Ayaz Al Zadjali: Shipwright, Sailor, and Craftsman Extraordinaire

This week saw yet another landmark in the burgeoning career of Omani maritime enthusiast, Ayaz bin Khalid Al Zadjali, as he presented an exhibition of models, and examples of traditional Omani shipbuilding techniques in Muscat. A high profile guest list watched on as H.E. Mohamed bin Youssef Al Zarafi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Financial and Administrative Affairs opened the exhibition, accompanied by his entourage, with the French Ambassador to Oman, HE Renaud Salins, and the Lebanese Ambassador, HE Albert Samaha.
Al Zadjali’s potential as a craftsman was first recognized, and nurtured, by Dr Tom Vosmer, and colleague, Peter King, as part of a government inspired initiative aimed at retaining the crafts and shipbuilding techniques of the Sultanate. King, accompanied by his wife Christa, was extremely proud, not only of the quality of work exhibited by his young protégé, but that he had demonstrated such diversity of skill. “I shouldn’t be surprised though,” said King, “as he was our star pupil.”
The young Omani was heavily involved in the “Jewel of Muscat,” venture, which saw the ship of the same name constructed using the age-old, 9th Century construction techniques, and then sailed extensively, under Captain Saleh Al Jabri, throughout the region, across to India, and down to Singapore, demonstrating the resilience, skills and seamanship of Zadjali and his fellow builders, and shipmates, Khamis Al Hamdani, Yahya Al Faraji, Adam Al Balushi, Fahad al Shaibi, Robert Jackson, Eric Staples, Jeff Khoo, Said Al Tarshi, and Sajid Valappil.
Under-Secretary Zarafi himself explained that he was somewhat in awe of the exhibit before him, as a “historical display, and just another example of the many skills Oman has given the world in the past. It makes me very proud,” he said, and went on to say that, “every student, every young Omani should see this, to understand the influence of their country in sea travel and trade for so many years.”
Always prominent at cultural events, Ambassador Salins was fascinated by the concept that a ship, not just a model, but a full-sized Dhow in the Al Hariri style was built without any nails, with all the timberwork being ‘sewn’ and tied into place through an intricate series of knots and weaves. He commented that, “It is essential for any nation to maintain and protect its craft and knowledge heritage, and this is a very good example.”
Ambassador Samaha enjoyed the exhibition immensely, and commented that for him, as a relatively new representative in the Sultanate, it was “an excellent opportunity to build upon the close cultural links my country, Lebanon, enjoys with both Oman, and France, and to recognize the heritage behind the craftsmen, and their fathers.”
Another VIP attendee, was Nabil Mohsin Al Lawati, Professor of Medicine at Sultan Qaboos University, accompanied by his son Mohsin, and daughter Ikram, who chose the Military Battil as the pick of the exhibits. Lawati shook his head as he looked around him, “I never knew about much of this, and it’s amazing. We need this perpetuated, so generations to come can see this part of our heritage, the story of our nation, revealed so impressively.”
Jean-Paul Gonheim admitted that he was, “enchanted by the quality of the work on display,” and was pleased to see the Franco-Omani Centre at the forefront of the promotion of Omani national skills and craftsmanship. Jean-Cristophe Courbin too was impressed. Being a native of Reunion Island, which was discovered by sailors using such craft in the conduct of the spice trade, he saw it as an “excellent reflection of the enthusiasm of Zadjali. Not art, but incredibly good craftwork.”
So, it appears Zadjali enjoys significant patronage, but here is a man who in 2009 said of his work with the Jewel of Muscat, “The biggest difference is that I’ve only ever worked on models before, and now we’re working on a full-sized ship.” He was intrigued at the time and challenged by the concept of building a ship without nails, but simply oozes enthusiasm for what he does, and has done.
Ayaz Al Zadjali, the Jewel of Muscat, and the rich Omani seagoing heritage are now inextricably linked, a window opened to the past through his knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. One can only wonder at his influence if he was born in what was probably ‘his’ time, alongside the likes of Ahmed bin Majed? We will never know, however his role in the retention of a nation’s national heritage, today, will not be seen, or taken lightly.