Tanja sail

Tanja sail (Malay: layar tanja) or tanja rig is a type of sail commonly used by the Malay people and other Austronesians, particularly in Maritime Southeast Asia. It is also known as the tilted square sail, canted rectangular sail, or balance lug sail in English.[1][2][3] In historical sources, tanja sail is sometimes incorrectly to referred as lateen sail or simply square sail.[4]


Also called tanjaq, tanjak, tanja', tanjong, or tanjung sail. The Mandar people call it sombal tanjaq because when the wind blows the lower part of the sail (peloang) would "mattanjaq" (lit. "kick").[1][5] In colonial British records, it is sometimes written as "lyre tanjong", a misspelling of layar tanjong (layar means "sail" in Malay; layag in Philippine languages).[6][1]


Early contact with Arab ships in the Indian Ocean during Austronesian voyages is believed to have resulted in the development of the triangular Arabic lateen sail. In turn, Arab ships are believed to have influenced the development of the Austronesian rectangular tanja sail.[7] However, there are also historians who disagree with this. Johnstone, Shaffer, and Hourani considered this sail as a genuine invention of Nusantaran people, which in turn influenced the Arabs to develop their lateen sail.[8][3][9] A research by Lynn White concludes that the Arab and Indian lateen sail is actually an adaptation the lateen sail from the Portuguese ships (caravel), which arrived post 1498s.[10] According to H. Warington Smyth, the Malay tanja sail is an adaptation and development of the primitive square sail, with boom at the head and the foot. The Malay tilted the sail forward, to bring the tack right to the deck, turning the sail into the most powerful of lifting sails on a wind.[11]


Tanja sail can be distinguished by its canted/oblique design. The sail face is asymmetrical in shape and most of the area is elongated to the sides, rather than upward like those of lug sail.

The 3rd century book "Strange Things of the South" (南州異物志) by Wan Chen (萬震) describes large ships which originates from K'un-lun (Southern country, either Java or Sumatra). The ships called K'un-lun po (or K'un-lun bo). He explains the ship's sail design as follows:

The four sails do not face directly forward, but are set obliquely, and so arranged that they can all be fixed in the same direction, to receive the wind and to spill it. Those sails which are behind the most windward one receiving the pressure of the wind, throw it from one to the other, so that they all profit from its force. If it is violent, (the sailors) diminish or augment the surface of the sails according to the conditions. This oblique rig, which permits the sails to receive from one another the breath of the wind, obviates the anxiety attendant upon having high masts. Thus these ships sail without avoiding strong winds and dashing waves, by the aid of which they can make great speed.

Wan Chen, [12]

The invention of this type of sail made sailing around western coast of Africa possible, because of its ability to sail against the wind.[9] As noted by Hourani:

"The Malays were also the first to use balance-lug sail, an invention of global significance. Balance-lugs are square sails set fore and aft and tilted down at the end. They can be pivoted sideways, which makes it possible to sail into the oncoming wind at an angle to tack against the wind – to sail at an angle first one way and then the other, in a zigzag pattern, so as to go in the direction from which the wind is blowing. Because of the way the sides of the sail were tilted, from a distance it looked somewhat triangular.... It is thus quite likely that the Malay balance-lug was the inspiration for the triangular lateen sail, which was developed by sailors living on either side of the Malays, the Polynesians to their east and the Arabs to their west.

Precisely when the Polynesians and the Arabs began using the lateen sail remains unknown, but it would seem to have been in the last centuries B.C.E. It is known that the Arabs in the vicinity of the Indian Ocean were accomplished sailors by the first century C.E. and both they and the Polynesians apparently had the lateen sail by then"[3]


Most Southeast Asian and Austronesian vessels used the tanja sail. This type of sail brought Malay sailors as far as Ghana in the 8th century,[13] and there is probability these sailor reached the New World as early as 1420 A.D. using Javanese junks.[14][15] These are vessels that use tanja sail:

See also


  1. Hawkins, Clifford W. (1982). Praus of Indonesia. Nautical Books. p. 47.
  2. Liebner, Horst (November 1992). "Remarks on the terminology of boatbuilding and seamanship in some languages of Southern Sulawesi". Indonesia Circle. School of Oriental & African Studies. Newsletter. 21 (59–60): 18–44. doi:10.1080/03062849208729790.
  3. Hourani, George Fadlo (1951). Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  4. Reid, Anthony (2000). Charting the Course of Early Modern Southeast Asia. Silkworm Books. ISBN 9747551063.
  5. Haryadi, Rohmat (13 November 2017). "Padewakang the Spice Ship of Nusantara". Gatra. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  6. Folkard, H.C. (1863). The Sailing Boat: A Treatise on English and Foreign Boats. Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts. pp. 216, 221, 222.
  7. Mahdi, Waruno (1999). "The Dispersal of Austronesian boat forms in the Indian Ocean". In Blench, Roger; Spriggs, Matthew (eds.). Archaeology and Language III: Artefacts languages, and texts (PDF). One World Archaeology. 34. Routledge. p. 144-179. ISBN 0415100542.
  8. Shaffer, Lynda Norene (1996). Maritime Southeast Asia to 1500. M.E. Sharpe.
  9. Johnstone, Paul (1980). The Seacraft of Prehistory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674795952.
  10. White, Lynn (1978), "The Diffusion of the Lateen Sail". Medieval Religion and Technology. Collected Essays, University of California Press, pp. 255-260.
  11. Smyth, H. Warington (May 16, 1902). "Boats and Boat Building in the Malay Peninsula". Journal of the Society of Arts. 50: 570–588 via JSTOR.
  12. "Strange Things of the South", Wan Chen, from Robert Temple
  13. Dick-Read, Robert (2005). The Phantom Voyagers: Evidence of Indonesian Settlement in Africa in Ancient Times. Thurlton.
  14. Text from Fra Mauro map, 10-A13, original Italian: "Circa hi ani del Signor 1420 una naue ouer çoncho de india discorse per una trauersa per el mar de india a la uia de le isole de hi homeni e de le done de fuora dal cauo de diab e tra le isole uerde e le oscuritade a la uia de ponente e de garbin per 40 çornade, non trouando mai altro che aiere e aqua, e per suo arbitrio iscorse 2000 mia e declinata la fortuna i fece suo retorno in çorni 70 fina al sopradito cauo de diab. E acostandose la naue a le riue per suo bisogno, i marinari uedeno uno ouo de uno oselo nominato chrocho, el qual ouo era de la grandeça de una bota d'anfora."
  15. Cartas de Afonso de Albuquerque, Volume 1, p. 64, April 1, 1512
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