Abdullah Mohammed Sulaiman is one of two remaining builders of the shoosh (shasha singular) that have been used for centuries along the east coast of the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Since the 1940s he has been fishing the Fujairah coast where he learned the traditional boat building art from his father and grandfather.
Agriculture and fishing have been the two basic occupations that have provided food for the people of the eastern emirate. As the emirates were formed into the United Arab Emirates and grew in prosperity the government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries helped fishermen to purchase large wooden and later fibreglass fishing boats, engines and long nets that were no longer pulled in by jeeps. From the 1970s there was no longer any need for the shoosh.
Abdullah Sulaiman said when his father died he started building the shasha for the sake of heritage, providing these souvenirs for the Marine Clubs in Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. He said, “It was in my blood. I had nothing else to do and the boats I built for people provided me with a little income.”
Sulaiman makes them in different sizes according to the order of people who like to have a shasha for their home or office. A small boat he sells for Dh1,000-1,500 while a larger racing model goes for Dh5,000-7,000. There are not enough orders to make a living out of the shoosh business but Abdullah is heartened to be building a fascinating heritage.
As he is advancing in years his hands do not have the same strength and two of his sons, Abdul Rahman and Hassan, are doing most of the building of the shoosh to enable Abdullah to adopt more of a supervisory role.
If all the materials are available it takes between half to one day to build a shasha. The palm fronds are soaked in salt water for a week and their wetness during the construction process gives them the necessary flexibility for bending them into shape. The fibre from the sheath of the date palm leaves is plaited into ‘rope’, threaded through the fronds and used to bind them together. The stump (‘karb’) that attaches the frond to the trunk is light and 600 or more of these are fixed inside each shasha to give it buoyancy. In some of the new boats nylon has replaced the fibre and polystyrene is often used to increase buoyancy particularly in the bigger boats.
In making a shasha every part of the date palm is used and any material left over is used for fuelling fires. Abdulla’s workshop reveals the versatility of the date palm as it is has been used for making mats, screens, baskets, fans, brooms and fishing traps (before they were superseded by the steel variety). The frame and oars of the shasha are made out of acacia wood.
Whereas the traditional shasha was made to carry one or two fishermen the new styled racing model is built to carry four rowers plus a cox to give the boat better steering. While some old-timers feel this is a departure from the traditional design the larger racing boats are used to encourage more people to participate in the Al Shoosh regattas.
The shoosh with their flexibility can withstand the high seas and they will never sink, however, they get heavy from being waterlogged and need to be dried out between outings. The shoosh usually last for a year or up to two years if they are well maintained.
Major Ahmed said that the aim of the Fujairah International Marine Club is to keep people aware of what their parents and grandparents used for fishing. If we don’t do this in five to ten years it will be gone. We will have lost our valuable heritage.”
In addition to the annual series of heats that make up the annual Al Shoosh championship, Major Ahmed has established a Heritage Souk (market) with ten shops on the property of the Marine Club, one of which is devoted to showcasing the shoosh and many everyday items that have been made from the date palm.
See the Shoosh in Action
See the shoosh in action at the Fujairah corniche on these days during the 2009-2010 Fujairah Water Sports season:
13 November 2009 (Fri) 4.00pm Crown Prince Al Shoosh Championships Heat 1
08 January 2010 (Fri) 4.00pm Crown Prince Al Shoosh Championships Heat 2
19 February 2010 (Fri) 4.00pm Crown Prince Al Shoosh Championships Heat 3
23 April 2010 (Fri) 4.00pm Crown Prince Al Shoosh Championships Heat 4 (Final)
See the Shoosh on Display
Visit the Heritage Souk in the grounds of the Fujairah International Marine Club (to the left as you come in the main gate, up toward the fence and before you get to the basketball court).
Talk with Abdullah Sulaiman in the Heritage Souk (first shop on the left). He will be in attendance on many evenings and especially on the afternoon of the day when there are water sports competitions. Call the FIMC to arrange a time for you or your group to meet him at +971 (0) 9 222 1166.
Dr Geoff Pound
Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at)gmail.com on Facebook and Twitter.
From top to bottom:
Abdulla getting ready a new shasha
This man has a long memory and he is a great storyteller
Shasha #2 put in a great performance at last year’s Al Shoosh championship
Boring holes through the palms
Establishing a strong floor to the shasha
Abdulla’s sons and helpers
Baskets made from the date palm
Major Ahmed says “There’s nothing wasted in the date palm.”
Rope made from the fibre from the date palm
Abdullah wearing a home made nose peg once used by Fujairah divers