We met in the home of Awadh Mafud Aman, an aging sailor. As we enjoyed the fresh sea breeze,
Hadhrami men filtered into the room: sailors, captains, pilots and merchants.
The talk focused on trade and long-distance voyages, and the sailors told us of their routes, cargoes and vessels, and of their home, al-H ami.
As the talk progressed, Awadh Mafud reached into a drawer and produced a collection of navigational instruments from the last century,
including compass, sextant, chronometer, and Admiralty charts. Al-Hami ‘s origins remain uncertain.
The village probably developed as a small fishing community or way-station, gradually attaining some stature as an abode for active and retired mariners.
Many of these seamen sailed out of neighboring al-Shihr, the region’s emporium and major port for the W adi Hadhramaut.
The merchants and sailors of the towns of the adhramaut region played a vital role not only in Indian Ocean trade, but also in spreading the message of Islam.
Hadhrami sayyids, or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, fo llowing in his commercial and religious footsteps, filled their hearts with belief and their ships’ holds with goods.
Throughout the Indian Ocean littoral, great Hadhrami famili es maintained a vast network of contacts,
interacting with the local cultures, yet always maintaining their distinct identity.
For hundreds of years, as the sons of these great families traversed the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean basin,
they brought Arab culture and Islam with them, and returned to Arabia’s Wadi Hadhramaut laden with Indian, African and Indonesian influences.
It was also along the South Arabian coast that the famed Arabian navigators learned, practiced and taught their trade.
The greatest ofrhesewas Ahmad Ibn Majid, originally from Sur, Oman.
He wro te over 40 works dealing with the science and applica tion of naviga tion; his greatest achievement was the Kitab al-Fawa ‘id (AD 1490).
Here, orga nized into twelvefa’idas or sections, is the accumulated knowledge of 4,000 years of Arab seafaring,
Revealing the advanced astronomical knowledge of Arab mariners, celestial navigation techniques, monsoonal sailing theory and compass points.
The stark South Arabian coast was Ibn Majid’s backyard, and he charred in his mind every cape, every cove and every village.
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