Skills Associated with Traditional craftsmanship




Shipbuilding is one of the industries that grew famous in the UAE and the Arab Gulf states. It constituted a good resource for its owners, and although not as common now, it is a maritime heritage that the people of the UAE are proud of.
The traditional shipbuilding industry was known as “qallafah”, pronounced “jallafah”, and the shipbuilder was called “qallaf” “jallaf”. It is one of the oldest professions in the UAE. Shipbuilding is considered a difficult profession, as a single ship would be pronounced by a number of craftsmen involved in the carpentry process and the manufacture of the various ship parts.

Since ancient times, the inhabitants of the United Arab have utilized to contact neighbouring countries for trade, livelihood and diving, which is why the need to manufacture ships arose. Children would inherit these skills from their ancestors, maintain their secrets and innovate in making them. A lot of men were famous for their ship making skills in all regions of the countries.

Jallafa remains one of the oldest professions in the country. It specifically means tying pieces of wood with ropes or sewing wooden boards similar to how cloth is sewn. This is the historical concept of qallafah, as the modern method is different in that iron nails are used instead of the sewing or tying methods in which the fibres of a certain type of tree, coconut trees, were used.

The ship building crew consists of:
Oustad: the head of the jallafs, and the most experienced and knowledgeable. He is the engineer of the ship, the supervisor and overseer of all stages of construction, the person who agrees on the construction of the ship with the owner, and pays the wages of the jallafs. Deputy Oustad: the person immediately beneath the Oustad in terms of experience and rank. He supervises the jallafs and the work in the absence of the Oustad, The shalamen supervisor: is the jallaf who trims the boards of the ship. The nailer: a jallaf who is entrusted with the task of striking nails and hammering them into the body and structure of the boards of the ship. Some of these jallafs are distinguished by the fact that when hammering the nails, they can strike in harmonic and harmonious movements, which produces beautiful and vibrant melodies that the rest of the jallafs and those overseeing the construction of the ship find delightful. Jallaf kalafat: (jalafat or qulafat): performs the task of kalafat, which means inserting wicks of grease-saturated cotton between the spaces of the ship's boards to prevent water from seeping into it. This work is mastered by all jallafs because of its importance and need in the majority of ships. Jalaf shaqaq: The one who is assigned the task of splitting the panels. He must be characterized by precision, balance and visual acuity, so that he does not make mistakes that lead to the cracking of the panels and the loss of their value. Sometimes two men participate in cutting huge pieces of wood, and use a two-handed saw. Worker: a man who helps the jallafs in fetching them their jallafa tools, cleans the construction site, and fulfils the jallafs’ requests in fetching some tools and equipment from outside the workshop. Waleed: A boy less than 10 years of age who provides the jallafs with their jallafa tools, in exchange for learning the profession, and remains until he has either mastered the profession or decides to withdraw from it. The cook: a man who provides for the workshop workers, especially breakfast and lunch.

In addition, there are attributes known to the people of the sea that the jallaf must have, including cleanliness while working and the credibility that governs the relationships and dealings between merchants and dealers, in addition to taking weights and measures into consideration to ensure a high-quality final product. The qallafs has excelled in building ships of various shapes, types and specifications relying on the experience gained and accumulated over the years. The qallafa profession is considered one of the most difficult professions, as it is an arduous profession that requires great physical effort.

The qallaf’s work begins at the end of the diving season, when divers return to rest, and the work of the qallaf begins. The ships are pulled to the shores, work begins on them, including repairs, restorations and renovations. The relationships among shipbuilders have been governed since ancient times by specific traditions and customs that regulate the ways they deal with one another.

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