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MBI Al Jaber Foundation Supports 3rd Beatrice de Cardi Lecture

The 3rd Beatrice de Cardi lecture was presented by IASA Trustee, Professor Dionisius Agius

‘Our Days on the Sea are Gone but Our Stories Still Remain: The Life of the Red Sea Dhow’
by Professor Dionisius Agius

The 3rd Beatrice de Cardi lecture was presented by IASA Trustee, Professor Dionisius Agius. Dionisius is, amongst other things, an ethnographer and anthropologist specialising in the seafarers of the Arabian Peninsula. His latest publication is ‘The Life of the Red Sea Dhow’ and this formed the basis of his lecture.

Dionisius took us back to the days when the Red Sea was a vibrant network of interconnected fishing communities, with no borders and a shared culture. He first became fascinated by the dhow in 1984 when he happened upon a traditional Kuwaiti boatyard and followed the construction over a number of weeks, immersing himself in the craftsmanship of the process. His talk was illustrated by his own photographs, as well as those sourced from local archives and national collections.

The story was based upon accounts of Red Sea trade by early travellers, such as Ludwig Burckhardt, those of more recent explorers, such as Villiers, and interviews by Dionisius and his team, which took place along both coasts from Djibouti and Yemen in the South to Egypt in the North via Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Sudan.

The generic term ‘dhow’, Dionisius explained, encompasses a wide range of specialised hull types suited to pearl hunting, fishing and cargo haulage over both short and long distances. Maps and photographs of old port towns were shown, including Suakin in Sudan and Quseir in Egypt, with their traditional buildings and relics of their past still embedded in the architecture.

Finally, Dionisius spoke about how the advent of the Suez canal, the steamship and modern territoriality have virtually swept away those old traditions of freedom under sail. He also showed, however, that those traditions are not dead; they still live on in the cultural memory of the people and some wooden dhows are still being used, despite the greater efficiency and availability of the fibreglass hull.

After a Q&A session, the audience adjourned to the Leventis Gallery for a reception where Dionisius continued to answer questions and sign copies of his new book.

WARNING: Strobing effects occur during the film of this lecture which may affect viewers susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy and other photosensitivities.

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