Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To be a Zanzibari Fundi

Mponda with Finished Ngalawa model

The Fundis (or master craftsmen of Nungwi) are not just boatbuilders, they are problem solvers, masters of the ocean, fishermen, and artists. These past weeks I have had a barrage of intense and wonderful experiences opening my eyes in what it means to be a Fundi. We finished our model Ngalawa (though I'm only partway finished with a smaller one on my own) and now I feel pretty confident about the layout of the boat and how to build a large, open ocean, Zanzibari dugout canoe. Our week began with a maiden voyage in the reed at low tide, careful not to step on urchins chasing the incredibly fast little boat.

Building an Ukafi (Swahili for paddle)

We spent a full day with adze and block plane building a gorgeous Ukafi (though varnish isn't a traditional step, I felt it was worth the protection). A curved blade is a normal design with a pointed tip. The heavier the better, it seems.

Dropping anchor at a good fishing spot


I went fishing yet again, but this time in an Ngalawa in the open ocean, pulling up fifteen or so whitefish with my line, though Juma, the Ngalawa owner must have caught 40! I finally got to see how the Ngalawa is with a paddle and sail in the sometimes rough Indian Ocean.

Adze practice
Then we began finishing a dhow, one that unfortunately I won't get to help put into the water. I learned to wield the adze with accuracy and deliberateness as well as use a bow drip and and seal the boat with cotton. Ive learned the processing of designing the dhow and building it but am far from having the immense knowledge of  a Nungwi fundi.


Mponda and Mkadara (octopus fisherman) measuring the dhow ribs

Thus my time has come to an end in Nungwi. Everyday I learn both how much theres is to know and how little I do. My respect for the people who uphold these beautiful traditions has grown in each of these days. A This week I move from Zanzibar into East Africa's great lakes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Daily Epics: Living in Nungwi

Helping to put a Dhow in the water
 I'm too busy net fishing in dugout canoes to be writing a blog! However worry not, I'll give you a few tastes of the moments which make Zanzibar one of the most incredible places on Earth.

All day, every day, the beachfront boat workshops fill the air with a symphony of hammering and woodcutting. Yet this week the music change dramatically from hammering to grunts and "Pull!" as I got to take part in launching a Dhow (in Swahili Dau) with 50 other local boys and men, hauling hard on the ropes as the keel rolled over logs into the sea. Though this wasn't a boat I worked on, I still was infiltrated with the pride of being a part of the community which builds such beautiful boats. 

Two Mtumbwis, or dugout canoe without an outrigger.

Mponda finishing a model Dhow
 Then I've been net fishing with a group of locals, who own dugout canoes called Mtumbwis, made from single mango trees. We take two of the canoes and make a huge circle with nets, as 15 or so of us smack the water with sticks to scare an assortment of reef fish into the nets. What an intense and rewarding job.

Finally, we are finishing our models and now i'm ready for the big boats (See a picture of the finished Ngalawa model at sail in the next post!). I could spend many life times here and know little compared to the many-generation craftsmanship here in the Nungwi boat yard. Yet being a part of it all is wonderful enough. Last night I got to play goatskin, coconut palm drums by a fire with many local and non-local friends. What a celebration it was! Seriously, we're at the ocean, what's not to celebrate?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Learning the Ngalawa, Learning the Sea

Ngalawa and Dhow builder Mponda with a one person Ngalawa, note the low tide.
Ive begun to learn the Ngalawa. A traditional double outrigger sailing canoe made from a solid tree for the hull, the Ngalawa is a beautiful sight coasting across the reef. Fundi (Swahili for master) Mponda is truly an incredible artist and teacher. For the past week we have been working intensely on a model Ngalawa, of just one Zirah (the elbow to middle finger traditional measurement), or roughly a half meter. After building this model, and a smaller model on my own, I will know the process of building the Ngalawa and be able to work on the larger ones.

Cutting the bow with an adze


After finding our wood (usually Mango brought from Pemba, the northern Zanzibari island) digging out the hull can begin, shaping it very thinly with an adze and a block plane.

The array of tools used for building the model and large Ngalawa alike

Once we have built the hull of the model Ngalawa an intricate rigging system for sail and outrigger must be built, which will be the focus of the next post.

Last week I went sailing on a Dhow with my friend Yotta, the captain, and his crew of four. We sailed out 50 miles into the ocean and dropped our nets as the sun was setting. Sleeping under old pieces of sail until the moon rose, where we could see to pull the nets and fish back into the boat. Sailing together by night back to Nungwi we made it just as the sun was rising again. with a fresh pot of ugali, or corn flower, to eat with a tuna we had caught.
Yotta deciding where to drop the net.
 I had never slept on a boat, without a motor, in the open ocean. This was true wilderness. No boat, no signs of other humans, except for the wooden dhow right under our feet, rocking in the waves. I have always grown up on rivers, and it hit me, the ocean is a entirely different environment.

I have a lot to learn about the Ngalawa, the way of the ocean, and Zanzibar culture before I will freely sail my own Ngalawa and catch the delicious fish of the Zanzibar reefs. Day by day, however, I become more rooted, more embedded, more intrigued, but most importantly I learn how little I know and how much there is to know.
A beached Ngalawa after putting the Merengo (outriggers) on to the hull.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Zanzibar the Beautiful

Sunset at the Dhow building workshops, northern Zanziba

It has been a spicy, complicate, beautiful, and fishy welcome to the unique archipelago of Zanzibar. A semi-independent nation with Tanzania, the small islands off the coast of eastern Africa that make up Zanzibar have perhaps a 50,000 year continuum of human history since the first human explorers floated cut logs from the mainland. Overtime, Arab, Africa, European and Indian traders converges on these islands not only trading goods, but ideas. Known informally as the spice islands, Zanzibar is not just unique because of the cinnamon and ginger in the amazing local chai, but because of its multi-spiced culture. Eating chapati in an Arab style coral house while speaking an Africa language (Swahili) is just a mild mid-day example. And everyday I spend here it is more and more clear that this is not the Middle East, Asia or even Africa. THIS is Zanzibar.

Zanzibar Dhow anchored at low tide
This amazing melting pot, and the sustaining of an island population with fish, wouldn't have been possible without the Dhow. Approximately a 1400 year old tradition, when traders first started inhabiting the spice islands, the Dhow was, and still is, the main mode of getting the job done and supporting this intricate economy. I am living in Nungwi, the very northern tip of Zanzibar's largest island. I am staying at the Mnarani Sea Turtle Conservation Pond, right on the beach, literally next to Zanzibarr's largest dhow construction community.

Two Zanzibari fishermen sailing a Ngalawa
 Yet the Dhow isn't why I came to Zanzibar. Its the fast and beautiful boat the predates the Dhow by an unknown amount of time, perhaps thousands and thousands of years. It is the Ngalawa. The Ngalawa is a think double outrigger canoe often used with a sail to fish the biodiverse coral reefs of Zanzibar. The Ngalawa is an ancient and amazing tradition and I have become the apprentice of a man named Mponda.

Zanzibar the beautiful, the majestic dhow sail