Wednesday, May 31, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 10, 1444 H
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Al Ghanja: Reviving one of Oman’s iconic ships


By Arwa Al Hashimi

Shipbuilding is one of the most distinguished traditional industries for which the Omanis are famous for and it occupies a prominent position in ancient Omani history.

The creativity of the Omanis and the society’s growth can be traced by how they built their boats and the genius of Oman’s boatmakers can best be seen in the Wilayat of Sur where the boat building tradition is still practised to this day. Thankfully, there are still some brilliant young Omanis who are dedicated to the revival of ancient local ships used by their ancestors.

Al Ghanja is one of the most famous ships built in the Wilayat of Sur. The people of Sur have excelled globally in building wonderful and strong ships that they use for trips that take months. Sur had an active role in the navigational activity between Oman and Yemen on the one hand, and the coasts of East Africa, India and China on the other.

Al Ghanja is a traditional large vessel made of high-quality wood. It is a purely Omani ship that is manufactured only in the Sultanate of Oman. It is one of the large-sized ships, with a tonnage of (400) tonnes, and it is one of the ships that were used for long-distance sailing. Building Al Ghanja has stopped several years ago.

Mohammed al Raisi, who has a big interest in ships and planes, decided to bring life back to Al Ghanja ship after he saw a wood model of it while he was visiting Sur. He got thrilled with the ship’s shape, the beautiful carvings surrounding it and the captivating scene of its ropes and sails. From that spurt of inspiration, he would move on and decided to create a wireless model, something that will bring the Al Ghanja back to life and into the future.

With his background in aeroplane making, Mohammed felt that moving towards shipbuilding isn’t hard. When he was making radio-controlled aeroplanes, he also needed to look at weight, balance and cruise which are shared characteristics when building a ship.

Mohammed shared that when shipbuilders created ships in the past, they do so without any building plans. And that’s exactly how he decided to do this project. He also used simple and accessible materials including wood and cork. He shared that this experience has taught him that exquisite work does not need much money, it needs the worker’s passion and interest.

Building Al Ghanja takes a whole year. A fine example of this is Fath Al Khair, now located in front of the Maritime Museum in Sur and was erected to serve as a memorial to this ancient city.

For Mohammed’s project, it took him four months to finally show us his masterpiece. He explained that it took a while as he wanted to get the work done precisely and without any pressure. He wanted to enjoy every single moment while doing it. He was also keen on representing a model that is identical to the real ship.

Mohammed shared that while he thinks it was easy to make the ship in theory, it was a different thing in reality facing different challenges along the way. He mentioned that one of his major issues was how to convert the ship to a wireless model and figuring out how to make an engine work for his project was a lot of challenges. He also said that he has to figure out a way how to maintain the traditional ship but also enhance its ability to sail.

Mohammed shared he was really happy while going through the process of building the ship. He shared it was magnificent and distinctive to embark on such a project as he felt like his breathing new life into a lost practice and tradition. He said the greatest joy is being able to show appreciation to the older generation who allowed the country to see beautiful vessels that became a big part of Oman’s identity.

Despite all the challenges, Mohammed succeeded in pursuing his plans of creating a wireless model of Al Ghanja, something he said was his way of showing his gratitude towards his homeland and its legacies.

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