The Dhow as Cultural Icon,

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Abstract. This romanticization of dhows within the western Indian Ocean is a relatively new phenomenon and contrasts with earlier perceptions of dhows in the region and in the West. In the remainder of this paper, I will examine nineteenth- and twentieth-century views of dhows (focusing primarily on Zanzibar) and the associations they carried with those that have emerged in the final decades of the twentieth century and the early years of this century. Furthermore, I will argue, the current nostalgia for the dhow and their promotion as cultural heritage by governments represents a change in how elites in the region perceive the cultural geography of their world. The dhow serves as an icon (at least in the current romantic view) symbolizing the oceanic connections between the lands of the western Indian Ocean. For some coastal East Africans the dhow symbolizes their links to Arabia, Persia, and India, and allows them a degree of cultural and historical separation from Africa. In the Gulf, the dhow represents a past when Arab wealth came from more glamorous endeavors than selling oil, and in the case of Oman, a time when the nation was a regional power. Omani imperial power and Kuwaiti mercantile wealth both derived from their regional connections to Africa and India. So in the Gulf, as in East Africa, the use of the dhow as a cultural symbol is indicative of a new (or perhaps revived) notion of the western Indian Ocean as a place.