the double-outrigger boats (ngalawa) have a shovel-shaped bow piece inserted, but by no means all of them (Fig. 3). Most boats have the gunwale reinforced by a sheer-rail that runs along the whole length and is nailed down, rather than dowelled, as the extension pieces are. The simple logboats fashioned from a single tree do not have a reinforced sheer. The floats of the outriggers are thin boards with pointed ends and thus do not provide much of a static righting force compared with the outriggers of most Asian or Pacific boats (Fig. 4). We did not see any boat sailing in stronger winds, but would suspect that much of the righting force is dynamic rather than static. The way in which the outriggers are attached to the hull and the constructional details of the outriggers varied between the mainland and Zanzibar according to Hornell (1919; 1920: 138, fig. 7; Haddon, 1918). However, today, boats from both Dar-es-Salaam and from Nungwi have the booms lashed down inside the hull. There are slight constructional differences in the way the float is attached to the boom, which appear to be dictated by the material available, which may be mangrove poles or pieces of driftwood. In general, the oblique strut that joins each boom to the float is pierced for the latter. The oblique strut has a shoulder cut into its inboard end to prevent the lashing from slipping off (Fig. 4). The lashing-material was not identified, but today man-made fibres appear to be common.

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Figure 3. Built-up bow of a ngalawa, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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Figure 4. Details of the outrigger of a ngalawa, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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The double-outrigger boats are fitted with a triangular (lateen) or a settee sail with a very short luff (Fig. 5). The distinction between the two types is sometimes not very sharp as the luff can almost disappear in the rather roughly fashioned sails. The mast is stepped into a mast-step and a thwart that is sewn to the bulwark (Fig. 6). All spars are made from mangrove poles. The yard for the settee on larger boats is made from two or three poles, while smaller boats manage with a single piece.

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Figure 5. Ngalawa on the beach at Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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Figure 6. Mast thwart of a ngalawa, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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There is neither a forestay (which would get in the way of the yard), nor shrouds, only a flying backstay. The halyard for the yard serves as an additional backstay. The rig does not make use of any blocks and the halyard for the spar is reefed through a hole in the mast. All sheets etc. are simple pieces of rope. Halyard, backstay and sheets are belayed to whatever appears to be a convenient point; no cleats or the likes are provided for this purpose.

The use of outboard engines (mostly of Japanese origin) is quite ubiquitous and some of the logboats have sturdy horizontal pieces of wood bolted to their stern for attaching the engines. Engines seem to be more common on larger, plank-built boats, however. The main means of propulsion for the small logboats is still sail and simple paddles (Fig. 7).

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Figure 7. Logboat being paddled off the beach at Dar-es-Salaam. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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It appears that the boats in Nungwi are not normally painted, while some of the logboats in Dar-es-Salaam have their lower hull painted red like that of the larger dhows.

Unlike for plank-built dhows, we did not see any place where the logboats were made. Large trees are rare in East Africa and on Zanzibar, so it is probable that suitable logs are imported from Asia, across the Indian Ocean (Winkler, 2009: 29). Morgan (1940: 28) noted that in southern Tanzania suitably sized mango trees were used. It is mentioned in the literature (for example Crossland, 1918: 167) also that dhows employed in overseas trade took a half-finished logboat as deckload to be sold in areas where no large trees were available.

Local plank-built dhows

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

The term dhow may refer to boats and ships of quite different size and shape (Hawkins, 1977; Howarth, 1977). Originally, dhows seem to have been double-ended sewn boats, but evolved into metal-fastened ones with transoms. However, it is not the purpose of this paper to review the development of the dhow in East Africa with its Arab origins as well as European and perhaps Far Eastern influences. A majority today seem to have a transom, as this facilitates the attachment of one or two outboard engines. The local trading dhows (jahazi) use the outboard engine predominantly for manoeuvring, while the main means of propulsion is still the sail. Certain fishing boats (boti) also use their engine when actually engaged in fishing with the seine net. A large number of these smaller dhows that sport a clipper-like bow are employed in the seine-net fisheries. However, many fishing boats (such as the mashua), still rely solely on the sail, particularly those in northern Zanzibar. A fibreglass fishing boat, probably of FAO-design, sunk in the harbour of Stone Town on Zanzibar indicates that this material is much less adapted to the local socio-economic circumstances than the traditional wooden dhow. As will be seen below, the traditional dhows are still being built and maintained with almost exclusively local means and resources.

Today, dhows are still engaged in the local trade up and down the coast of East Africa. In Tanzania and Zanzibar these seem to be mainly a type that is referred to as jahazi in Swahili (see Hawkins, 1977; De Leeuwe, 2005), which are characterized by a near-vertical stem (Jewell, 1976; Wiebeck and Winkler, 2000). Many are built on or hail from Lamu Island, off the coast of Kenya and are referred to also as Lamu-dhow in the literature (Jewell, 1976: 83; Wiebeck and Winkler, 2000: 75). The jahazi is fuller in cross-section and has a more elegant, heart-shaped transom than the fishing dhows (mashua) discussed below (Fig. 8). Another distinct feature is a sort of washstrake made from matting that increases the free-board and protects the load. Otherwise, the boats are completely undecked and the crew work in the open. The settee sail is rather large, its yard is considerably longer than the boat, and for this reason they carry a long, running bowsprit. The rigging is minimal and often ramshackle, just four shrouds with the lift or halyard for the yard acting as a backstay. Some of the boats are painted rather colourfully.

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Figure 8. Jahazi waits for a load in Stone Town harbour, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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Dhow building places on Zanzibar

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

There are probably also building places for dhows on the mainland of Tanzania, but those on Zanzibar are the best known (being close to tourist attractions) and reflect very well the century-old tools and methods. Traditional building today is concentrated at two places on Zanzibar: one just north of its capital Stone Town, at the edge of a mangrove-rimmed inlet, and another at the northern tip of the island, in Nungwi. Owing to the vicinity of various hotels that exploit the beautiful beaches and coral reefs, the building place at Nungwi is relatively well known among tourists. The boatbuilders participate in the local tourist economy by inviting visitors to leave a little ‘bakshish’ in ‘kitties’ provided for this purpose. Boats that serve as excursion vessels or diving tenders are also built on these shores.

The boats are entirely built by eye, no drawings are involved. Many of the methods are those used for European boats, but constructional details differ. Building materials used are mostly sourced locally. At least, the lumber used in Nungwi is grown on the island. The tree species referred to in the paper were named by the builders and later matched to the respective Latin names based on the geographical occurrence of the species, but no positive botanical identification was undertaken.

At both places several boats in various stages of completion could be observed. This enabled us to observe the various procedures employed, as the short time we spent in the region did not permit the construction of one single boat to be followed through. De Leeuwe (2004: 25ff.) provides a detailed account of the preparatory steps leading to construction, the economic arrangements, and the social setting of the builders.

First the builder lays out the keel fashioned from a pre-sawn log of local teak (Tectona grandis, according to De Leeuwe, 2004: 27, Rhizophora mucronata, a mangrove tree is preferred). The keel firmly rests on three posts that are set into the beach sand and have a groove on top matching its width (Fig. 9). The stem (teak) is fitted to the keel with a hooked scarf (Fig. 10), while the sternpost (also teak) is rabbeted into the keel. The stem is shaped to cover the end-grain of the keel. Neither stem nor sternpost has rabbets for the planking, but the sternpost and the supporting deadwood knee are bearded to provide a good landing. De Leeuwe (2004: 31) noted that the stem and keel are given a rabbet, but this was not clearly visible on the boats under construction (Fig. 10). The garboard strakes (African mahogany, Khaya sp., according to De Leeuwe, 2004: 29, often Terminalia cathappa, Indian almond tree, is used for planking) are fastened to the keel with long spikes and held to stem and sternpost by cleats until the apron and deadwood knees are fitted. Using the traditional methods of fire-bending (judging by the traces of soot and as described by De Leeuwe, 2004: 30) a twist is forced into the garboard strakes. The planks are tied down with cantilevers, the inboard ends of which are nailed temporarily to the keel, until they have cooled down and settled. Permanent spikes are driven diagonally into the keel.

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Figure 9. The keel has been laid, the stem and sternposts fitted, and heated garboard planks secured in position. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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Figure 10. Hooked scarf between stem and keel, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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The next step is to fit the apron and deadwood knee to both, the stem and stern respectively (Fig. 11). They are shaped from suitable crooks of mango wood (Mangifera indica or Xylocarpus granatum). All shaping is done by eye, using an adze. From time to time the pieces are offered to the posts and paint is used to mark, where more wood has to be taken off. These first steps are rather crucial, as the deadrise thus fixed defines to a significant degree the final shape of the hull. Though the builders know tools, such as the quadrant and plumb line, they rely largely on their experience and eye-balling. Their building methods appear rather rough, but the builders are quite aware of practices in other parts of the world. In fact, at least one of the builders in Nungwi had been to Norway to exchange experiences with builders there, as he related to us.

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Figure 11. Fitting the sternpost deadwood knee, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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In the next step, a few floor timbers and futtocks are installed. As noted above, their shape is entirely determined by eye. Initially only a few frames are put in place. At this stage also the transom is fitted. Sometimes parts, such as transoms, are recycled from broken-up boats. De Leeuwe (2004) reports on the use of bent metal rods as templates for the transom and the frames/futtocks. However, neither of the boats under construction at the time of our visit was at a stage when frames/futtocks were being fitted, so this observation could not be corroborated. Then futtocks are connected at their heads with temporary beams and some battens are run along them. The shape of the new boat is thus determined. Next the strakes go on. They are pre-sawn local mahogany (Khaya sp.) from the Jozani Forest Reserve. It seems that the lowest strakes are put on first and the longest available planks are used for these. Otherwise, material is used economically and planks are scarfed (Fig. 12), as good quality wood is difficult to obtain. The relatively narrow planks available do not allow for much shaping in plan. This necessitates the use of stealers and lost strakes. As there is no rabbet in stem and sternpost, the strakes are fastened down onto the apron and deadwood knees.

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Figure 12. Fitting a scarf, Nugnwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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Once a number of strakes have been fitted, the remaining futtocks are put in, as well as more floor timbers, where the cross-section is fuller. The floor timbers are bolted to the keel. Naturally crooked mango branches are used for the timbering-out (Fig. 13). The timbers are carefully shaped with the adze on the outboard faces, but only hewn roughly inboard. Any wood left standing adds to the strength, and aesthetics are a secondary consideration here. None of the boats under construction were at a stage where the futtock-shaping process could be observed. It appears that a crooked branch is offered to the hull and areas where material has to be taken off are marked with (blue) paint.

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Figure 13. Timbering-out a hull, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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The planks—and most other parts—are fastened with locally produced spikes (see below). They are driven into holes pre-drilled through the strake and the futtock (Fig. 14) and the heads are countersunk. The points of the nails are then hooked, that is bent over and driven back into the timbers. A simple bow-drill is employed by the builders). The drill bits are fixed permanently into the wooden shafts that are driven by the bowstring. When bigger holes are needed, small holes are drilled on the circumference of the desired hole and the remaining wood in the centre is knocked out.

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Figure 14. Drilling nail holes with a bow-drill, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W.E. Falck)

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The hull is further strengthened by a ceiling that covers the inner face of the frames like a lattice grid (Fig. 13). A number of beams maintain the hull in shape and are nibbed over an inwale. Some of the beams are reinforced by lodging-knees.

When the planking is completed, the hull is faired by eye with an adze. The shipbuilder cuts across the grain, beginning from the top strake. Cutting across the grain prevents the adze from following it, and thus perhaps cutting too deep. The builders show an admirable dexterity and surety with the adze. Planking nails are sufficiently countersunk to allow for this fairing. As in good woodworking practice, the adzes are kept very sharp, resulting in very clean and easy cuts. The planks extending beyond the transom are trimmed flush with it (Fig. 15).

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Figure 15. Transom of a new dhow before the planking is trimmed flush with it, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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The hull is completed by various items of carpentry, such as a step for the mast, a breasthook tying gunwale to stem, a short round piece of wood over which the anchor cable is hauled in and on which it is belayed (Fig. 16), etc. The after part of the hull also receives a light decking.

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Figure 16. Bow of a dhow ready to be delivered to its owners, Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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Finally the hull is caulked with kapok-tree ‘cotton’ (Ceiba pentandra) soaked in oil. In Dar-es-Salaam several boats could be observed being re-painted in red-oxide below the waterline. On Zanzibar, painting the hull below the waterline was not so obvious, but certainly some form of protection against teredo navalis is necessary, as the boats are moored off the beach and not hauled out every day. De Leeuwe (2004: 53) reported a concoction made from shark-liver and other oils.

It may be noted finally, that the shape of the boats from the building site north of Stone Town seems to differ somewhat from those in Nungwi (Fig. 15). Their stern appears to be fuller, with a harder turn of the bilge and less deadrise. The reason could be that the Stone Town boats seem to be destined for seine-net fishing under engine, so more buoyancy is needed for the outboard engine(s) and for handling the heavy net.

Nail making

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

The nails, or spikes, for fastening the various parts of the plank-built dhows are made by hand in rather make-shift roadside smithies (Fig. 17). The raw material is industrial screw bolts. The bolts are heated to a yellow glow in a simple blow-furnace fed by two bellows that are operated manually by a worker. This furnace consists of a shallow hole in the ground, filled with charcoal, into which the blowpipes from the bellows are led. When hot enough, the bolts are picked up with tongs and converted into pointed four-sided bars by the nail-smith and his mate, who squat around the small anvil set into the ground. They then push the raw nail back into charcoal to be reheated.

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Figure 17. Roadside nail smithy at Nungwi, Zanzibar. (Photo: W. E. Falck)

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The head-maker picks the red-hot raw nail from the furnace and inserts it into a piece of flat steel with a suitably sized hole that serves as a die. He then uses an old wheel hub as an anvil and forms the head with a few blows of his hammer. When finished the nail is knocked out from the die and thrown onto a pile with others to cool down. The four men together in this way produce about one nail per minute.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

Tanzania still offers the opportunity to observe a wide variety of wooden boats in use and of boatbuilding using largely traditional artisanal methods. These boats fulfil an important role in various aspects of the local economy, such as fishing and the regional distribution of goods. The traditional and largely locally available materials and tools allow the population to participate in various levels of the value chain, the first level being fishing, without considerable capital outlay. It was noted already by Thomas (1967: 433) that traditional indigenous craft undoubtedly have various advantages in their respective socio-economic setting. Thus, the total capitalisation for equipping them for fishing and the capitalisation per worker are low, perhaps in the order of 20% of the annual income from this trade. Such craft require no harbour, but can be hauled up on the beaches along the coast. They also require no slipways for servicing and, hence, are inexpensive to maintain. Local skills and mainly local materials are used in their construction, thus providing local employment and money spent remains in the local economy. The cost of small boats is often within the means of individual fishermen, satisfying their pride of ownership and desire for self-employment. However, De Leeuwe (2004: 25) noted that on Zanzibar the boats often are ordered and owned by more affluent individuals, who then lease them to the fishermen.

The fishermen themselves typically live close to the shore and adjacent to the beaching areas of their boats. The dispersal of small boats along a coast enables widespread fresh fish supplies, often without the additional cost of road transport and the need for cooling. Short supplier-to-consumer distances reduce transport losses and contribute to a more effective and sustainable use of resources. Large numbers of small boats are an advantage where fish are widely dispersed in small shoals. Small boats can also access resources in shallow waters.

Thomas (1967: 433) also pointed out that small boats constructed from wood stay afloat when capsized, thus providing a certain safety margin. The loss of a single small boat, as disastrous as it may be for the crew involved and the owner, does not jeopardize the local economy as a whole. Small boats can operate in very shallow waters and they can be propelled by oars in cases of engine failure (if they have an engine at all).

The conspicuous absence of boats built with modern (western) methods and materials around the shores of Zanzibar, and even in Dar-es-Salaam, indicates the continuing viability of the traditional craft. However, the increasing scarcity of lumber of suitable size and quality due to market competition and forest conservation policies could put this important element of the local economy and cultural heritage under threat.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography

The author wishes to thank Ms De Leeuwe for providing him with a copy of her thesis (De Leeuwe, 2004). The author also acknowledges the interesting and helpful comments by two anonymous reviewers.

Bibliography

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Logboats and expanded logboats
  4. Local plank-built dhows
  5. Dhow building places on Zanzibar
  6. Nail making
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Bibliography
  • Anonymous, 1979, Oman, a Seafaring Nation. Sultanate of Oman, Ministry of Information and Culture.
  • Crossland, C., 1918, Notes on the East African Outrigger Canoe. Man, XVIII, 166167.
  • De Leeuwe, R., 2004, Seascape and Sailing Ships of the Swahili Shores. Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Leiden, The Netherlands.
  • De Leeuwe, R., 2005, Constructing Sailing Ships on the Swahili Shores. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 40.1, 107113.
  • Gilbert, E., 1998, The Mtepe: regional trade and the late survival of sewn ships in East African waters. IJNA 27.1, 4350.
  • Greenhill, B., Morrison, J., 1995, The Archaeology of Boats & Ships—An Introduction. London.
  • Haddon, A. C., 1918, The Outrigger Canoes of East Africa. Man, XVIII, 4954, London.
  • Hawkins, C. W., 1977, The Dhow—an illustrated history of the Dhow and its World. Lymington.
  • Hornell, J., 1919, The Affinities of East African Outrigger Canoes. Man, XIX, 97100.
  • Hornell, J., 1920, The Common Origin of the Outrigger Canoes of Madagascar and East Africa. Man XX, 134139.
  • Howarth, D., 1977, Dhows. London.
  • Jewell, J. H. A., 1976, Dhows at Mombasa. Nairobi.
  • Morgan, J. C., 1940, The Ngalawa of the Kilwa Coast. Tanganyika Notes and Records, 9, 2736.
  • Thomas, A. J., 1967, Dug-out Canoes and other Indigenous Small Craft, in J. A. Traung (ed.), Fishing Boats of the World, Vol. 3, 432435, London.
  • Wiebeck, E. and Winkler, H., 2000, Segler im Monsun. Die Dau am Indischen Ozean. Rostock.
  • Winkler, H., 2009, Segler vor Ostafrika. Die Trimarane der Fischer. Berlin.