Skip to main content

Research projects

The Boat Builders of Zanzibar: Nautical Technology and Maritime Identity in a Changing World

Funded by the British Academy/Honor Frost Foundation (Project SL-08385).

Principal Investigator: Dr John P Cooper

Co-Investigator: Dr Lucy Blue (University of Southampton).

Project summary

The East African coast is the last of the littoral regions of the western Indian Ocean in which the making and use of wooden boats powered by sail predominates. The island of Unguja—the largest island of Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago—is one of its larger centres. Here as elsewhere, however, the material culture, crafts and activities surrounding the wooden-boat tradition is in transition, due, among other things, to coastal development, new technologies, and socio-economic change. This pilot ethno-archaeological research project documents existing wooden vessel types and explores through ethnographic collaboration their technological, economic and social place within the maritime communities and landscapes of Zanzibar. It also seeks to understand the numerous processes influencing the adoption and adaption of new technologies into the material cultural milieu of Zanzibari boat builders and users. By engaging with individual builders, it also investigates the manner by which builders conceptualise and construct their vessels in a context where drawn plans are not the medium of knowledge retention and transmission.