The Dancing Dhows and Dugouts of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar

The Indian Ocean is their ball room floor, the wind and the waves the music to which they have been dancing since as early as 600 BC. They are the numerous dugout canoes and dhows seen plying the waters of the ocean near Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.

dhow 7

Watching the dhows from the shore sailing slowly and elegantly past with lateen sails billowing in the wind, I could almost hear the sound of a slow beautiful waltz as they seemed to dance with the wind and the sea in perfect harmony.

On another day when the wind and the waves were stronger I imagined a fast tango with the wind hugging the sail tightly and the Dhow bending and dipping in harmony with the rhythm of the sea and the wind.

The smaller dhows rigged with outboard engines and used to ferry passengers and tourists to and from the surrounding islands and sandbanks, reminded me of teenagers dancing a fast jig, excited about life and all it still holds in store for them.

dhows 10

Then there were the small dugout canoes which we saw lying forlornly and alone on the shore below the jetty at Slipway in Dar es Salaam. They were waiting with their nets drying in the sun like wall flowers sitting at the side of the ballroom floor. Waiting for a new day to dawn, heralding a fishing trip at sea where they could dance their unique slow dance in tune with waves, the wind and the fisherman.

dug outs

dhow 4

nets fishing

Dug out canoes are usually made out of one tree such as a mango tree and are  mostly used to fish in shallow sheltered waters by a single fisherman.

Dhow is the name for a number of sailing vessels using one or more lateen sails. Dhows usually have long thin hulls and are mainly used as trading vessels, carrying heavier merchandise such as fruit and fresh water along the East African coast. The local trading dhows use an outboard engine mainly for maneuvring, while the main means of propulsion still is the sail. Fishing boats also use their engine when actually engaged in fishing with nets.

These canoes as well as traditional dhows are still manufactured in the Nungwi region of Zanzibar and north of Stone Town at the edge of a mangrove rimmed inlet.

I salute these age old seagoing vessels and their crew. May this tradition live long as it adds a certain romance and magic to a visit to these regions.

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