As you relax on the golden sandy beaches of Zanzibar looking out over the turquoise Indian Ocean, you are bound to see some traditional dhow boats sailing past. They have been around for quite some time and back in the days they were the main form of transport amongst overseas travellers. Merchants used to bring exotic and new goods to the mainland of Tanzania from Arabia, Persia and India.
Although the true origin of the dhow boat is still under discussion, most of the historical evidence points to India. The word “dhow” is a general term for any wooden sailing boat which has one or two masts and a lateen sail (triangular).
Building a dhow is a true art and requires quite a bit of skill. Ship builders passed on their knowledge from generation to generation, and even today one still finds these professional ship builders on the beaches of Zanzibar, repairing or building dhows.
The life span of a dhow ranges between 40 and 100 years. Most of the time is spent in the salty waters of the sea commuting back and forth. Once the dhows were no longer deemed worthy to sail they would end up on the beaches where they remained as memories – until people started getting creative.
Old boats were taken and recycled to create unique pieces of furniture. Each piece of furniture told its own story and made a subtle addition to any home. Nowadays you can get almost any kind of furniture or décor made from dhow wood.
The wood usually used is African teak, mahogany, mango, coconut and yellowwood. Thanks to years and years of weathering, the wood becomes very durable and long lasting.
The furniture made from dhow wood is very heavy and has an antique feel to it. While passing through some of the lodges in Tanzania you will come across dhow furniture in the form of beds, shelves, cupboards, tables, side tables, sofas, picture frames or candle holders – the list is endless. It is also very popular to have furniture custom made.
So next time you are out on safari and get a chance to see dhow furniture, go and have a closer look. You will be surprised to find that each piece tells of its own journey.