Saturday, October 1, 2016

BOOKS ABOUT OMAN: Sons of Sindbad, by Alan Villiers

While one OPNO contributor was researching China patterns with the sole aim of designing her own service set, she came across the photographs of Australian Mariner, Alan Villiers (1903-1982). They are also available documented in a beautiful coffee table book about Oman, the GCC pre-world war II, and sailing, entitled "Sons of Sindbad, the Photographs".

Many of Villiers' original photographs are on display in the Greenwich Museum in the U.K., which is, in case nautical history is not your thing, the foremost museum in the world archiving and documenting nautical history, probably because it is also the site of the Greenwich Meridian ...Which is totally why the 'dark elf' alien guy in the 2nd Thor movie has to destroy the universe specifically from Greenwich...in case the 2nd Thor movie is your only known reference to Greenwich...and that part of the movie made you scratch your head a bit.

Back to the original topic...Lucky for us, not only did Villiers photograph a fading way of life before it disappeared, but he also recorded his own impressions of the experience with great clarity. The result is "Sons of Sindbad" the book.

Villier's book is one of the few books written about Arabian Maritime History, and I highly recommend it. I felt like I was on board with the Kuwaiti crew, gripping the rails, admiring the superior sailing knowledge of Captain Ali ibn Nasr al-Nejdi right along with Mr. Villiers, and experiencing Oman and the rest of the GCC's seaports as they were in the late 1930s.
In Oman we are lucky, because Oman's historical ports are preserved for the most part, but for Kuwait especially, it is a look at a world that is entirely faded away.

The story: Villiers believes that the dhow will be the last sailing ship to dominate a sea route, and so he sets out to experience a reality fated to fade away. In Aden he finds a Kuwaiti dhow captain and crew willing to take a Westerner on. Departing from Yemen, they sail from the Gulf to East Africa with a cargo of dates, and return from East Africa, to Kuwait. If world war II hadn't broken out, Villiers might have had time to record more.

My take: Often described as the 'Thesiger of the Sea', I enjoyed Villiers way of describing his experiences. Not only is it a fascinating book on sailing, it is one of the few books that are a window into Arab life pre-world war II in the Middle East. Title is pretty awesome too;)

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