“Our life on the sea is gone but our stories will last forever”: Documenting and remembering the Red Sea dhow and its people

Professor Dionisius Agius
Wednesday, 22 January 2020

This seminar presents and interprets ethnographic data collected among the maritime communities of the Red Sea with histories connecting the ports of Arabia and beyond. The harbour towns of the Red Sea region (Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen and Saudi Arabia) were engaged with the India trade both before and after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Traditional shipping between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean followed the regular fluctuations of seasonal wind patterns over an annual cycle that intersected with the arrival of the pilgrim-trade ships to Arabia. The pearling industry in the Red Sea also peaked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and at its height hundreds of pearling dhows were employed in the Dahlak and Farasan Archipelagos. With the introduction of the steamer and the discovery of oil, the African and the Arabian Red Sea dhow activity declined. This presentation will explore how the dhow trade survived, and how the fishing dhow continues to be part of the maritime landscape of the region, with particular attention to the ways in which maritime communities have perceived their engagement with the physical and human geography of Arabia and the Indian Ocean world.


Dr. Dionisius A. Agius is a Fellow of the British Academy and Al-Qasimi Professor of Arabic Studies and Islamic Material Culture at the University of Exeter and affiliated to King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah. Educated in his undergraduate years at the University of St-Joseph, Beirut he progressed for a master’s and doctoral degree at the University of Toronto. An Arabist, ethnographer, cultural historian and linguist, his focus is on the maritime landscape, the sea people and their material culture of the Indian Ocean. He is author of: Seafaring in the Arabian Gulf and Oman: People of the Dhow (Kegan Paul 2005; Taylor and Francis 2009) awarded a Major Prize by The Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah Foundation and the British-Kuwait Friendship Society; also author of In the Wake of the Dhow: The Arabian Gulf and Oman (Ithaca 2010); Classic Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean (Brill 2014) receiving an Honourable Mention by the Keith Matthews Prize; and The Life of the Red Sea Dhow: A Cultural History of Seaborne Exploration in the Islamic World (IB Tauris 2019).

(Seminars start at 5.00 p.m.)