Mareeg.com-It seems that Eritrea’s Afar people have lost their sailing heritage,
falling victim to the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels.
Living along the southern Red Sea coast of Africa, the Afars were made
famous by the finding of the earliest human remains in the Afar Desert
(once the Sea of Afar, and a Sea again one day due to rising sea
For unknown millenia the Afars sailed the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
Spreading their lateen rigged sails they carried out trade and social
intercourse from Egypt in the north to Somalia and Kenya in the south
to Oman in the east. They may well have ridden the seasonal monsoon
winds even further, for the winds that blew them to Oman continue
uninterupted to India and than reverse and blow back to Africa again.
They probably were regular visitors to the Persian Gulf for the
ancient Persians wrote of visitors from Africa.
Their ancestors were at the center of a trade route between Egypt
(Kmt), Greece and Rome and India and beyond to China from ancient
times from their Red Sea capital of Adulis/Punt, located near todays
Port of Massawa in Eritrea.
The Great Red Sea Tsunami that completely obliterated Adulis between
600-700 AD must have almost completely wiped out the Afar towns and
villages along the southern Red Sea coast, leaving for future
generations little of what was once an advanced maritime based
Sailing the seas without a compass, sucessfully using the power of
wind to travel thousands of kilometers and back, the Afar could have
been the first to venture onto the seas and oceans. For if they were
the first humans, and lived next to and harvested food from the Red
Sea, wouldnt it make sense for them to be the worlds first sailors?
Today the Afars are addicted to the internal combustion engine and
without diesel fuel and petrol/gasoline they are helpless to travel or
catch the fish that is their sustenance. The Afars no longer sail
their samboks or small skiffs, it is far easier to fire up the engine
and head straight to where they want to go, no hassle, no work, just
Lets face it, sailing a boat, especially a large sambok, is no easy
matter. A great deal of hard work and practical scientific knowledge
is required, especially if you are traveling for weeks with a cloud
covered sky. No compass, no moon or stars or even sun to guide you,
how do you know which direction to head? The Afars knew, but todays
Afars no longer do. Thousands of years of accumulated wisdom lost in
one or two generations?
I am not saying there are no Afars who can sail, Eritrean Admiral
Karikari or some of the other gray headed wisemen may still be able
to. But they don’t.
The younger generation of Afars can only gaze in envy when they cross
paths with a sailboat, for engines can and do break down in the middle
of the ocean, wouldn’t it be best to have the alternative of sailing?
Can the Afar’s sailing heritage be saved? Maybe, though it may take a
rebirth by future generations to see sailing become part of the Afar
culture once again.
Thomas C. Mountain is an historian and educator living and reporting
from Eritrea since 2006. See thomascmountain on Facebook,
thomascmountain on Twitter or best reach him at thomascmountain at g
mail dot com