Dhows are found in a variety of forms along the East African coast. The word is a generic Arabic term referring to the lateen-rigged vessels used in the Indian Ocean – a term which itself comes from the triangular, fore-and-aft “Latin” rigged sails of Roman vessels, in which the sail was suspended from a long yard mounted on the mast. Far from being based on ancient tradition, however, the highly manoeuvrable, dhow style of sailing rig in the Indian Ocean may have derived, secondhand, from Vasco da Gama’s caravels that appeared in Mombasa at the end of the fifteenth century and had virtually the same setup. You can see similar vessels – feluccas – on the Nile.

Today, the large Kenyan trading dhows, known in Swahili as jahazi, are used less and less for transport and are more often bought up by tourist businesses. The mashua is a plank boat like a small jahazi, while the smaller ngalawa – double-outrigger dugout canoes with a small sail rigged high on the short mast – are the little boats which ferry passengers and whose captains normally potter about in the lagoon along the beaches, offering trips out to the reef.

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