Some thoughts on travel


This blog started out to record my grandmother’s life in large part based on the evidence of an album of postcards from the turn of the twentieth century that were found buried among the detritus accumulated by a family that has never thrown anything away – so the theme of travel has been there since the first. Uncovering the layers of family history began with travel since her entire family was comprised of Irish immigrants and she would be in the first generation to marry outside of that tight circle of the sons of Erin – but not outside of The Faith [that would wait for another two generations]. Of necessity immigrants were travellers. Add to that that her father and brother were in the shipping business and you still have travellers. In her own case being part of a generation prior to the First World War where travel was thought to complete a liberal education and she was something of a traveller herself.

dhow

While her family may have come over below the deck rather than before the mast there was a world of difference between their immigrant experience and her progress through a Cook’s Tour. Her father and brother may have still done business on the great waters but although it was certainly less wholly cocoon like than modern tourism her experience of the Grand Tour was still tourism. The next true travel would be done by her son-in-law in his search for better employment as an expatriate in Venezuela and while this could not be categorized as tourism it still doesn’t quite rise to the level of exploration – either geographical or cultural. Her grandson would cover tens of thousands of miles over the land, through the air and across the seas – always looking for a ship, retracing many of the routes of his ancestors in the process, but at the end of the day concluding that there might be some places he would have liked to have seen but there was no place he wanted to go.

 

dhows

 

Finally we come to her great-grandson. Not quite like Dr. Livingstone he went to Africa in aid of the Good News of Salvation but went he did. After a preliminary reconnaissance between his years at seminary after his ordination he continued to Capetown for two years of service. On completion of that obligation he has taken a sabbatical and in proceeding by fits and starts from Capetown to Cairo and may be the first member of the family to do any real travelling in quite a while.  He is ascending what has been a route of imperial conquest from the days of Pharoah and Solomon through the days of Cecil Rhodes – and may well be again if the Chinese decide to consolidate the dark continent into their little empire, or if islam decides to spread south and east this time writing off the west as a waste [geopolitics will be interesting for the next hundred years!] – and was a trading route for untold centuries before that.

He maintains his own blog of his travels at  packslight.wordpress.com and recently sent me these pictures from the Capital Art Studio in Zanzibar, Tanzania. They are what caused me to reflect on the nature of travel since they are pictures of one of the oldest, continuously used, form of watercraft in the world. Dhows are an ancient form of Indian boat, with much of the wood for their construction originally coming from the forests of India. The dhow was known for its most distinctive feature – a triangular or lateen sail with older type vessels are now called buum, zaaruuq, and badan still having the double-ended hulls that come to a point at both the bow and the stern. Dhows with square sterns have the classifications of gaghalah, ganja, sanbuuq, jihaazi with the square stern  a product of European influence from the Portuguese traders of the sixteenth century. Even the name “dhow” is somewhat improvised since the generic word for ship in Arab is markab and safiinah, fulk is used in the koran  and the word daw is a Swahili name, not used by the Arabs but popularized by English writers in the nineteenth century in the incorrect form of dhow.

What they are called is finally not of any great consequence. They are beautiful watercraft and have been working boats since before the Greeks built their first trireme. I still don’t want to travel on one but they do make you think fondly of far away places with strange-sounding names and the people who are there that remember you in their travels.

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