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CREDITS Chairman Hatim al Taie

General Manager Rathish Ramachandran

Editor-in-Chief Abdullah al Taie

Asst. General Manager Terry Mathukutty

Published by Deenar Press & Publishing LLC PO Box 139, PC 102, Al Qurm Sultanate of Oman Tel: +968 24696868 Fax: +968 24693569 Email: Printed at Oman Printers and Stationers Sultanate of Oman Copyright Š 2011 Deenar Press & Publishing LLC

Editorial Sujata Sengupta Poornima Ramani Sangeetha Gopi Design Shyniben Koyakkil Muneeb Khan Sales Mary Gonzales Sami Dalwai Leticia Meneses

Acknowledgement His Majesty’s photograph and the Royal Opera House Muscat pictures, Mohammed Mustafa

Disclaimer All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form in whole or in part without the written permission of the publishers. While every care has been taken in the preparation of this book, Deenar Press and Publishing cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information herein, or any consequences arising from it.

FOREWORD In the name of God, the compassionate and merciful Oman has a rich and diverse cultural heritage, with a history of human settlement that dates back to the Stone Age. Cultural heritage has been a priority for Omanis, beginning in 1976 with the formation of the country’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture. This branch of the government has worked to protect not only the magnificent forts, castles, mosques and ancient buildings of Oman, but also smaller artefacts and handicrafts. Even the retrieval of cultural information has been prioritised, with nearly 5,000 documents relevant to Oman’s history having been collected from other nations, then classified and preserved by specialists. Oman’s commitment to preserving its cultural history should be lauded at a time when many other countries are willing to favour modernisation. “Our decision to celebrate this year as the Year of National Heritage is a means to emphasise the value of our inheritance and to preserve the knowledge and the feeling on the part of our people that the present is indissolubly linked with the past, and that their future will be the result of their work both in that past and the present. If everyone contributes to the fullest extent of his knowledge and personal resources to our country, the future stability and prosperity of our country will be safely assured,” said His Majesty on the 31st National Day of Oman. The Majestic 2011 journeys through the cultural facets of Oman. The book showcases the unique architecture of Oman and its guarded steps towards modern influences. The section on Adornments captures the essence of traditional Omani dresses and jewellery in all their vibrancy. The Heritage section brings alive the ancient warships and the bedouin lifestyles among other interesting nuggets of an era gone by. The book also traverses through the indigenous crafts of this nation that is a thriving industry in itself. This book is our tribute to Oman’s artisans and the country’s unique heritage.

Abdullah Mohammed al Tai

Contents 34

Cultural haven 20

Verses and tales 38

Preserving the past 26

Galloping steeds 42

Dune chasers 30

Welcoming flavours

Contents 58

Smooth sailing 44

Changing skyline 62

Brute force 48

Forts of Oman 66

Sprinters of sand 50

Monumental resurrection

Contents 80

Strides into the future 70

Rosy picture 84

Encouraging crafts 74

Honey hunting 88

Mud musings 76

Fine incense

ment Environ & Friendly y g r Ene t AC Efficien

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P.O. Box 1009, P.C.: 114, Jibroo. Sales Enquiry: Tel: 24702982/5 Fax: 24702980 E-mail: CBD - 24703455, ext-510 Sohar: 97080794 Fax: 26845647 Salalah: 97750500 Fax: 23291617 Daikin Service Across Oman Tel: 24813408 Fax: 24811941 Mobile: 97080778 E-mail:

Our sincere felicitations to

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and the citizens of Oman on the occasion of the 41st National day.

Contents 108

Charismatic dagger 92

Unfolding yarns 110

Resonating vibrations 96

Language of dress 116

Dream weavers 102

Written in silver


Keeping heritage relevant to the modern age and ensuring traditions continue to be passed on from one generation to the next can be a challenging task. At the direction of His Majesty, various government departments are doing commendable work in keeping vulnerable aspects of Oman’s heritage alive, many of which are in danger of being rendered obsolete by the country’s transition to a modern state.

H erita g e

The Royal Opera House Muscat opened its doors in October this year and brought internationally acclaimed ballets and theatres to the country


he Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) opened amidst a huge fanfare this year. His Majesty the Sultan, on the occasion of the opening of the Opera House, said, “Oman throughout its long history has played prominent roles in various cultural fields and the time has come now to cap that rich march by means of adopting concepts of international culture and by effective contribution to its promotion. Towards that end, we have established


Cultural haven

the Royal Opera House Muscat as a centre of cultural radiation for the Omani people and all humanity. We have sought to foster the constructive role of Oman in the dialogue among civilisations and in enriching cultural exchange and strengthening bonds of permanent friendship and co-operation. We are sure that the Royal Opera House will play a significant role in disseminating world heritage and reinforcing the principles of peace, co-existence and understanding

among all nations and peoples through art events that express a common human cultural heritage of strong meaning and deep impact.� As promised, the inaugural season is witnessing a series of theatrical treat for the connoisseurs of art and culture in this country, as the best performances from around the world are being staged here. The Royal Opera House has added one of the most significant

His Majesty, with dignitaries, at a special screening of Turandot in the Royal Opera House Muscat

Turandot Opera in progress at ROHM

feathers in the cap of the sultanate. It is a successful effort to reach out to the world through art. In the whole of the Middle East and the entire Arab world, the Royal Opera House offers the sole and the best venue for performing art. It is also an exclusive and a much sought after destination of global music and theatre. The Royal Opera House, in true sense, is the manifestation of Oman’s continued tryst with varied artistic genres and contemporary forms.

The artistic programme of ROHM’s inaugural season focused on opera productions, ballet performances and music concerts. The production of two operas Turandot and Carmen have been specially commissioned and are now owned by ROHM. For the Grand Opening Day, Giacomo Puccini’s last masterpiece Turandot, featuring the Arena di Verona Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet was performed under the direction of the legendary Maestro Franco Zeffirelli. Later,

George Bizet’s Carmen was performed by the famous La Verdi Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of the world renowned Gianni Quaranta. The American Ballet Theater, accompanied by the world-renowned State Hermitage Orchestra, will make its first trip to the region to perform Don Quixote. Other exceptional and historic ballet performances include: Giselle by Teatro Alla Scala Ballet Company, accompanied by the Accademia alla Scala Orchestra;

The Royal Opera House has added one of the most significant feathers in the cap of the sultanate 21

The opulent seating inside ROHM

Shim Chung – The Blindman’s Daughter by the Universal Ballet of Korea; and the popular Swan Lake by the Mariinsky Ballet accompanied by the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra. Oman has also proved that it has the ability to attract world famous performers such as Placido Domingo, Franco Zeffirelli, Andrea Bocelli, Renee Fleming and Magda al Roumi, among others. The inaugural shows have won widespread acclaim


and rave reviews from the international media for hosting these world renowned performers. Most of them performed for the first time in the Middle East, and according to the opera diva Renee Fleming, “in this magnificent venue”. The landmark building is an iconic symbol of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s on-going dedication to support the cultural development of the sultanate and a commitment to global

outreach and dialogue through the arts. Furthermore, this historic cultural effort is unprecedented in the region. This promises to be a world-class performing arts venue that will serve as an incubator for creativity and innovation for generations to come. ROHM is distinguished by an august and stately architecture that represents Oman’s proud heritage. Its technical facilities are state-of-the-art. Set in the

ROHM is a symbol of His Majesty’s support to the cultural development of the sultanate

Scenes from the Turandot

ideal location of the Shatti al Qurm area on an 80,000sqm plot, the Royal Opera House will act as a multi-purpose theatre house to enrich Omani culture. The project is His Majesty’s gift to the nation and will be used for various high profile activities, be it operas, plays or musicals. The Opera house has a seating capacity of 1,100 with a 32m-high fly tower that facilitates theatrical works of all sorts. Eng. Hamid Ghazali, who is very passionate towards the completion of His Majesty’s vision,

said in an earlier interview that the project will be a milestone in the cultural history of Oman. The Royal Opera House in Muscat is at par with the world’s best theatrical environment. In fact, the ROHM has a feature that is not available yet, in any other opera house – a seven-inch libretto attached to every seat in the theatre. There is an interactive screen that gives subtitles in four different languages for every programme that is being housed. This screen can be used for voting, accessing

information on future events of the Royal Opera House and many other things. The challenge for the international destination design firm WATG was to design a unique and distinctive upscale venue for a 1,000-seat concert hall in a new urban district which could also be used for musical, theatrical and operatic productions. The architectural character of the building was influenced by the grand style of modern Omani palaces, and

Oman has proved that it has the ability to attract world famous performers 23

The foyer of ROHM is designed keeping the traditional Omani architecture in mind

reflects their outward design features and circulation patterns. The front entrance is an expansive palm-treed piazza backed by five tall, arched entryways into a hall that forms the central focus of a colonnade designed to create a grand feeling of entrance. The structure was finished in locally-sourced limestone and complementary stucco. The venue incorporates a movable acoustic shell within the stage area and adjustable proscenium elements to create alternative


acoustic configurations and stage formats to suit the various requirements. These elements provide a unique, adaptable volume control arrangement which gives unparalleled natural acoustic potential. Formal landscaped gardens, a cultural souq with retail, food and beverage outlets, and an arts centre, gives the venue its holistic appeal. One of the objectives of ROHM is to encourage local talents in music among

the young generation. Every opportunity will be provided to demonstrate the musical skills of the youth and to develop their ambitions to perform in a worldclass environment. Throughout the inaugural season, ROHM will host various activities including open houses for the public featuring free performances, backstage tours, pre-performance talks with artists and experts in the fields of music and opera, and workshops for children and adults.

The architectural style of the building was influenced by the grand style of modern Omani palaces



A heritage as rich and varied as that of the sultanate is worth preserving, and the country has managed to do that with aplomb

Preserving the past

Murtadha al Lawati Manager, Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art


man with its dramatic geography has a wealth of historical, cultural and social legacies. Modern life has forced many to urbanise and embrace technology but effort has also been taken to pass on the heritage. “Today you see young Omani men embracing new technology, sporting a modern watch, cell phone, sunglasses and some may even dab after-shave, but they will be wearing the traditional disdasha and


mussar. Omanis could maintain their culture because they care about it,” says Murtadha al Lawati, manager, Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art, with pride. He highlights the cultural and business relations Oman has built over the years with countries around the world. The heritage of Oman is among the most important cultural survivals in the Arabian Peninsula. Murtadha, praising Oman’s heritage, explains, “Heritage is an attitude

and style of living. When I say ‘my heritage’, it is an act I have received from my father and him, from my grandfather. It becomes more like a rule. Heritage is passed on either by one’s forbearers or by religion.’’ Oman’s heritage stands on moral facets which gives it its distinguishing independent character. Talking on the disdasha, the traditional Omani dress for men, Murtadha explains, “Omanis still wear their disdasha which their forefathers had worn when they had

The heritage of Oman is among the most important cultural survivals of the Arab Peninsula

The winter room in the Old House Museum

the absence of the collars. The other gulf countries have modernised their dress with collars and cuffs.” Moving to Omani cuisine he adds that the shuwa and the halwa are indigenous to Oman. The shuwa is a typical Omani delicacy with elaborate preparation methods where the entire village participates. “The Omani halwa, an important accompaniment on special occasions, is a sweet made by the Omani men only. This is mostly made in large portions,” Murtadha asserts, without divulging the secret as to why this is made only by men. “The heritage does not allow women to make this,” he admits.

been to Africa and other parts of Europe and Asia some 600 years ago. And the Omanis still wear their turbans and use embellishments their forefathers made, like the khanjar.” For centuries Omanis have worked with raw materials of local avail and with materials obtained through trade. Oman has a rich heritage of silver craftsmanship. “Today the silversmith when making his jewellery does not create anything new

but follows the design created by the older people. He is practicing the culture given to him and his duty is to continue and maintain it,” explains Murtadha, stressing on the government support received by the craftsmen. Stressing on Oman’s perseverance of its heritage as opposed to the other Arab countries, Murtadha cites the simple example of the disdasha, “The loose-cut Omani disdasha made from a single piece of cloth is different from the other Arab countries in

The adherence to the social customs and traditions handed over generations preserve the identity of a nation. Oman by and large has been able to ward off the corrupting influences of modernisation and keep its heritage intact. But there have been small influences that has modified and added to the heritage of Oman. “The abaya worn by the women over their traditional dress is an influence from the other gulf countries. Another influence is the kumah, a small embroidered cap worn by the men. This is an African influence,” states Murtadha. Omanis are manufacturers. Murtadha opines that Omanis are unique with their silver jewellery which also acts as the nation’s cultural ambassador. The khanjar, as explained by him, is made specifically for people to suit their body nature and that Omanis are the only Arabs to wear a khanjar which symbolises their identity.

Oman’s heritage stands on moral facets that give it a unique character 27

H erita g e

A unique lifestyle with customs suited to a nomadic form of life has evolved over the years for the bedouins of Oman

Dune chasers

A bedouin woman


ettlement in Oman has come mainly from the desert fringes, one along the southern coast of Arabia and the other through the northern gateway of Buraimi. The first groups to enter Oman spread out along the southern coastal region and began to settle along the western side of the Jebel Akhdar range. These migrations continued for about 400 to 500 years until early Islamic times. Most other Arab groups arrived in Oman from the north,


coinciding with a period of weak Persian rule along the Batinah Coast. With the rise of Islam, the Persian rulers were removed and power transferred to the Arabs. For the next 100 years, until the first Ibadi

Imamate was formed, shortly after AD 720, the country was entirely in the hands of Arab ruling families. The bedouin fall into two basic social

The first bedouins to enter Oman settled along the western side of the Jebel Akhdar range

Camel caravan through the valley

classes. One class lives as nomadic shepherds. The other group has embraced farming and is known as the fellahin. The fellahin lead a more settled life on the edge of the desert. In contrast, the original bedouin have been known to raid any caravans that cross their paths while journeying across barren deserts. They move into the desert during the rainy winter seasons and back to the desert’s edge during the hot, dry summers. They speak badawi, or as it is more commonly called, bedouin Arabic.

The tribal structure of Oman has undergone deep changes over the centuries. Many nomadic tribes have arrived and settled. Other tribes, adapting to the changing rhythm of history, have established settled branches in widely dispersed regions of the country, specialising in farming, fishing or pastoralism. The three major bedouin tribes of Southern Oman are the Jenaba, the Wahhabi and the Harasis. Since they are all nomads, their tribal areas are not clearly marked, but as a rule the Jenaba live along the coast from Bar al Hikman

to the Dhofar border. The Wahhabi live in the Wahiba Sands and eastwards to the coast, while the Harasis live in the expanse of desert known as the Jiddat al Harasis, northeast of Salalah. The Harasis are the purest of nomads in Oman. The tribe appears to have been originally a Dhofari tribe and it continues to speak a south Arabian (Himyaritic) Mahra-related language. It is small in number compared to the other major nomadic tribes of Oman, numbering about 5,000 people. They occupy the once waterless gravel and limestone desert plateau known as the Jiddat al Harasis. This region was once a particularly inhospitable and difficult tract to cross, let alone survive in. Tribal tradition had it that they never drank water but lived almost entirely on the consumption of camel and goat milk from their herds. Harsuusi, the language of the Harasis, is one of six south Arabian (or Himyaritic) languages which predate Arabic. The other languages are Mahri, Batahari, Socotri, Jebbali and Shehri. However, most Harasis children are taught Harsuusi at home before entering the Arabic-speaking school system. This has ensured that the language is so far not on the Unesco vulnerable or critically endangered list. The Harasis organises itself into seven lineages or subgroups called Beit – Aksit, Mutaira, Barho, Sha’ala, Aloob, Afarri and Katherayn. Theses seven lineages are divided into two factions, one headed by the Beit Aksit and the other by the Beit

The three major bedouin tribes of Southern Oman are the Jenaba, the Wahhabi and the Harasis 31

A typical bedouin tent

Mutaira. The leadership of the tribes as a whole lies with the Beit Aksit whose ancestral forbearer is acknowledged to have united the disparate units into one tribe about 180 years back. This leadership is however being challenged by the Beit Mutaira, whose leader is more popular with the government-appointed governor and oil company officials. Each lineage generally recognises or appoints two spokesmen who act on its behalf. These men are called rashiid or rushad.


Events over the last 50 years have transformed the Jiddat and profoundly affected its people. In the 1950s, oil exploration in the region resulted in two water wells – at Haima and at Al Ajaiz – dug in the process of oil exploration being left open for the use of the local human and animal populations. These two wells became magnets for local herds and rapidly changed patterns of migration and animal husbandry. In the late 1970s the government of Oman built

a Tribal Centre at Haima to deliver services to the local people. At about the same time, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said approved the setting up of an Arabian Oryx re-introduction project in the Northwest quadrangle of the Jiddat. These activities rapidly transformed the economic horizons of the Harasis people while circumscribing their extensive subsistence activity. The bedouin Arabs have a relatively harsh existence. They have no permanent

The tents are divided by a gata – one half for the women and children, the other for entertaining

homes, but live in portable, black tents made from woven goat hair. The tents are divided by a decorative partition called a gata. Half of the tent is for the women, children, cooking utensils, and storage. The other half contains a fireplace and is used for entertaining. The women do most of the work, while the men socialise and make plans for the group. The material culture of the bedouin is limited. Their tents are their main possessions, and animals are very important for their

nomadic lifestyle. Camels are their main means of transportation, while sheep and goats are bought and sold. To endure the extreme heat of the desert, the bedouin wear lightweight, light-coloured clothing.

available. Dates, which can be found in desert oases, are eaten for dessert. Meat is only served on special occasions such as marriage feasts, ceremonial events, or when guests are present.

Dairy products are the main food source for the bedouin. Milk from camels and goats is made into yoghurt and butter. Most of their meals consist of a bowl of milk, yoghurt, or rice. Round loaves of unleavened bread are served when

Bedouins are confronted daily with multiculturalism, discrimination, place identity and belonging. They are living within an urban world where ancient traditions are trying to exist as the western world slowly moves in.

Bedouin lifestyle


H erita g e

Folklores and folktales are an essential element of culture in most societies. They pass on the heritage of the nation in an entertaining way

Verses and tales

Abu Zalaf is performed by Omani women in Sharqiyah


he Sultanate of Oman has a rich culture of traditional folklore. Occupations and geographical locations have played a role in the development of dance and songs. Omani folklores are divided into three categories: the sea, the desert and the urban area.

The country has numerous folklores such as Al Razha, Al A’zi, Al Wannah, Al Ayalah, Al Mudaimah, fishing songs like Al Haboot and Al Bar’ah, and each region of the


country has folklore unique to the area. The Omani Centre for Traditional Music was established in 1984 to pay attention to and to protect the folklores, and also to document and preserve the music for future generations.

Al Razha is one of the famous folklores of the country. It is performed by men and is presented during various occasions like Eid, marriages and National Day celebrations. Al Razha starts with a singer who recites a

An enthusiastic folklore performance

poem explaining the event for which they have come together, while the rest of the participants stand in rows. Then with the sound of the drum other team-members repeat and exchange the verses. This folklore indicates the courage and strength of the Omani men. The participants of Al Razha wear Omani khanjar, besides carrying swords and rifles in their hands. During the recital the swords are thrown in the air and caught as they come down. Al Razha is divided

into three parts namely Al Qasafi, Al Hambal and Al Lalah. Al Hambal is a singing march on the way to Al Razha and it is performed by a number of people standing in short and equal rows. There is continuous exchange of verses till they reach the place where Al Razha is to be recited. Al Hambal is also performed on leaving the event location. Al Qasafi is performed when the participants queue in two rows facing each other. They

exchange poetry and some drummers duel with swords in tune to the recital. The most common type of Al Razha is Razhat al Lalah which is similar to Al Qasafi, but it is distinguished by swapping long rhythms of poetry while in Al Qasafi they exchange around two or three rhythms. A famous folklore of the Sharqiyah region is Abu Zalaf. This folklore is performed using two drums, Al Kasir and Al Rahmani. It starts with the women standing in two

Each region of the country has folklore which is unique to the area 35

Omani folklore presentation during Muscat Festival

rows applauding and exchanging rhythms. Dhofar governorate is also rich in traditional folklore. Al Haboot is a well-liked folklore of this region. All communities in the society participate in this folklore as they believe it to be a symbol of gallantry. It is performed with people marching in lines, later divided into many rows. The elderly people and sheikhs form the first line, followed by young children. In Al Haboot drums are not used, instead they recite verses and no person is allowed to exceed more than two


rhymes. This ensures equal participation from all. Another famous Omani folklore is Al Tagrood. This folklore is famous with bedouins and performed by camel jockeys. This is practiced on camel back. In the past, this folklore was enjoyed while returning from a victorious war or invasion and also during long desert trips. Al A’zi is the art of praise and pride. It is a famous folklore particularly in the

Dakhiliyah, Dahirah and Sharqiyah regions. It comprises of poetry recital without singing. The Al A’zi poet leads the group. He walks slowly, reciting some of the verses. His group, walking behind him in columns, joins in loud chorus especially in the first half and at the end of the rhyme. The lead poet holds a sword and shield, and illustrates interesting movements while they stop from time to time. Al Wannah is an interesting folklore on

Al Razha is performed by men during various occasions like Eid, marriages and National Day

Frankincense has always been associated with legends

connected to the major civilisations of the ancient world and played a role in transforming global history about 5,000 years ago. It is believed that the land that constitutes present-day Oman was once part of a larger area referred to in the Mesopotamian texts as Magan. The story of Magan constitutes a powerful folktale of the country. This was a very prosperous period for Oman, known archaeologically as part of the Umm An-Nar period. Frankincense, once an incomparably precious commodity, also has a legend attached to it. “And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was…. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” It is not known from where the Three Kings came, but belief holds that at least one of the Kings was from Oman. Legends of the elusive city of Ubar is romanticised as The Atlantis of the Sands.

the art of flirtation. In ancient times it was practiced by a single camel jockey while he rode his camel alone through vast stretches of desert. This was a form of entertainment and also helped the rider to stay awake. Nowadays, it is performed by bedouins. One of them recites the verse and sometimes others repeat the end of the last verse.


achievements in agriculture, civilisation and seafaring. It has also inspired myths, legends and dreams that still take hold of the imagination. A legend is a traditional story often regarded as historical, though unauthenticated. A myth is also a traditional narrative, but involves supernatural or imaginary persons and incorporates popular notions of natural or social phenomena. Omani tradition is rich in both legends and myths.

Through centuries, Oman has been a crucible for remarkable human

Oman lies at the cross roads of three continents and four seas. It was

The springboard for all legends was the falaj systems that channel water to irrigate the orchards and gardens of Oman’s traditional communities. It is emphasised in folktales that an oasis does not occur by chance. It is the result of the determined efforts by resourceful people to render local water useful or to bring it from a distant source to an area suitable for settlement. According to some sources, the Persian Archaemenid ruler Cambyses who conquered Egypt and also invaded Oman is said to have spurred the building of the falaj system. However, recent archaeological evidence pre-dates the Persian invasions by nearly 2,000 years.

Legends of the elusive city of Ubar is romanticised as The Atlantis of the Sands 37

H erita g e

Oman has been famous for raising, breeding, acquiring and caring for horses. Horse racing enjoys royal attention even today


istorically, Oman has been famous for its purebred Arab horses. Oman is known for possessing the best pedigree of Arab horses with the reputation of being very reliable and healthy. Horse breeders here knew how to preserve and maintain bloodlines by specifically breeding only top class animals. Another popular belief is that the horse is the image of his master and a reflection of his courage, stamina and ability.


Galloping steeds

The Omanis studied the pedigrees of their horses as closely as they studied the ancestry of their tribes. Horse breeding was a main source of income for centuries and large numbers were exported to India and Mauritius, particularly during the reign of Said bin Sultan in the 19th century.

Royal Stud Farm was built in the mid-70s in Salalah as a department of the Royal Stables designed to breed the best quality horses with the emphasis on Arabs and thoroughbreds. The Royal Stud continues to play an important role in horse breeding each year.

In 1970, with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s accession to the throne, new directives were implemented pertaining to the breeding and care of Arab horses. The

The perfect Arabian horse has a small head, proportionate to the rest of its body, large eyes, small and pointed ears, and a short, wide back. Due to their pure

The Royal Cavalry of Oman at the International Horse Show 2011 in Munich

An Omani sheikh with his horse (left); Horse show-jumping at National Day celebration

bloodlines, Arab horses maintain good health and rarely succumb to illness. They eat less than other breeds and have great endurance for long journeys. Arab horses come in a variety of colours, but the most prized is the white stallion. Each horse is given an equine passport by the Omani Horse Register (OHR) which is equivalent to an identity card. Every horse has a unique name and Omanis go to great pains to ensure that each name is different.

The Oman Equestrian Federation was formed in 1983 to promote equestrian events such as dressage and showjumping. The Oman Equestrian Federation arranges race meetings and equestrian events with the aim of preserving this valuable heritage. The Royal Stables possess numerous breeds of horses known for their excellence in racing, dressage, show-jumping and polo, in addition to a troupe of cavalry horses. Oman is keen to contribute and cooperate

with regional and international horse organisations such as the World Arab Horse Organisation (WAHO), to which end the Royal Stables ensure that separate records of pedigrees are maintained for each horse. There are 52 member countries in WAHO and Oman was one of the founder members, joining in 1978. The love of horses can be seen in the way the Omanis deck them out. The neck ornaments, the silver bridle, the

In 1970, new directives were implemented pertaining to the breeding and care of Arab horses 39

Horse racing in the Al Jazeera race track

sweat cover placed on the back and the under cloth to prevent chafing, the silver collar-piece, and finally the reins, are all made to order. There are annual horse races at the Royal Stables and throughout the year in the regions especially on religious and national occasions. Besides the races the riders participate in polo matches, tent-pegging competitions, trotting races, and show-jumping, dressage and carriage processions.


His Majesty the Sultan pays special attention to all aspects of horsebreeding, preserving bloodlines, and equestrian sports of all kinds. A Directorate-General of the Royal Stables has been established under the Diwan of Royal Court which supervises the breeding and rearing of horses using scientific methods in conformity with international standards. In addition, the Royal Horse Racing Club was established to oversee the planning and

development of equestrian activities, as well as organising the Royal Oman Horse Show which is held every five years. An equestrian event in Oman is a must-watch show. From racing to tricks, traditional dance to carriage rides, the performances are impeccable. There is a mix of adults and children participating in the shows. The young fearless jockeys have enviable skills on display. There is equal participation of men and women in the show.

The Oman Equestrian Federation was formed in 1983 to promote equestrian events

H erita g e

Omani food is flavoursome and lightly spiced. It varies with region; most dishes across the country have a staple of cooked meat, rice and vegetables


he cuisine of Oman is a fine blend of several flavours that the country has accumulated due to its geographic location at the crossroads of the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. The diverse terrain of the country has created several cooking styles that vary from one region to the other. The people of Oman are well known for their hospitality. An invitation to an Omani home will start with kahwa,


Welcoming flavours

a strong cardamom flavoured coffee, and dates or halwa, a gelatinous sweet made from brown sugar, eggs, honey, rosewater and a variety of local spices. A proper Omani meal will often have rice as the main dish, together with cooked meats. The main meal is usually eaten at midday. The evening meal is lighter. Maqbous is a rice dish, tinged yellow with saffron and cooked over a spicy red or white meat. Aursia is a festival meal,

consisting of mashed rice flavoured with local spices. Another popular festival meal is shuwa. This is a traditional dish in which the meat is cooked very slowly (sometimes for up to two days) in an underground clay oven. Fish is also an integral part of Omani cuisine. Mashuai is a meal comprising whole pit-roasted kingfish served with lemon rice. The rukhal is thin, flat bread baked over a fire made from palm leaves.

Kahwa and dates are the Omani symbol of hospitality

Omani cuisine has a fine blend of traditional spices and rosewater

It is eaten at any meal, typically served with Omani honey for breakfast or crumbled over curry for dinner.

herbs, onion, garlic and lime are liberally used in traditional Omani cuisine, it is not hot.

Traditional Omani food is fairly simple to cook. It uses various marinades and impregnates the meat with flavours. A favourite drink acting as an accompaniment to almost all meals is laban, salty buttermilk. Yoghurt drinks, flavoured with cardamom and pistachio nuts are very popular. Although spices,

Special dishes are prepared for festive occasions. Dishes prepared during Ramadan are seldom cooked on other occasions. An array of special dishes is served during Eid across the country. In Dhofar and Wusta, the festivities start with ruz al mudhroub, a dish made of cooked rice and served with fried fish,

and maqdeed, special dried meat. In Muscat, Batinah, Dhahirah and Sharqiyah regions, muqalab, a dish of duck meat cooked with crushed or ground spices dominates the menu. Lunch on the first day of Eid is usually harees, which is made from ground wheat mixed with meat. Lunch on the second day is mishkak, while on the third and last day, shuwa forms the whole day’s meal.

The diverse terrain of the country has created several cooking styles that vary from one region to the other 43

H erita g e

Oman was an important port in the trading route. This legacy dates back to the 8th century when an Omani vessel reached Canton in China

Smooth sailing

A dhow anchored in Sur


man’s connection with the sea stretches back many centuries when Omani sailors, using mast and sail, pioneered sea routes to the cities of the ancient world. Oman became the first non-European country to extend its influence to Africa, mainly due to her ships or dhows. Oman was an important maritime and political power establishing relations with China, Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States of America. Throughout its long


history, Oman’s navy has played a key role in the country’s economic success, both in providing the instrument for internal and external trade, and in underpinning fishing and pearling activities. The Omani warship, The Sultana, which anchored in New York harbour in 1840, bearing gifts from Sultan Said bin Sultan to the American President, was a symbol of the greatness of the Omani fleet at that time. In Oman two techniques are used in

shipbuilding. In the first method, timbers are laid parallely and pierced at intervals with a fine hand drill. The timbers are then bound together through these holes by means of rope made of coconut fibre and the holes are then covered with a mixture of fibre or raw cotton soaked in fish, coconut or sesame oil. Arab geographers such as Al Idrissi and Ibn Jubair believed that boats bound with fibres and with flat hulls were safer than those fitted together with rigid iron nails. This is because if

Arab geographers believed that boats bound with fibres and with flat hulls were safer

Two models of Boum (top); Sambuq (bottom left); Ghanjah. These models are displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

they ran onto rocks or came into contact with another hull, they proved to be more flexible. In the second method, nails are used to bind the timbers. This is the same technique as used in other countries of the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea. The wood used for the hull and keel is

teak which is imported from India. The ribs are made from locally available wood such as qart, sidr and sarar. The tools used in a ship’s construction are simple and basic such as the hammer, saw, bow drill, chisel, plane and calking iron. The principal shipbuilding yards in Oman are Sur, Muttrah and Shinas.

Omani ships, which can last for 60 to100 years, are distinguished by their variety although some are no longer made. The largest Omani ship was the ocean-going cargo vessel, the baghlah, with a load capacity of 150 to 400 tonnes. This vessel could be distinguished by its high deck and quarter galleries, its stern being pierced

The wood used for the hull and keel is imported from India while the ribs are made from local wood 45

Omani fishing boat anchored in Sur

by five window apertures and often elaborately carved. The ghanjah was very similar to the baghlah, and is considered by many nationals to be the most beautiful of the large dhows. The sambuq used to be one of the most commonly seen Arab vessels. Its distinguishing features are the low, curved, scimitar-shaped stem piece and high square stern which lacks a quarter gallery. The government is keen to encourage the


maritime tourist industry, in restoring old ships, increasing the use of large dhows for deep-sea fishing, and also the building of small models of Omani ships for decorative purposes and for displaying in exhibitions.

Types of dhows Al Ghanjah

This vessel was easily noticed by its typical stem-head with trefoil crest. It was formerly used in trading. Having a

capacity of 130 to 300 tonnes, this boat used to be built in Sur.

Al Boum

Easily noticed by its high, straight stem-post set at an angle of 45 degrees, its load varies between 74 to 400 tonnes. It was used for transporting passengers and goods.

Al Shashah

This is a small, primitive fishing craft made of date palm sticks bound

The government is keen to encourage the maritime tourist industry by restoring old ships

The Jewel of Muscat

cargo-carrying throughout the country. It has a load capacity of up to 100 tonnes and is one of Oman’s older boats.

Al Sambuq

One of Oman’s and the Arab world’s most common sailing vessels, Al Sambuq has a load capacity as varied as 20 to 150 tonnes. In the past, Al Sambuq was used for diving to collect pearls but now it is used for carrying cargo and transporting passengers. It can be found in the Saham and Sur regions.

Shabab Oman

The Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) sail training vessel RNO Shabab Oman is one of the largest vessels of its era in the world, which is still seaworthy and in active service. She is considered an important ambassador for Oman, visiting ports in Arab and other friendly countries as part of its training programme. Shabab Oman, as it is fondly called, seeks to promote cultural contacts with the rest of the world and stimulates world interest in Oman. The vessel acts as a reminder of Oman’s ancient maritime history. together with choir. It is usually 3m long and can accommodate only one or two persons. It is mainly used for fishing on the Batinah coast.

Al Baggarah

Generally seven to ten metres in length,

a number of these boats can be found on the Batinah coast. These are used to ferry people and small goods.

Al Badan

One of Oman’s most popular boats, Al Badan is used for fishing and coastal

Sewn al Sambuq

A boat of great antiquity, the Sewn al Sambuq is one of the most interesting boat types in Oman. Beautifully crafted to precision, it is found along the Dhofari coast. The word sambuq is used to denote the sewn boats of the Dhofari coast.


H erita g e

Bullfighting in Oman is not a gory sport, but rather a contest of strength between two powerful animals. Popularity for the sport is on the rise in Oman


here are conflicting opinions about the origin of bullfighting in Oman. Many locals believe that it was brought to Oman by the moors of Spanish origin while others say it has a direct connection with Portugal. Bulls in Oman are categorised into three kinds: the Omani bull which is a pure Omani breed found in the northern and central provinces of Oman; the Dhofari bull, found in Dhofar, and the marine bull, brought from overseas to the Sultanate of


Brute force

Oman. All three species have their own distinct features. Bulls were traditionally brought into this region for heavy labour, such as pulling ploughs and turning waterwheels. With tractors and machine-driven water pumps, the traditional role of the bull diminished. On the other hand, the popularity of bullfighting as a sport has increased in the country. It is difficult to predict when bullfights take place as they are usually

spontaneous events. Usually they are held on holidays and celebration days, either early in the morning, or late afternoon, when it is cooler. The fighting bull is raised only for the fight. A few months old calf is separated from its mother. This helps the calf shed its docility and become brave and dangerous. Gradually, the young bulls are trained in the presence of an audience. The initial training begins with the calf attacking a

Bulls with their horns locked at the start of a fight

A bullfight in progress

hanging barrel. The young bulls are reared on a nutritious diet high in grains, dates and dried sardines. They are massaged daily and taken on long runs along the beaches of the Batinah coast. When the animals are about two years of age, they are ready for their first fight. The bull’s stamina peaks between the age of five and seven years. As many as 20 bulls may participate in a contest. The wilayats of Sohar, Shinas, Saham and

Liwa take turns to play host to this sport that is held solely for the entertainment of the people. A total of 30 to 35 bulls take part in the fight. While the losing bull is withdrawn from the fight, the winning bull fights the next contender until the final winner is declared. Though there is no official prize given, the price of the bull hikes up after each win, and can range from RO500 to as high as RO2,000. The bulls lock horns fiercely, encouraged by their owners and vociferously egged on

by the crowd. The noise, the dust, the sweltering heat and the agitation of the bulls, all adds to the general excitement. Selection of bulls for each round is based on the bull’s height and weight. The horns are trained to grow curved to obtain a better grip on the opponent. Each bull is led out by its owner holding the end of a rope until snorting and pawing the ground, the bulls charge. The bulls, rarely injured, eventually die of old age.

Bullfights are held on holidays and celebration days, either early in the morning, or late afternoon 49

H erita g e

Once a muchloved pastime of bedouins, camel racing remains a favourite Omani sport even today


rom the inception of the Renaissance, the sultanate has adhered to the development process by striking a balance between tradition and modernisation. His Majesty has paid undivided attention to the deep-rooted Omani heritage and overseen its preservation for the next generation. The camel is a vital part of Omani society. Apart from its practical use, it also represents a deeply appreciated and highly valued tradition.


Sprinters of sand

The camel, apart from being an important element of traditional desert life, has also become a source of income for a growing number of bedouins today. In parts of Al Mudhaibi wilayat in the Sharqiyah region, camels are no longer bred for their milk or meat alone. Instead, they are groomed to be the thoroughbred versions of the legendary Arabian steed. Coveted by wealthy sheikhs of the Gulf region, these prized thoroughbreds ignite the racecourses. In the dusty flatlands

of Al Mudhaibi wilayat, camel breeding is raking in a good amount of money for an enterprising, young breed of bedouins who have remained true to their desertbound lifestyle. With Omani thoroughbreds more in demand than other Arabian breeds, good sprinters can command fabulous prices ranging from RO60,000 to RO100,000 each. The Al Abiadh camel racetrack, just off the Sinaw-Mahawt road, draws some

Camel racing is a popular sport in Oman

A bedouin with his camel

of the finest camels during the racing season. Camel racing is conducted over a period of two days in each selected wilayat. On the first day there are 12 rounds of racing according to the age of the participating camel. On the second day, which is the day of the actual competition, races are conducted under the auspices of the wali. The competition itself consists of five rounds of racing. There are standard requirements of eligibility to participate in these races.

The camel should be of Omani origin and not a cross-breed. It is mandatory for the owner to be a national and the participant has to be from the same wilayat as that hosting the race.

Training show camels Training of race camels begins at the age of two and covers important aspects like being receptive to commands issued by

Good race camels can command fabulous prices ranging from RO60,000 to RO100,000 each 51

Race camels are very well cared for by their owners

the jockey. Then, a crucial 2km gallop decides which camel among the herd has the stomach for the rigours of the race field. To help build their stamina, the camels are made to run a certain distance every day, which varies in proportion to their age. Two-year-old camels run one to two kilometres on average while a three-year-old camel can cover an average of 2.5km to 5km each day. Five-year-old camels run up to 6km per day. The training of show camels involve integration with


other camels, getting accustomed to being ridden, training to walk unaccompanied, strength training and synchronised show running with another camel. It is also shown how to be guided by the rope with the help of an older and calmer she-camel. In fact, these hardy animals, who have endured the ravages of the harsh desert environment since they first walked, get

the same care deserving of a prized sports car. They are scrubbed and shampooed twice a week; every bruise is dealt with expensive ointments, and at night the camels are kept warm with blankets and sheets. Their diet is not the usual thorny shrubs of desert vegetation. Instead they are reared on rich fibre-based fodder, which includes the finest honey and dates, fresh cow milk and ghee, wheat and

Training of race camels covers aspects like responding to commands by the jockeys

Camel race in progress

freshly harvested alfalfa grass. In summer, they are fed the tender leaves of the sidr tree. Care is taken to ensure that only the most nutritive fare is offered to the camels. Mouth-guards ensure that the animals do not graze on desert vegetation. Weekly stomach purges also help the animals maintain their racing conditions. Winning camels are highly prized. A winning camel may be sold for RO70,000 to RO85,000 during the racing season.

Diet during the racing period

The jockeys

During the racing season, each camel owner spends around RO400 every month, on nutritive feeds and other essentials. It is a small price to ensure the health and well-being of animals worth upwards of RO70,000 each. The demand for large quantities of honey, dates, milk, clarified butter and fodder has translated into better incomes for local farmers in the wilayat.

The jockeys are usually between five to seven years of age. They start their training early and are well protected with a metal jacket and a helmet to safeguard them from any injuries. The training includes how to hold the rope, how to make the camels sit and stand. The jockeys usually belong to the same family that owns the camel.

Mouth-guards ensure that the animals do not graze on desert vegetation 53


The unique architectural style of Oman mixes tradition and creativity with world class infrastructure. The country’s mosques, ministries, residencies, hotels and resorts are built in architectural harmony with a restrained majesty that successfully distinguishes Oman from the rest of the world.


The architecture of Oman is embedded in its varied sociocultural contexts. The challenge is to embrace modernity, keeping the heritage alive


ultanate of Oman remained in comparative isolation until the 1970s. This could be one of the reasons that traditional architecture has survived here better than in most of the other Gulf states. The young, Omani architectural team of Omran shares their views and aspirations on the architecture of the country with us. “Architecture of Oman consists of three


Changing skyline

basic elements: location, type of building and materials. So, each city has its own identity based on these elements. What we do as project managers in Omran is to encourage the local consultants to visit the host town of the upcoming project and try to incorporate as much local flavour into the project as possible. Each city in Oman has its own characteristics, be it the mountains, the desert or the sea,” says Mazin Issa al Raisi, project manager, Omran.

“The initial research from our end for every project includes getting the feel of the town. We look at the local flora, the handicrafts, the occupation and the culture of the place. All these are ingrained in the architecture of Omran projects. For example, fishing has been the major occupation in Duqm. The fishermen usually live in tents close to the shore and away from their homes and family for long stretches of time. The town is built around a central community

The young, Omani architectural team of Omran


‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Maymoona al Dhanki Assistant Project Designer

I would like to see more high-rise buildings and glass façades in Oman, and add a touch of modernity to the traditional style

hall where people gather for important occasions. This socio-cultural facet of Duqm is showcased beautifully in the Duqm Crowne Plaza hotel in its alignment of the central core lobby and the surrounding rooms. We make it a point to build on the traditions of our country, thereby making each property an iconic landmark,” emphasises Salim Suliman al Thuhli, project manager, Omran. The country’s unique architecture gives

Mazin Issa al Raisi Project Manager

I would like to see a more coordinated master-plan for projects and also the use of new materials

Oman its identity. In an attempt to stay in the race to modernisation, the government has approved new building regulations. These regulations include, among other things, an acceptance of taller buildings. “The change though welcome, should be gradual and guarded,” Mazin says. “In the last five years the new building regulations have given architects more scope for creativity. The changes will be seen in

Salim Suliman al Thuhli Project Manager

Oman is very rich in its heritage. One of my wishes is to preserve the architecture of Oman for our future generations

Talal Abdullah al Masoudi Project Manager

I would like to see more landmark buildings like the Royal Opera House which uses new technology to bring forth our traditional style

subtle ways as the nation is proud of its identity and is not keen to attempt a style just because of its popularity elsewhere. The up gradation is more in terms of technology rather than style. A definite change in this regard is the approval of making pre-fabricated buildings. “Al Duqm City Hotel is Oman’s first prefabricated three-star hotel project to be built by Omran in Duqm, Al Wusta region. The hotel consists of 120 guest rooms



Abdullah al Rasbi Project Manager

I like the architectural style in this country. The green cover can be increased and more public spaces incorporated in the town planning

with options of single, double, twin beds, and five well-appointed suite rooms. Prefabricated buildings are made in a factory and shipped to the site. The assembly takes place on the site. The assembly of the super-structure of this particular hotel will take approximately 100 days. The same hotel built in the traditional method would have taken eight to ten months to become operational.” Omran is mandated by the Government


of Oman to deliver major projects and manage tourism assets and investments. This is in line with the government’s vision of positioning tourism as a major economic driver of the future and as a generator of employment. Omran’s growing project portfolio includes some of the largest developments in Oman such as the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre. Having delivered the 2nd Asian Beach

Games facilities in record time and with an impressive health and safety record, it is now focusing on the delivery of its numerous projects spanning the country.

Excavation work at quay wall of Fort Hotel, Muscat

Congratulations and Best wishes to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the people of Oman on the occasion of the 41st National Day

Architect u re

Forts and castles are Oman’s most striking landmarks. Together with its towers and city walls, they have historically been used as defensive bastions


is Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has long declared it to be his goal to create a peaceful and modern state without neglecting the glorious heritage, a precious evidence of its past. His extraordinary success in achieving this balance and the financial commitment on the part of the government to make it happen has revealed to the public a collection of monumental forts and castles, a window to the pre-Islamic Arabian life and times,


Forts of Oman

influenced by intensive foreign trade with Europeans and other nations throughout the Indian Ocean.

enormous monuments of mud-brick, stucco and stone showcase architectural heritage and cultural tourism at their best.

After 20 years of meticulous restoration, 22 sites selected from over 500 existing forts, lookout towers and castles in Oman, offer diverse glimpses of a powerful, wealthy culture living in turbulent times at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. Largely clustered in the northern one-third of the country, these

The dizzying heights of many Omani forts and castles, and the complexity and weight of fortifications is a clear reminder that the region had more than nomadic dwellers living in tents. Oman was home to some of the finest architects and engineers of ancient times. Each castle and fort has distinctive engineering and

Nakhal Fort in Al Batinah

Nizwa Fort in Al Dakhiliyah

architectural features that make it a physical challenge and an education to visit today. The Nizwa Fort and its impressive castle next door dominate the townscape of Nizwa. Situated at an approximate distance of 132km from Muscat, the circular Nizwa Fort is 35m high and 46m in diameter. The fort was originally built in the 17th century with walls so thick that its foundations had to be sunk into the

The forts of Oman are a window to the pre-Islamic Arabian life influenced by foreign trade 63

Bahla Fort in Al Dakhiliyah

ground, to a depth equalling its height, to support the structural weight. Laced with seven staircases, seven interior wells, false doors, secret shafts and numerous vertical trapdoors to pour boiling oil or date syrup on attackers, it was topped with 24 cannons and tons of cannon balls adding substantial extra weight to the upper floors of the fort. The tour of the adjacent castle re-captures the more gracious aspects of the period’s culture, learning, and family life. Each defensive fort was created by the orders of tribal leaders and not by a central administration or ruler. Some were built on strategic seacoasts to protect Oman’s shipping interests, others at a valuable oasis or on frankincense and myrrh trade routes. Some were built on fortifications dating back to much earlier Persian occupation or pre-Islamic times. Mirabat Fort, near Salalah in the south, holds the distinction of hosting one of the last battles in the world involving conventional attack and defence of a fortress in the mid 70s during an insurrection by pro-Communist Yemen. It was restored as a cultural heritage visitor attraction in 1991. On a rocky spur, backed by the striking red rock of the Jebel Akhdar mountains and overlooking an oasis of date palms, the position of Nakhal Fort is one of its chief delights. The rampart walls offer fascinating examples of Islamic architecture, impressive for the scale and harmony of design. Sensitive restoration work has made the fort’s inner sanctum a treat, with a series of rooms simply and beautifully furnished posing a perfect place to retreat from Oman’s midday sun. Nakhal is famous for its mineral springs flowing year-round from clefts


Each fort has distinctive architectural features that makes the tour educational

Buraimi Fort in Al Buraimi

in the mountain rock right around the fortress. The strategic consideration was not lost on the architects and engineers of the time. Among its many displays is an extensive gun collection from the 18th and 19th centuries with the unique option of being able to spend two hours at a nearby firing range to shoot many of these historic relics. Preservation and restoration of traditional architecture throughout the country has

created a major heritage tourism resource for both international visitors and proud Omanis to enjoy. Money has not been a restraining factor when it comes to bringing a myriad of architectural treasures back to life within standards required for modern day access. However, foundational to this adaptive reuse, it has been an equally important goal to reflect the genuine cultural history and architectural integrity covering a variety of important eras in Oman.

Whether showcasing a string of enormous complex tribal forts and castles readily accessible in the central region of the country or securing safe entry to now-deserted remote villages hundreds of years old, the Omani government seems to have the vision to appreciate that the country’s forts and castles are a non-renewable resource which requires strong initiatives to ensure long-term economic, socio-cultural and educational benefit from heritage tourism.

Preservation and restoration of traditional architecture has created heritage tourism in Oman 65

Architect u re

As of August 2010, Oman has four World Heritage sites and two more on the World Heritage Tentative List

Archaeological Sites of Bat, Al Khutm and Al Ayn


he site of Bat lies near a palm grove in the interior of the Sultanate of Oman. Together with the neighbouring sites, it forms the most complete collection of settlements and necropolises from 3000 BC. In a coherent space, the necropolis of Bat bears witness to the evolution of funeral practices during the first Bronze


Monumental resurrection

Age in the Oman peninsula. Historical sources recount that the country of Magan was the principal extraction centre for copper, which was exported as far as Mesopotamia during 3000 BC. The appearance of a hierarchical social organisation is seen in the settlements, where circular defensive structures contrast with rectangular houses, and also in the necropolises, where the arrangement of funerary space is more complex. This shows a higher living

standard and social changes linked to a trade economy. The site extends north of the village of Bat, where excavation began in 1972. In the settlement zone, there are five stone towers, structures that are very representative of the first Bronze Age in the Oman peninsula. One of the towers has been entirely excavated and it has been determined that it was built between 2595 BC and 2465 BC. At the level of

‘Beehive’ tombs of Bat

Bahla Fort under renovation

the substructures, the plan of the tower features a series of exterior surface projections and two rows of parallel rooms on either side of a large platform in masonry with a well in the centre. From the tower, which serves as the site’s reference point, a series of rectangular houses with central courts can be seen to the east. The vast necropolis is divided into two distinct groups. The first is located at the top of the rocky slope. Its

dry-stone ‘beehive’ tombs are scattered along the path from Bat to Al Wahrah. The more densely concentrated second group extends over rice terraces to the southeast of the wadi and includes more than 100 dry-stone tombs, which seem to be organised according to an overall plan. They have only one entrance and one funerary chamber. Towards the south, the sepulchres become more monumental. The settlement and necropolis zones of

Bat form a coherent and representative group with two neighbouring contemporary archaeological sites: the tower of Al Khutm, 2km West of Bat, and the group of beehive tombs of Qubur Juhhal at Al Ayn, 22km Southeast of Bat. The 21 tombs from the third millennium, aligned on a rocky crest that stands out in the superb mountainous landscape of Jebel Misht to the north, are in a remarkable state of preservation. They have not been

The property of Bahla Fort and Oasis is protected by the National Heritage Protection law 67

Ancient city of Qalhat

The monuments of Bahla were in a critical state when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. It had never been restored (thereby conserving a high degree of authenticity), and was not protected by any conservation measures. The terrace of the Friday Mosque had not undergone maintenance work, and it collapsed between 1981 and 1983, causing the arches to cave in and the wall plastering to be torn away, thus endangering the mihrab in the building. A detailed survey was made in 1977 by the Omani Archaeology Department, but restoration work did not make any headway until 1988. This was entirely financed by the Omani government, with photogrammetric recording by the Mining Museum in Bochum (Germany). By 2005 it was virtually complete.

excavated and constitute an obviously interesting archaeological reserve.

Bahla Fort Not far from the capital of Oman, the oasis of Bahla owed its prosperity to the Banu Nabhan who, from the mid-12th to the end of the 15th century, imposed their rule on the other tribes. Only the ruins of what was a glorious past now remain in this magnificent mountain site.


Built on a stone base, the adobe walls and towers of the immense fort probably include some structural elements of the pre-Islamic period, but a major part of the construction dates from the prosperous time of the Banu Nabhan, with the latest reconstruction dating from the beginning of the 16th century. At the foot of the fort, to the Southwest, lies the Friday Mosque with its beautiful sculpted mihrab (prayer niche) probably dating back to the 14th century.

The property of Bahla Fort and Oasis is protected administratively and legally by the Omani Law for National Heritage Protection (1980). The fort and its environs are controlled by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture in Muscat. The site has a management plan dating from March 2005, focused on the long-term care, conservation and use of the site’s historic buildings, structures and spatial form. The plan also recognises the importance of maintaining the site as an integral whole and the need to manage modern uses and development in order to preserve the integrity of the architectural assemblage, and its prominence within its setting.

Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman The property includes five aflaj irrigation systems and is representative of some 3,000 such systems still in use in Oman. The origins of this system of irrigation may

Qalhat is an archaeological site that witnessed ancient Islamic trade in the Indian Ocean

Rustaq Fort in Al Batinah

considered antique. The relationship of Falaj al Khatmeen to the Bait al Redadah Fort, known to have been built during the Yaruba Imamates, suggests that this falaj originated in the 17th century.

Ancient city of Qalhat and the Forts of Rustaq and Al Hazm Featuring on the tentative list of Unesco Heritage Sites from Oman are the ancient city of Qalhat and the forts of Rustaq and Al Hazm. Except for a small mausoleum locally known as Bibi Maryam, the ancient city of Qalhat is in ruins today. For centuries it has been the second city of the kingdom of Hormuz and a very important point in the Indian Ocean trade. The decline of the city in favour of Muscat had already started in 1507 when it was seized by Albuquerque and the Portuguese fleet. The ruins occupy a very large area on the east bank of a wadi which opens into the khor of Qalhat, after crossing the mountains through narrow gorges. At present, Qalhat is an excellent archaeological site witnessing the splendour of ancient Islamic trade in the Indian Ocean. Its potential for archaeological studies is very high and it certainly ranges among the most important sites for this period. date back to AD 500, but archaeological evidence suggests that irrigation systems existed in this extremely arid area as early as 2500 BC. Using gravity, water is channelled from underground sources or springs to support agriculture and domestic use. Numerous watchtowers built to defend the water systems form part of the site reflecting the historic dependence of communities on the aflaj system. Threatened by falling level of the underground water table, the aflaj

represent an exceptionally well-preserved form of land use. The histories of the five aflaj in the nomination are unknown, since no written records survive. By virtue of its size and complexity, and the importance of the town of Izki that it supplies, a case could be made for Falaj al Malki as being one of the earliest in Oman. There are similar indications that Falaj Daris, with its links to the town of Nizwa, could be

The impressive fort of Rustaq is in the middle of a large oasis, just at the foothills of the Jebel Akhdar range. Rustaq has been an important town and market place since the Persian rule during the pre-Islamic times, when the castle was first settled. The present monument incorporates an earlier fortification and three towers which were later added with living quarters at various levels and the construction includes an elaborate access to the aflaj system.

Rustaq has been an important town since the Persian rule when the castle was first settled 69


OCC was established in the year 1978 as part of the Renaissance initiated by His Majesty. It has been a remarkable journey so far

Strides into the future

Jamal bin Shamis al Hooti CEO, Oman Cement Company


ince 1983, Oman Cement Company (OCC) has symbolised Oman’s drive for self-reliance in core industries. The company has strengthened the construction industry of Oman and consolidated the nation’s efforts for infrastructure development and created resources to achieve self-sufficiency. Talking about the demand in cement following the boom in Oman’s


construction industry, the CEO of Oman Cement Company, Jamal bin Shamis al Hooti, says, “The government follows consecutive studied plans for developing the infrastructure sector. Therefore, building and construction sector is passing a moderate parallel development. The demand for cement has seen a rise of six to seven per cent in the last two years.” With a manufacturing facility operating

on world class ISO 9001 certified quality management system and ISO 14001 for environment, their products meet global standards in performance and quality and reflect OCC’s enduring commitment to customer satisfaction. The cement plant with a clinker capacity of 600,000 MTS per annum was commissioned in 1983. The clinker capacity as of 2011 is projected at 2.4mn MTS per annum. A matter of pride for OCC is that it is the only manufacturing company in Oman to

OCC has won His Majesty’s Trophy for Best Factory ten times

The Oman Cement Company

have won His Majesty’s Trophy for Best Factory ten times. “The company will continue with its development scheme during the coming few years. Necessary studies will be undertaken for entering the building materials industry as this industry is heavily dependent on cement as the basic raw material,” adds Jamal as he talks about the company’s future plans. All the raw materials required for the

production of cement are indigenous. Lime stone deposits, additives, quartzophylites and ferruginous quartzophylites are located adjacent to the plant site. Gypsum, which is used for retarding the setting of cement, is obtained from the mines at Ghaba. Expressing his views on the heritage of Oman, Jamal tells us that there are quite a few common cultural elements within the Arab peninsula because of

their geographical proximity. However, each state has its own identity. Oman, particularly, has a distinguished heritage. Moving on to the crafts industry in Oman, Jamal, says “ In spite of the government’s support towards the handicraft industry in Oman, there is an infiltration of foreign influence in this sector. There should be an incentive to encourage the youth of the country to get involved in the handicraft industry and choose it as a profession.”



Oman is among the leading countries that support craft industries. The government has attached great importance to this industry because it reflects a social culture and one of the most important legacies inspired by the Omani environment.


PACI supports the craft industry by providing necessary equipment, maintenance of craft sites and covering the cost of research


Encouraging crafts

nder the auspices of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the country has witnessed comprehensive development in all regions of the sultanate. This has included developmental structures and achievements in the handicrafts industry. In this regard, the efforts of the Public Authority of Craft Industries (PACI) play a role.

structural projects in the handicrafts sector through the development of the environment of handicrafts and the craftsmen community. The launch of the handicrafts card and the licenses of the handicrafts projects are a positive step for the craftsmen to avail information and services in addition to facilitating the execution of the government transactions electronically.

PACI, organised activities related to the intellectual rights protection and continuous development in an international forum called ‘Certification and Registration of the Traditional Knowledge and Forms of Abstract Cultural Expression’.

PACI continues to execute integral

The sultanate, represented by the

Sultan Qaboos competition of


Sultan Qaboos Competition for Handicrafts Excellence

Omani craftsmen showcasing their skills during the Muscat Festival 2011

Traditional crafts of Oman are encouraged by the efforts of PACI

Training and Handicrafts Rehabilitation The third of March is known as the Omani Handicraftsman Day. This year, the craftsmen were provided with equipment, developing sites and handicrafts communities, and provided raw materials and production supplies.

Handicrafts Licenses

Image courtesy: PACI

Handicrafts Excellence is aimed to enhance the creative competence of the craftsmen, which will contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of the country.

Integral Handicraft Centres To boost the crafts industry, PACI concentrates on training programmes for the craftsmen. Handicraft production centres are established all over the

sultanate. This year witnessed the establishment of a number of projects like the Palm Tree Project in Rustaq. A weaving and paints centre was launched in Haima. The first centre of its type, it was opened to enhance the handicrafts capabilities in the textile industry. A training centre for craftsmen producing earthenware and pottery was opened in Saham, and a training and silver production centre was opened in Sinaw, to encourage the silver industry.

The authority launched the handicrafts cards and the handicrafts projects licenses this year. The card provides a number of services including updating the data pertinent to craftsmen and provision of opportunities in training. It also ensures participation in exhibitions. The aim of the licenses is to provide all facilities to investors in the handicrafts sector.

Various Participations PACI, in cooperation with Sultan Qaboos Cultural Institute in Washington, held an International Folklore Market for Handicrafts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The participation for the second time in a row was a first for any of the GCC states. Locally, PACI participated in the activities of Muscat Festival 2011. This included showcasing the activities of an Omani village with its traditional lifestyle and skills in craftsmanship.

PACI concentrates on training programmes to boost the handicraft industry of Oman 75


The art of pottery-making is a testimony to the world’s civilisations, reflecting on the extent of their development and advancement

Mud musings


being born of land containing very special clay – are born with magic in their fingers. The fruits of this magic can be seen in modest homes through to top hotels in the country.

This exceptional art from Bahla is famous throughout the sultanate and beyond. It is said that the potters of Bahla – apart from

Pottery is of many kinds and shapes, and its uses and manufacturing materials vary. The jihal are used for keeping water, and the red pots, known as khuroos, are used for storing water and dates. There are small pots for keeping honey

ottery-making in Oman is an ancient industry. The reason it has attracted much interest can be attributed to the multitude of its uses in people’s daily lives. Bahla is the best known town for this art in Oman. The main component of this art is clay which is widely available in this region.


and grease, and the brams are used for cooking. Pottery is also used as coffee pots and thermoses. The clay used in the vessels comes from the wadi floor, and to make it pliable enough to be worked on the wheel, men trample on it. It is a time-honoured way of softening the clay before it is worked and reworked into a thing of beauty. As the long strokes of a potter work on the damp clay, shapes and sizes start to

A potter at work in Nizwa

Earthenware is sold in souqs all across the country

emerge. Patterns transpose themselves onto the object. Slowly and patiently rims develop and spouts appear as the magic fingers mould and curve the softened earth. While the electric potter’s wheel is in wide use, it is still possible to find a traditionalist or two who continue to cling to their much loved kick wheel. After this ritual of creation, the objects are packed carefully into a huge kiln to be fired. Over the years kilns have changed

significantly from the original small dome-shaped oven that was a little more than a metre wide to huge multi-level structures that, while still very traditional, are stacked and only sealed and fired up when they have dozens of pieces inside. Bahla has literally hundreds of potters and the region has always been considered a market leader when it comes to cottage industry. However, as fine workmanship became more widely known, demand

increased and many industries have gone from simple backyard businesses to thriving industries. In fact, the elaborate kilns that dot the landscape show that this pursuit for many has surpassed the level of cottage industry. The most contemporary type of kiln is large and square with four posts at each corner acting as chimneys. It is easy to not realise what these edifices are until you get too close to one in action. The heat can be felt from several metres away

The clay used in the vessels comes from the wadi floor, and to make it pliable men trample on it 77

Glazed earthenware made by Omani craftsmen

Image courtesy: PACI

and a mirage radiates around them. While most of these ovens are still fed traditional palm fronds, the voracious appetite of more recent arrivals require fronds and a rich supply of firewood. The end result of this industry is a seemingly endless source of bukhur burners, bowls, water holders and storage urns. At the entrance to Bahla is a small pottery works that was developed by the government with some help from


Chinese experts. In fact, Beijing has donated a lot of equipment and provided some technology to help further establish Bahla as a pottery capital. Shards of brightly coloured Chinese pottery have recently been excavated on Omani sites. While Bahla is historically known for its genies and alchemy, it seems the best magic is in the beautiful care taken when establishing the souq, which is in the town square and shaded by a huge tree.

In this souq, arguably like every other in the sultanate, the magic of the potter is for sale in solid clay. The Pottery Project is funded by the Public Authority of Craft Industries (PACI) and is intended to preserve and restore the traditional pottery styles and craftsmanship of the different areas of the Sultanate of Oman.

Kilns that dot the landscape show that pottery has surpassed the level of cottage industry


Rose water distillation flourishes as an industry in Jebel Akhdar. Rose cultivation is a good source of income to the farmers here


or several centuries, roses have been cultivated in Oman and processed into rose water. This was distilled by the Arabs as early as the ninth century when Al Kindi wrote his Kitab Kimya’ Al ‘Itr wa Al Tas‘idat (Book of Perfume Chemistry and Distillation). Rose water is used in medicinal, culinary and celebratory purposes. It enjoys wide popularity throughout the Middle East and is a must in every kitchen. It is particularly


Rosy picture

sought after during Ramadan when it is used in preparing the fast-breaking meal and during the two Eids when it is often employed as flavouring in drinks, custards, jellies and other desserts. Rose water also offers a way to refine the cup of kahwa and Omani halwa. It even has a place in the preparation of traditional cosmetics. For example, black kohl is often mixed with rose water to make an applicable paste, which is said to aid impaired vision.

Jebel Akhdar, whose peaks vary from 2,133m to 2,743m are moored high up in the central mountain ranges of Al Hajar. The cultivation of roses in this mountain range gives employment to several hundred people. Rose cultivation and rose water distillation is fetching the farmers a good income in some of the villages in Jebel Akhdar. Harvesting of rose petals and the distilling of rose water is done using

Rose cultivation in Jebel Akhdar

Rose harvest is collected in a cloth and sent to extraction uinits

traditional methods by the mountain communities in the villages of Shareija, Al Aqr, Al Am, Wadi Bani Habib and Seiq, which come alive with the colour of the rosy blossoms flourishing from the end of March to the beginning of April. The Ministry of Agriculture supplies the rose cultivators with fertilisers and other irrigation amenities to increase the yield of roses. The government is willing to help all those who intend to start new

rose water units. The ministry is also exploring investment opportunities in rose water making units in this region. The topography and the weather of Jebel Akhdar are ideal for rose cultivation. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to pool in resources and invest in the rose water distillation business. The rose gardens in Jebel Akhdar cascade down precipitous mountain slopes. Each field has been laboriously

created over the centuries. Natural stones that were split away from the solid slopes of the mountain have been used to create the walls. Soil from the valleys below or the few depressions on the plateau where rainfall creates a build-up of sediment, has been used to develop a fertile plot of land behind each wall. With such effort, it’s not surprising that the fields on the terraces are small, often no more than a few square metres. The reason for this intense labour is that

The cultivation of roses in the Al Hajar mountain range gives employment to many people 81

At the core of the distillation process is a dahgan (traditonal oven) and clay pots

the water springs on the mountain are located on the cliff face and by using a falaj, the water can also be made to cascade down, into each field on the rock face. Throughout the season of rose harvest, pickers rise early to pluck the blossoms just after they open and before the day’s heat evaporates their fragrance and dew. Plucking off the rose head encourages additional buds, a large bush may


produce up to 3,000 blossoms during its season and a couple of hundred flowers may be ready for collection each morning. The harvest is collected in a sheet of cloth, packed in a bundle and transported to one of many traditional extraction units set up by the villagers. At the core of the rose water production process is a dahgan (oven). Nowadays made of cement but previously from mud, its size is in keeping with the fields

where the roses come from – small. Suspended inside are several clay pots locally called burma. These are sealed in place at the top of the oven, above a fire. Today, this oven is gas fired, but previously the wood of Sidr trees was the fuel of choice. Inside the pot, a mixture of rose petals and water simmers and the steam is trapped in the clay pot by a copper qars (bowl) which is filled with cold water. Finally, the steam condenses against the cool copper qars and drips

The steam from the heated mixture of rose petals and water is trapped in a clay pot

The quality of Omani rose water is guaranteed and is very popular with tourists

into a sahla (small bowl) placed on top of the roses simmering below. Periodically, the sahla collecting the drops of rose water is taken out and its contents filtered into a large storage jar. This allows the water to settle and unfiltered sediment can drop to the bottom. The final stage is decanting the water into empty bottles. Tradition maintains that the rose water is beneficial for the heart and stomach. Rose water is used in kahwa, Omani

halwa, in some rice items as well as desserts. Hand-held rose water sprinklers, traditionally made with long straight necks and bulbous bottoms, have a time-honoured role in festivities like marriages in much of the Muslim world, including Oman. Regional and European tourists make it a point to visit Jebel Akhdar to buy high-quality rose water. Rose cultivation and distillation have great potential and can bring in more revenue to this region.

Each bush yields about 15-20kg of petals during peak season. It takes about 2kg of petals to generate 750ml of essence valued at RO5. Though the entire process is time consuming and labour intensive, it gives a feeling of joy. The essence of these highland roses will continue to impart an evocative and timeless fragrance.

Regional and European tourists make it a point to visit Jebel Akhdar to buy high-quality rose water 83


The Sultanate of Oman is one of the countries that has an environment suitable for breeding honey bees


istory tells us that the illustrious Imam Saif bin Sultan (16881711) was a keen apiarist raising bees in the garden of his fortress in Rustaq. Oman has been practicing beekeeping since ancient times, producing excellent honey. People made beehives out of date palm trunks. The trunk is hollowed out, and the honeycomb and queen bee are placed inside. Ingenious ways of harvesting the honey and combs are done from


Honey hunting

the rear of the date log hive to minimise disturbance to the bees. Due to the varied landscape and diversity of agricultural crops in the sultanate, the honey produced is of varied tastes and has gained fame like the Omani halwa, outside the country. One of the best varieties is wild bees’ honey. This variety of honey is in high demand because it is pure and nutritious. Buyers from neighbouring countries prefer Omani

honey for its purity. Beekeeping is mostly seen in the interior areas of Oman, specifically in the Sharqiyah region and in Salalah. Malls all over the country showcase Omani honey in attractive containers. Since time immemorial honey has been promoted as a remedy for many illnesses in Arabia. From the technique involved it is clear that the beekeepers work hard using a labour-intensive technique to manage

Beekeeping is popular in the Sharqiyah region and also in Salalah

Honeycombs inside a hollowed-out trunk of a date palm tree

the bees. Dry climate, coupled with short flowering season of local plants and their efforts, have helped to produce honey. A kilogramme of this rich honey commands a price of RO70. It is used for healing many diseases and also to enhance the taste of local cuisine. In spite of competition from imported honey, Omani honey still records highest sale. Two types of bees are known in Oman:

Apis millifera and Apis florea. The specialist beekeepers of northern Oman have developed great skill in obtaining honey and propagating bee colonies in a sustainable manner. In northern Oman the larger honey bee was traditionally

kept in hollowed-out trunks of date palms, locally known as tubl. Modern methods of bee-keeping have now been introduced into the country and efficiency in production has been greatly improved. The Ministry of Agriculture

Date palm trunks are hollowed out and the honeycomb and queen bee are placed inside 85

A makeshift beehive camp in Rustaq

and Fisheries has isolated areas for breeding Omani bees only, to avoid confusion between the strains of bees of Oman and the imported breeds. The ministry has also imposed a strict ban on mixing Omani and imported strains of bees. Bee farming is one of the most ancient practices in Oman. Omani strains of bees are a cultural heritage and worth preserving in their original form. The strain of bees found in Oman is considered one of the finest in the


world. Omani strains of bees have the ability to adapt to the changing weather conditions. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Oman is home to 35,000 apiaries and 5,200 bee farmers. Honey is produced during two seasons — June and November. Imported strains of bees, brought to the country by traders, were thought to have spread diseases in the local strain. This issue was resolved by the Royal Decree

Number 48/2006 which banned the construction of apiaries and importing the strains without getting an agricultural permission. Also, it is not allowed to have any imported strains at the isolated zones set by the ministry. The ministry takes many steps to protect honey from predators, such as keeping apiaries away from predators, especially hornets. Wooden traps are built to hunt hornets, particularly the red ones. Killing

The ministry has imposed a strict ban on mixing Omani and imported strains of bees

Omani honey is quite popular internationally

them manually and burning of their nests is also done from time to time. The authorities put the apiaries high above the ground to protect the honey from ants. This is done by using iron bars with a place for oil or by putting small stones on the floor of the apiaries, so that ants do not build nests. Also, regular cleaning is a must. The bee farmers need to know the basics of apiculture and modern methods are being introduced to them by the ministry.

Seasonal seminars are held to raise awareness among bee farmers. Training courses are also held during the summer school vacation, to help train the technical cadre at the ministry. These people transfer the knowledge to the bee farmers, issue bulletins and make documentaries that help in spreading the required knowledge. The ministry carries out projects aiming to preserve local honey and spread bee farming among farmers through the distribution

of apiaries and the queens. The ministry also supports bee farmers by providing them with honey separator machines and other necessary equipment. Automatic honey filling units are distributed to farmers, which helps them to market their products outside Oman. The ministry also encourages farmers by helping them participate at local and international exhibitions.

Buyers from neighbouring countries prefer Omani honey for its purity 87


Oman frankincense, Boswellia Sacra, is one of earth’s greatest treasures – a precious substance revered through the ages


he frankincense trees of Wadi Dawkah and the remains of the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar and the affiliated ports of Khor Rori and Al Baleed, vividly illustrate the trade in frankincense that flourished in this region for many centuries, as one of the most important trading activities of the ancient and medieval world. Dhofar region of southern Oman is frankincense country, home to Boswellia


Fine incense

sacra, source of ancient world’s most prized commodity. For centuries, people have scraped the bark of this scraggly tree, allowed its sap to harden into small nuggets, then picked them off and heated them over embers. Religious rituals across the Mediterranean and the East depended and, in places, still depend, on thick, sweet frankincense smoke. At the height of the Roman Empire, Dhofar was exporting immense quantities of frankincense by ship to Yemen and up

the Red Sea, and by camel caravan to Petra and the Mediterranean. Before oil was discovered, frankincense was the main source of wealth for Oman. Two thousand years ago, frankincense was of equal value to gold, and known and revered throughout the ancient world. The Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the gods and used it in many of their mortuary rituals and in purification ceremonies. Greek

Earthenware incense burners are a sign of Omani hospitality

Clockwise from left: Grounding of frankincense pellets; Flower of the frankincense tree; Packaged frankincense

and Roman physicians used it in the treatment of almost every disease for its antiseptic and calming properties. Apart from the much recognised use of burning frankincense, it is also considered to be good for the stomach by the locals. At more than USD125 a kilogramme, this golden, almost luminescent Hawjari frankincense, from the trees of Wadi Hawjar, an isolated valley behind Sumharam, is top quality.

Lower grades – Najdi, Shazri, Shaabi – are darker and coarser. Houses are censed daily, in the early morning and at sunset, to make them fragrant and to keep away pests. Water, too, is purified by the addition of a few grains of frankincense. Following a birth, mother and baby are censed. Salalah’s city museum offers the best insight into the history of frankincense; artefacts include exquisite old clay incense burners, model dhows once used to transport the

perfume to Oman’s colonies in Africa and India, and tools for collecting the musky sap. Frankincense is a gum resin which oozes from the frankincense tree. The trees grow to about 8m in height, with numerous core trunks and thin branches with crinkly leaves. The trees do not like moisture and thrive in barren areas cooled by sea winds. Its resin is a result of a healing tree. The harvesting

At the height of the Roman Empire, Dhofar was exporting immense quantities of frankincense 89

The frankincense tree is slit with a special knife and left to weep a milky white sap. The first cut produces the purest resin

period is generally carried out between spring and early autumn. As with rubber harvests, the tree is slit with a special knife, called the mingaf, and left to weep a milky white sap, collected when it has crystallised. The first cut, the tawquii, produces the purest and most valuable resin – much of which is exported for use in perfume and cosmetics. The second and third cuts, made at two-week intervals, produce a yellower resin, and its crystals, resembling unrefined sugar,


are sold in the local markets. In large quantities, frankincense looks dull and a little dusty, but better quality is denoted by its colour. The best are the larger, almost white beads, while ordinary, everyday frankincense is small and dusty with shades of orange and brown in it. Because of its non-perishability, its resistance to bacteria and because it is an evergreen tree, frankincense is a symbol of immortality. The tree can live for at least 100 years. It seems that the power

and beauty of frankincense is a reflection of its intense tenacity for life. In the driest areas, it condenses the solar heat and chill night winds into a rare essence. The gnarled exterior is in great contrast with its inner spirit. Even today, Oman is permeated with frankincense. Government buildings are censed daily. At home, Omanis perform their courtly ceremonies of hospitality in an atmosphere perfumed by frankincense.

The purest and most valuable resin is exported for use in perfume and cosmetics

Frankincense tree in Salalah

Outsized incense burners smoulder in significant public places and truly gigantic sculptures of incense burners can be found in urban traffic circles. Distilled and extracted to yield essential oils, frankincense is valued for its distinct oriental notes as well as fixative qualities. In Oman a very costly perfume is now prepared using these aromatic oils. Frankincense is now becoming an endangered botanical and there is

conscious effort to preserve this precious harvest. It needs to be protected from over harvesting, camels and the animal herds of nomadic tribes. One of the four World Heritage Sites inscribed by Unesco as The Land of Frankincense is Wadi Dhowkah. It is

classified as a ‘frankincense natural park’, and was selected because of its comparative density of trees and the vicinity of the National Highway from Salalah to Muscat.

There is a conscious effort to preserve the frankincense tree from getting endangered 91


Once worn in selfdefence, today, the khanjar is a fashion accessory as well as a symbol of status and authority in the Sultanate of Oman


hanjars are traditional, curved, defensive weapons worn centre belt by Omani men as a badge of office and as head of the family. They are worn by civic dignitaries, heads of government, scholars of religion, ministers and the leader of the country. The khanjar is an iconic Omani emblem. It is established as Oman’s ethnographic weapon, alongside the famous Omani kattara sword. The khanjar is a dynamic weapon which was frequently used in the


Charismatic dagger

past during warfare. It not only fiercely slayed the enemies but was also used to climb forts, skin hide and cut meat.

wooden, covered in leather which has been expertly hand stitched with silver wire in patterns specific to the local area.

These traditional Omani daggers are made by silversmiths in time-honoured designs handed down through the ages. Here in Oman, it is against the law for a style to be introduced unless it is one of the laid down, historical, true Omani patterns of old. A khanjar comprises several parts. The scabbard core is

The ring or belt section comprises layers of leather covered in filigree or plate silver with big silver rings which may indicate its provenance. For example, in Omani khanjars the seven ringers belong to the Sharqiyah region, while daggers from the other regions have four rings. The mark of a good sheath is

Omani khanjars

The khanjar is attached to the waist by a hand-stitched belt

the inlaid silver rings. However, there is no special significance attached to the number of rings on a khanjar. It depends on personal preference, but it is a status symbol as the rings are expensive and usually a wealthy wearer sports seven rings. Above the ring or belt section the scabbard is plated with hand worked and decorated silver plate, while below the belt section silver is applied by silver stitched patterning or plate work. Omani khanjar patterns are usually

geometric and floral. The hilt is either worked in simple silver or decorated with silver pins forming a myriad design hammered into the horn grip, topped with geometrical silver rectangles. In some handles the entire hilt is covered in highly decorated silver while in others it may be left quite plain depending on the regional style. Attaching the entire weapon to the waist is a beautiful hand-stitched leather belt.

Less expensive cloth belts hand woven in traditional geometric designs are also used. Belts are also made of locally made webbing, sometimes interwoven with silver thread or belts of leather covered by finely woven silver wire with handsome silver buckles, and a knife with an ornate handle of silver thread is often stuck into a simple leather pouch behind the sheath. The more expensive sheaths are of woven gold thread or a combination of gold and silver. But there

Omani khanjars are made by silversmiths in timehonoured designs handed down through the ages 93

Designs for Omani khanjars have to be approved by PACI

and contemporary trends. The Sa’idiyah khanjar has a narrow hilt and is the largest and most expensive, while the Dakhliyah khanjar has a very wide handle and a sheath of ivory or horn worked with silver. Variations such as the one called Nizwa use a silver T-shaped hilt while the Sur khanjars are smaller in size and use gold instead.

are also the simpler ones made of plain leather with some silver worked into it. The blade of a khanjar is also an indication of its worth. Old blades are never discarded but worked into a new one. The curved iron or steel blade has a reinforcing spine in the centre and is fitted to the hilt by melted pitch which acts like powerful glue to fix the tang into the handle. On the end of the curved scabbard the Omani khanjar is decorated in a small crown often


adorned with a silver cluster of mulberry inspired from the wild fruit tree which is common in Oman. It can take up to a month to make a quality khanjar and craftsmen adhere to the regional designs handed down from generations. The khanjar comes in three basic styles or designs – the Sa’idiyah, Dakhliyah (Omaniyah) and Sharqiyah (Suriyah), but they have numerous variations derived from personal choice

Sheikha Aisha bint Khalfan al Siyabiah, chairperson of the Public Authority for Craft Industries (PACI), issued an order last year banning the use of designs and materials of the samples of Omani khanjar without the authority’s permission. This decision was in step with preserving the national crafts of the country. The khanjar is a distinguishing feature of the Omani personality as well as an important symbol of male elegance. It is one of the most important national symbols, used in the seals of the Omani government, its currency and on its flag.

The khanjar comes in three basic styles – the Sa’idiyah, Dakhliyah and Sharqiyah



The Sultanate of Oman’s musical tradition is an integral part of its social, political, economic, geographical and religious history


man’s musical tradition is rich and varied. Eloquent testimony to this is borne by thousands of anthologies of verse which form the text of Omani folk songs and present a living history of events that have social lessons for the present and the future.

Resonating vibrations

Classification of Omani Musical Instruments

melody and rhythm. The number of instruments in Oman’s traditional music which produce melodies are few compared to those which produce rhythm. This is due to the fact that Omanis still use their voice in many genres without the help of a melodic instrument. Most importantly, Omani genres include dances which are supported by rhythmic rather than melodic instruments.

There are two main aspects to music:

Most traditional musical instruments in


Oman are linked to certain genres. The structure of the instrument always meets the requirements of the specific genre.

String Instruments Traditional Omani genres include the following three string instruments: the tanbura, rababa and ud. Tanbura: The tanbura is one of the most important string instruments presently

Clockwise from left: Ud; A double-skinned Omani drum; Mizmar

used in the sultanate. It has not changed over thousands of years on its journey through different cultures and it is easy to follow the historical traces which prove this. This instrument appeared for the first time in the Sumerian civilisation in 2700 BC. The strings of the tanbura are beaten by a horn which is usually made from the end of a bull’s horn. Rababa: The rababa is one of the instruments that is on its way to

becoming extinct. The rababa in general is considered the most important string instrument in the world. The Omani rababa contains one string only and is called rababit ash-shair. The name implies the function of the instrument that is to help the poet recite his poetry.

because it has accompanied the history of Arab music since the beginning. The modern ud with its short neck has not changed from that seen in ancient manuscripts. The importance of ud comes from the fact that it contains a large melodic range.

Ud: The ud is considered the most important Arab instrument and is often called ‘The prince of instruments’. The ud is the symbol of Arab music in general

Wind Instruments Mizmar: The mizmar belongs to the doublereed wooden wind instruments. It is

Rhythm plays an important role in the structure of Oman’s musical genres 97

Most traditional musical instruments in Oman are linked to certain genres

cylindrical in form and is known by various names such as the naghghar, surnai or sirnai. Playing the mizmar requires considerable skill because the double reed needs high blowing power. Furthermore, the player should have the ability to perform with uninterrupted blowing. Zamr: The zamr is a wind instrument made from bamboo. Alternative names are aba al maqrun and gifti. The zamr consists of two parallel pipes of equal length and size,


fitted together. The sound is produced in both pipes by blowing into them simultaneously. In the Sultanate of Oman there are several types of the zamr with five, six or seven holes, although the fivehole type is the most frequently used. Qasaba: The qasaba is a pipe made from bamboo, wood or metal. It is characterised by the lack of mouthpiece for blowing. It has six holes in the front and one in the back. The sound is

produced by blowing sideways into one of its two openings. The qasaba is the main melodic instrument in Dhofar.

Rhythmic instruments The type of wood used in the manufacture of drums differs according to the form of the instrument and the origin of the wood. Rhythmic instruments of Oman’s traditional music can be classified into double-skinned drums,

The wood used in the manufacture of drums differs according to the form of the instrument

Omani drums displayed at Bait al Baranda

single-skinned drums and rhythmic instruments without skin.

districts. The rahmani plays the role of the rhythmic base in any composition.

The double-skinned drums consist of instruments like Rahmani, Rahmani tawil, Ranna, Kasir, Kasir qasir, Kasir mufaltah and Mirwas.

Rahmani tawil: The rahmani tawil is not as widely used as the rahmani and is not common to all parts of the sultanate. The length of this instrument helps to produce a sound which is heavier and thus its rhythm is given depth.

Rahmani: The rahmani is considered the most important rhythmic instrument in Oman’s traditional music. It is found in most of the sultanate’s regions and

Ranna: The ranna lends a third layer to the rhythmical texture of the rahmani and

the kasir. However, on comparing some genres, it can be concluded that the term ranna is also used for instruments whose diameter is larger than the rahmani. Kasir: The kasir is smaller in size than the rahmani and thus produces a high-pitched or strident sound when compared to the rahmani. The kasir, like the rahmani, is also beaten with hand or stick. Kasir qasir: The kasir al qasir is almost half

The tanbura is one of the most important string instruments presently used in the sultanate 99

Omani folklore presented at the Muscat Festival 2011

the size of the kasir. Usually it is beaten with a stick, but sometimes with both hands, accompanied by singing.

Kasir mufaltah: The kasir al mufaltah is mostly used to embellish the rhythm which is seen in the aiyala genre of the Dhahirah region. Mirwas: The mirwas is used in Dhofar and is the region’s smallest drum. It is mainly used in the bara and the sharh genres.


Single-skinned drum The single-skinned drum group is divided into three classes: musundu, duff and baz. Musundu: The musundu has a single skin fitted to a long conical body. The individual instruments differ from each other according to their rhythmic function within a particular genre. Duff: The duff is a round wooden

instrument. The sizes of each instrument within this class may vary. This class represents the close relationship between Oman and the culture of the Arab Peninsula. Baz: The body of the instrument looks like a bowl, the open part of which is covered by skin. There is only one instrument of this class, known as the quta. In other Arab countries, this instrument is called tabl al baz.

The rahmani plays the role of the rhythmic base in any composition

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The Sultanate of Oman is noted for its exquisite weaves and the use of traditional dyes. The distinct craftsmanship is prized for its beauty


raditional crafts with utility value have always maintained the lead over modern equivalents as people’s familiarity with them has run on for centuries. The practicality of traditional crafts also has bearing on the availability of raw material locally.

Basket weaving Basket weaving with date palm leaves


Dream weavers

has been practised in the sultanate for long. Despite modern baskets being available for storage purposes, the traditional baskets have continued to hold sway as they enable dates to retain their taste and nutrients. Traditional basket weavers are busy throughout the year working on the various stages of basket weaving. Most often basket weaving can be witnessed being practised by veterans from one generation and their children who get trained by their parents.

The type of basket used for storage purposes is called jrab while the one used for collection of dates is known as qufer. The one-metre tall jrab can hold 60kg of dates and can be used for two years. However, some farmers prefer to use these baskets only for a year to retain the freshness of dates. Later, the same baskets may be used for storing dates for goats and cattle. The use of baskets made of date leaves is especially useful for collection of date honey.

A traditional Omani weaving loom

The traditional craft of carpet and basket weaving is encouraged by the Crafts Authority of Oman

Qufer is mainly used for collection of dates. This type of basket is made of younger leaves and can be used for carrying around 15kg of dates. Date leaf baskets can be seen in most of the traditional markets such as Nizwa, Samayil and Sinaw. There are five stages in the date palm basket weaving process. In the first stage, dry leaves are cut and collected. In the next stage, leaves are removed

from the stem. This is followed by putting the leaves in water to make them more flexible and strong. In the fourth stage, the actual weaving process begins and long bands are woven and stored at sableh or public majlis. Before the onset of summer these bands are woven and kept ready for the final stage of weaving. In the last stage of weaving, the rolls of bands are again put in water for a couple of hours before being woven into baskets. Each of the

basket weavers makes a few hundred baskets during a season according to the requirements of the market. The traditional basket weavers are usually old men and are very famous for their expertise in weaving. A great deal of patience is required in this job. Interestingly, some of the professional artisans who are engaged in basket weaving are blind and they have made a name for their weaving skills.

The basket weavers are usually old men, famous for their expertise in weaving 103

An Omani craftsman with his traditional tools

Carpet weaving Until recently, a substantial source of income for the inhabitants of Wadi Ghul was from weaving rugs. Omani rugs are woven in patterns of either brown or white, from natural wool, or red and black, the red thread dyed with madder, a rich colouring from India. The villagers obtained the wool for weaving by shearing sheep and goats and then spinning it into yarn. Spinning is a


slow process done by the shepherds, women and older children whenever they had spare time. Each ball of yarn, called a kubba, took about four days to complete, and nine balls of yarn were needed for a complete rug. Making the rug itself was an exclusively masculine activity and was done on a simple, two-beam wooden loom which could be set up on the ground and easily carried from place to place. But now, as

young men begin to leave the village to seek education, join the army or work in the cities, traditional village crafts, such as weaving, are dying out. In a recent drive at job creation, an agreement between Oman LNG and the Ministry of Social Development was signed to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for candidates who have completed training in hand-made carpet weaving.

Basket weavers are busy throughout the year working on various stages of the craft


The Omani culture, through its dress and jewellery, presents a unique identity to the world. The colours of the fabrics and the fine craftsmanship of the silver jewellery exhibit an unfailing attachment to traditional styles and values.

I nterview

Documenting traditional dressing styles becomes pertinent when a nation opens up to changing fashions from around the world

Unfolding yarns

Julia al Zadjali Founder and Director, Centre for Omani Dress (COD)


he Centre for Omani Dress (COD) is firmly committed to the study of the Sultanate of Oman’s national dress identity and in sharing it with the world by way of research, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, publications and other educational schemes. Speaking on the regional differences in dressing within Oman, Julia al Zadjali, founder and director of COD, tells us, “There is no dividing line for the dresses


within Oman. This is because of the migratory nature of the tribes. For them there were no state demarcation and influences on style overlapped across boundaries. The only division that is visible, however, is that in North Oman a long disdasha is worn over a sirwal and the head cover completes the dress, while in Central and South Oman the disdasha is much longer and reaches the ankles. The sirwal, though still worn underneath, is no longer visible. Even

this division is not rigid. Some women in parts of northern Oman like Musandam continue to wear an anklelength disdasha.” Julia has lived in Oman since 1992. Her interest in Omani dresses and her zeal to preserve the traditional style that she fears is on its way to extinction led her to research, sample and document dresses from within the country. The Centre for Omani Dress was formalised

Julia’s interest in Omani dresses and her zeal to preserve the traditional style led her to form COD

Julia explaining the regional styles of dressing in Oman

with blues and reds thrown in for good measure. The colours of the dresses were a welcome contrast to the plain landscape.” Talking further on this subject Julia reveals that the abaya is not a traditional Omani outer garment. “Abaya is a traditional Arab garment and became popular in Oman much later. As an outer covering the Omani women used two kinds of drapes, one called the lisu which was anchored around the head and fell over the upper body like a cloak. The other was shayla which is a two-metrelong cloth draped around the upper body as an outer covering. The shayla was not used as a head cover and it along with the head scarf constituted the traditional outer covering for Omani women before the abaya became popular.”

in 2005. Commenting on the research programmes under COD, Julia says, “The COD is completely dependent upon volunteers and donations as this is a non-profit research effort. We have over 50 volunteers in Muscat and throughout Oman, and we meet on a regular basis. Very soon the COD will house its collection of 600 sample dresses from all over the country in its own museum in Mawaleh, Seeb. The museum aims to showcase passing as well as existing

styles of regional dresses along with chosen embellishments.” According to Julia, the signature difference between the traditional women’s dress in Oman and the rest of the Arab states is the vibrant colours prevalent here. “Though the present generation prefers subdued tones, this was not the case even a few years back. It was not uncommon to see combinations of bright pinks and yellows

Since its inception the COD has been actively participating in overseas exhibitions to showcase the beauty of Omani garments. One such opportunity came in March 2011 when the COD presented a workshop called Hands on Textiles and Trims at The British Museum, London, England. This three-hour workshop was an interactive experience with textiles and trims of the sultanate during a presentation on traditional dress. Another moment of pride for the COD was the airing of the video footage of a walking tour through Muttrah souq and the surrounding communities on The Oprah Winfrey Show: Beauty secrets from around the world.

COD actively participates in overseas exhibitions to showcase the beauty of Omani garments 109

Adorn m ents

The usually barren landscape of Oman is made bright with the colours of their traditional clothing. Each region offers variety in style

Language of dress

Traditional Omani woman’s dress from Dakhiliyah region (left) and traditional bisht worn by men on formal occasions displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum


man maintains its identity through its traditional sense of dressing. Opening up of the once isolated country has brought in the world influence to all strata of Oman’s society, including fashion. However, Omanis have so far managed to generate modern styles in tune with its ancient culture.

Traditional dress for men in Oman The traditional male dress in the Sultanate


The two distinct differences in dishdasha style are found in Sur and the Dhahirah region

Hand embroidered baluchi dress embellished with mirror tiles. The use of mirror tiles is quite common for this form of dress although a white textile is considered uncommon*

One of the older pieces in the Centre of Omani Dress collection. Ensemble uses the outer covering, called The hand sewn disdasha is from the shayla, which precedes abaya use. This region of Dhahira* dress is from the Dakhiliyah region*

of Oman has a distinct national identity. Men wear a simple and elegant gown called a disdasha. Most men wear a white disdasha to work as it is considered formal. After work they may prefer to wear a variety of different coloured disdasha with matching head gear. The male disdasha has long sleeves and a round neck with an opening that comes down the chest and is closed by a button at the neck. This opening is often

embroidered. A special tassel appears at the neck called a furakha or farusha and this is often perfumed. The tassel styles and lengths often vary as per personal preference and regional characteristics. Usually if the disdasha is white the tassel and embroidery down the chest is also white. The disdasha is fairly uniform in style throughout the country. However, the two most distinct differences are found in Sur and the Dhahirah region. In Sur, the disdasha features special

A disdasha** Indigo-stained garment comes from Salalah. It is considerably shorter in the front than the back. The trail and its volume are trademarks of this dress*

embroidery around the neck, chest, cuffs and shoulders. The embroidery makes this style of disdasha one of the most expensive in the market. In the Dhahirah region, the disdasha usually has longer tassels that make it distinct.

* Displayed at Centre for Omani Dress ** Displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

On formal occasions a decorative silver or gold khanjar may also be worn around the waist on a special belt. On occasions of national importance a bisht or shal is worn. The bisht is a flowing translucent


(Top: Left to right) A disdasha from the city of Sur. Note the elaborate embroidery and use of Suri silks to create this beautiful design; A sample of traditional embroidery on the male disdasha from 80 to100 years ago. The colours and patterns are authentic (Bottom: Left to right) The hand embroidery seen around the ankle is called khiyata; Hatheeya, created on a weaving loom, is a long fringe used to adorn women’s shaylas All ensembles on this page are displayed at Centre for Omani Dress

cloak that is usually black or beige edged with golden trimmings. It is common within the gulf, but in Oman it is worn with a disdasha, khanjar, and turban called a musr. The musr is usually made of embroidered cotton or wool, and is worn by men. There are many different qualities available. The most expensive are imported from Kashmir in a wide variety of colours with ornate embroidery. There are ways of intricately folding the musr that vary from personal taste and


regional distinctions. Some men prefer to tie their musr over a cap called a kummah. The kummah can also be worn by itself, and is considered every day casual head wear. It is made of crisp white cotton that is embroidered in many different colours. The designs are diverse and display artistic and individual tastes. Another vital part of the male dress in Oman is a stick called an Al Assa. The function, style and name of the stick may vary from region to region.

Traditional dress for women in Oman Omani women have very colourful costumes which vary from region to region. The main components of a woman’s outfit comprise a dress which is worn over trousers (sirwal) and the headdress, called the lihaf. There are numerous traditional styles of Omani costume seen in Muscat.

A border in a contrasting colour is stitched to the lower hem of the thawb known as the sinjaaf

From the mid-80s the sirwal starts getting embellished with gold thread. This ankle design is from the Muscat region (left); A stunning example of hand-embroidered ankles from the city of Sur All ensembles on this page are displayed at Centre for Omani Dress

However, there are three main types which show vibrant colours, embroidery and decorations. One style of costume is rather flowing and resembles that worn by the women of the Interior, while another is decorated with distinctive silver bands. The embroidery on these dresses can take around two months to complete.

Muscat Cotton is the preferred choice of textile

for regular wear. The robe (thawb or disdasha) is printed with geometric or flower patterns. The thawb is embellished with golden or silver threaded braids around the neckline and cuffs. A border in a contrasting colour is stitched to the lower hem of the thawb. This is known as the sinjaaf. Narrow pants (sirwal or tiidi) are worn with the thawb. These are decorated with broad patterns extending downwards from below the knee. The dress is completed with the waqaya, a long scarf

worn over the head consisting of a threemetre-long light cotton cloth with tassels of coloured wool along the shorter ends. These tassels may also be woven from coloured silk or gold and silver thread according to individual taste. Biraan is a particular kind of thawb which is decorated around the neckline and cuffs with bands of white braid, broad black braid and varying designs worked with silver and gold thread. Biraan is

Gab’a is a long loose-fitting cloak made of black cotton tulle and worn over the thawb in Sharqiyah 113

A braid cushion on which tilli or seem is made (left) and threads and stamps used in the present day for hand embroidering baluchi dresses displayed at Centre for Omani Dress

characterised with motifs and the lower hem is embellished with tassels. The sirwal is decorated with similar patterns as those on the sleeves of the biraan, although over a more extensive area. The dress is completed with the butu, a rectangular piece of cloth usually edged with a band of red silk.

Batinah The attire for women in this region


consists of three components of differing colours. The thawb falls to about 30cm below the knee. The neckline is embroidered with braids and bands of various patterns. The complex embroidery on the front of the thawb is called mussader. The lower hem is also embroidered and edged with the sinjaaf. There are two types of sirwals common to this region, namely Al Yadila and Al Khayali. The waqaya is distinguished by tassels at the shorter ends. The shayla

is worn over the whole ensemble as an outer covering when leaving the house. A small face-mask is sometimes worn in this area. In the Jebel Akhder region women traditionally used locally available wool for the embroidery on their dresses.

Dakhiliyah The attire for women of the Dakhiliyah region resembles that of the Muscat and Batinah regions. The main feature is a

Biraan is a particular kind of thawb decorated around the neckline and cuffs with woven braids

An Omani girl in her traditional outfit

embroidered cloth stitched to the front between the neckline and the waist. This is called the khidma. A similar embroidered square stitched at the back of the garment is called the mansouba. The sirwals are distinctly narrow in the lower part and generally made from black cloth with narrow silver stripes with the lower hems embroidered in silver thread. The women of Sharqiyah wear the Shader al Tarh. This is a long rectangle cloth sufficient to cover the woman completely, usually made of crimson silk and woven with stripes of silver thread. It is worn over the head and wrapped around the person.


distinctively short thawb with a sinjaaf of contrasting colour attached to the lower hem. Above the sinjaaf beads are machine embroidered with silver threads called Al Wat. The neckline of the thawb is embroidered with linked spiral circles made from fine filigree. The sirwal is decorated with individual motifs and embroidered with multi-coloured woollen threads in braid, marriya and rasma styles, terminating in mihrab designs resembling tassels. In the Interior region, women wear the waqaya or head-covering with its characteristic coloured woollen tassels at

each end. The thawb and the sirwal are bright in colour.

Sharqiyah The thawb for women of this region is worn below knee length. It is made from various types of silk and the sleeves are embroidered in silver and silken thread. Over the thawb is worn the gab’a, a long loose-fitting cloak traditionally made of black cotton tulle although now this garment can be found in more colours. The gab’a has a rectangle patch of

The women of this region wear the kandoura, a long cloak resembling the abaya. The chest area is embroidered in the shape of a horizontal rectangle while on the left side is a vent stretching to the waist fastened with internal snap fasteners. In Musandam, women traditionally wore the adliyya, a flowing diaphanous robe, over the kandoura. It is embellished with braided gold and silver threads. Traditionally, the adliyya was of a different colour from the kandoura but now it is made of matching chiffon and embroidered around the neckline and chest area. As in the other regions, sirwals of this region are decorated with albaadila (wide braid). The head covering is called the shayla and is made of a light cloth resembling lace or muslin with the hems embellished with silver threads. Women in this region tend to wear the burqa (veil covering lower part of the face) as a costume accessory when leaving the house.


Adorn m ents

Omani jewellery is characteristic of its traditional, nomadic societies, but it also upholds the influences from the outside world


ilver jewellery has always been an important part of the traditional Omani attire. Necklaces, bracelets, ear-rings, anklets, bangles and hair decorations are typical examples of this craft

The Silversmith Traditional methods of working and selling silver have remained unchanged in Oman for centuries. Until recently,


Written in silver

the silversmith was a familiar site in the souqs of all the larger towns. There were no retail silver shops in Oman. All silver jewellery was made and sold by the silversmith form his workshop, which was also his shop. Most towns in Northern Oman’s interior and in Dhofar had extensive catchment areas for their customers, with nomadic and settled people travelling considerable distances to sell and buy goods, including silver when they could afford it. There are still

a few families where this continues, particularly as the interest revives in Oman’s ancient crafts. In Nizwa, for example, a number of silversmiths have sons or grandsons as apprentices. Part of the silversmith’s skill lies in continually making small changes to the styles for his pieces, in an attempt to create new fashions and thus arousing in his customers dissatisfaction with their current jewellery and a desire to

Omani silver necklace displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

Omani anklets, kohl pot and applicator, and a silver necklace with red beads displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

have it remodelled. This is illustrated for instance, in the case of the widely-worn Dhofari bracelet.

The Silver Omani silversmiths traditionally used several sources of silver to make new

pieces – the most common being the melting down and re-use of old jewellery or of silver coins. In the 19th and the 20th centuries, the Maria Theresa dollar (MTD) or Thaler, which was used as currency throughout Oman, was the coin most commonly used, along with the silver rupee. Not all coins were melted down.

However, many were used as decorative components of jewellery or costume. This practice spanned many centuries. Such coins once pierced, would often be re-used for costumes or jewellery rather than being melted down, but would not be used again as currency. It is rare to find Omani silver jewellery that is more than

It was customary in wealthier families for each girl to be given her own makhal and merwid 117

Amulet necklace displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

a generation old, since no self-respecting bridegroom would give his new bride someone else’s battered old silver for her dowry.

Distinctive traditions of Omani jewellery Oman’s seafaring and trading history undoubtedly opened the country to many influences from abroad. In terms of jewellery, these included not only


designs and motifs, and artefacts, such as Indian rupee and Maria Theresa dollars – but also tools and brass dyes from India and Pakistan, and skills and techniques from the Indian subcontinent, and from East Africa. The people of Sur, formerly a major centre of boat building and foreign trade, still recall that young men went to Zanzibar, then an Omani colony, to serve their apprenticeship and learn the craft of

silver jewellery making, before returning to Sur to ply their trade. Omani silver jewellery, despite absorbing the influences of a number of the country’s trading partners over the centuries, remains a distinctive tradition. A common feature throughout Oman, both North and South, is the general lack of precious or semi-precious stones. In Omani jewellery, silver alone generally sufficed, and was designed to be decorative enough in itself.

In Omani jewellery, silver alone sufficed, and was designed to be decorative enough in itself

Omani jewellery displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

Sometimes gold or gold leaf was used, for all or just part of a piece, particularly by the bedouins and by those who lived in the richer coastal towns of Muttrah, Muscat and Sur. Sometimes coral or red ceramic beads were used – again, this was particularly true of bedouin jewellery. But the extensive use of amber, turquoise and other semi-precious stones, such as was found in Yemeni and Saudi Arabian jewellery, was wholly missing from Omani silver.

Head-dresses and hair ornaments Hair and head ornaments were widely worn throughout Northern Oman. Perhaps the only piece of Northern Omani silver which could be described as a full head-dress was the shemrukh, made and worn in Sur. The shemrukh bedewiya was worn, as its name suggests, by the more settled bedouins. Generally, this piece seems to have been

worn by women and girls, though only by unmarried girls in the villages and towns such as Sur. It was also worn by wealthy town girls at major festivals. The shemrukh bedewiya was worn down the centre back-parting attached to a band of chains going over the crown of the head, along with a shemrukh, or harf, which was worn at the front, over the forehead. The shemrukh bedewiya itself consisted of

Northern Omani anklets were hollow and were worn mainly by married women 119

Silver amulet necklace with red beads displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

A baby’s ears were usually pierced in earliest infancy – both boys and girls had pierced ears throughout most of Northern Oman. Women took pride in the weight of their ear-rings, and seem also to have worn large and heavy pieces directly in their ears, often from the mid-ear hole rather than the ear-lobe. Heavier styles of halka were worn by married women, often hanging from the mishill head-band. These hoops were of much thicker silver. They usually wore a number of danglers, one of which was often a bead in the same pattern as that on the hoop. The dufuf ear-rings were worn only by women in Sur, and are found nowhere else in Northern Oman. They were a distinctive D-shape – a shape possibly worn with danglers by bedouins in some regions, but worn in Sur without any danglers. This is another example of the close relationship of the Suri and Dhofari jewellery.

a line of overlapping silver discs (some plain, some patterned) attached to a fine-plaited leather-strap. The harf was worn only by children as a forehead ornament. Married women wore the harf only as a component of a more elaborate head ornament. It was attached to the head scarf so as to hang over the centre of the forehead and was one of the most commonly worn pieces throughout Northern Oman.


Nose-rings and ear-rings Nose-rings, as well as nose-studs, were worn by women and girls throughout the Northern region of Oman. Few silver nose-rings or studs have survived, even in the few years since they were generally worn. Their small size and low value made them of little interest to silver traders, whose customers preferred the larger and showier items.

The nissa ear-rings are a remarkable piece of jewellery worn in Northern Oman. They were owned only by the wealthiest of women. The whole piece was called nissa by some, mishill ar-ras (head support), by others. The nissa consisted of a band (either a set of silver chains or a fabric band depending on the owner’s wealth) which ran across the top of the head, from side to side. To the ends of the band were attached five or six large ear-rings called rukun or halak al udhn, each very ornate and with its own set of danglers.

Necklaces Many different types and styles of necklaces were worn throughout Oman. These can be divided into two general

The manthura necklace was the most ornate piece of silver worn by women of the Northern Interior

Moon and star designs on jewellery at Bait al Zubair Museum


Omani silver necklace showing the importance of the centre piece displayed at Bait al Zubair Museum

silver versions which only differed in respect to the central bead – apart from that, the rest of the necklace was always in silver. The samt mukahhal necklace has an important central disc. The name literally means disc with eye-black, or kohl. The samt mukahhal was the only piece of Omani silver made using niello work – which produced the black lines on the central disc. The disc was traditionally made by Interior silversmiths in Nizwa, Bahla and Rustaq. The manthura necklace was the most ornate and valuable piece of silver worn by women of the Northern Interior. It was widely recognised as coming from the Rustaq area, whose silversmiths specialised in making it – though it was admired and worn much more widely. It was never manufactured in Nizwa, for example, but was worn there by the wealthier women.

groups, those which have some recognised talismanic significance and those whose main or only function was decorative. The duk necklace is the simplest and least expensive of all the silver necklaces of the sultanate’s Northern towns and villages. This was a long string of small, plain silver beads, sometimes worn double. To make the silver beads, the silversmith took thick silver wire and cut it into roughly equal pieces and each


of these was then squeezed together with pliers to form a circle, the joint then being soldered. The Sur marriya was the necklace every woman had to own and wear, one of the most basic pieces in her jewellery box. The name marriya is used to describe a variety of necklaces throughout Oman. In Sur, the silver marriya was distinctive. The makhnak, meaning choker, was an elegant piece, once made and worn in the Interior and Dhahirah regions. There were gold and

Coins were frequently used as decorative elements in necklaces, often in stringing a larger centre piece. Sometimes, though, a simple necklace, known generally as hanhun, was made by threading coins on to cotton-fibre – usually the large Maria Theresa dollars, but also smaller and cheaper silver coins such as rupees – and barrel-shaped beads. Coins were always worn with the head facing inwards. In certain parts of Northern Oman, finely engraved, hollow silver beads were made into necklaces known as marriya. Many of the necklaces worn in Oman were originally devised and made in order to protect the wearer from harm. This protection was often vouchsafed by verses from the Holy Quran, which were either engraved on to the silver, or written on a piece of paper and placed inside a silver receptacle, verses placed inside

Coins were frequently used as decorative elements in necklaces

Pendant with inscription from the Holy Quran at Bait al Zubair Museum

either side of the opening beaten flat, and often bearing a crudely engraved design. The simplest adult bracelet was narrow silver hoops joined into a circle, the various patterns on them made by the silversmith hammering the narrow silver strip into a brass dye. Such dyes carried about a dozen patterns each, and silversmiths often had more than one, giving great variety of design on these bangles, which were worn several at a time on each wrist. Most women owned ten basic rings – five pairs, with a distinctive shape and style of ring being worn on each finger. The general name for rings is khatim, a word which comes from the verb ‘to seal, stamp’, perhaps reflecting an earlier use of finger-rings as personal seals. The styles worn on the thumb and on fingers two and five were fairly constant all over Oman. However, the rings worn on fingers three and four varied in shape and style, and also in the names given to them in different places. Apart from adhering to the generally accepted style and shape for each finger, a woman usually chose the design details herself. a hirz were secret and personal to the wearer – the opening end of the box being firmly sealed shut by the silversmith.

Elbow-rings, bracelets and finger-rings

and method of manufacture, bracelets and particularly finger-rings generally followed standard designs, some of which were used throughout the Arabian peninsula, with only a few original or local variants.

Silver elbow-rings, bracelets and fingerrings were among a woman’s most basic pieces of jewellery in Oman. Elbowrings were the most varied in decorative pattern, though constant in their shape

The simplest sort of silver bracelets were those worn by young children, both girls and boys. These silver hoops did not form a complete circle, but had an opening, with the silver on

Anklets and toe-rings The simplest Omani anklets were those worn by small children. These, called hawagil, or in Sur huyul sabyan, consisted of simple silver hoops. They were open to allow the anklet to be put on or taken off. Apart from these, all Northern Omani anklets, whatever the details of their style, were not made of solid silver, but were hollow and were worn mainly by married women, except for weddings and other celebrations, when older unmarried girls

Many of the Omani necklaces had verses from the Holy Quran to protect the wearer from harm 123

Silver anklets from Southern Oman

also wore them. In parts of Sharqiyah, especially in the Jaalan and Sur areas, wealthy parents gave their young daughters simple versions of the anklets they would wear as married women. Toe-rings (karat) were worn in many of the towns and villages of the North and also by some Northern bedouin women, especially on the big toe, the exceptions being Sur, and the Rustaq area, where only Baluchi women wore them. As with


finger-rings, the women of some areas wore different styles of rings on each of the toes. This practice was more localised than the wearing of finger-rings.

Kohl and kohl pots From earliest infancy, children (boys and girls) wore kohl – black eye makeup – which was also worn by adults. The substance was differently made in different parts of the country, most

areas using local available products or constituents. For example, in some places, frankincense resin was burnt and the soot was collected as a basis for kohl. Elsewhere, kohl was made with ash from a wood fire, mixed with vegetable oil or ghee and rosewater. Kohl was often kept in a small silver pot (makhal) – and it was customary in wealthier families for each small girl to be given her own pot and applicator (merwid). The makhal was not technically a piece of jewellery,

Young men went to Zanzibar, then an Omani colony, to learn the craft of silver jewellery making

Souqs selling silver jewellery

as it was not worn by either children or women (though men, especially bedouin, used to wear their bullet-shaped kohl containers hanging from the khanjar belt at their waist). However, the kohl pots were a silver item owned by many. Girls’ and women’s kohl pots were short, silver cylinders with one closed end and with domed and incised lids. The designs on the pots, some of which were very fine, were either geometrical or arabesque, the rose motif being a popular one.

The applicators were of two types, those with a fixed top and those with a swivel top. The designs on them were along the handle-end, and were always geometrical. Some applicators were double, with a fine tip at each end of the silver rod, and a patterned section in the middle, by which to hold it. High-quality Omani silver jewellery has become increasingly unobtainable as the years have gone by. The changing

preference of Omanis for gold jewellery has also had an adverse effect on the local silver industry. New and modern styles have adulterated tastes. The originality of the traditional Omani silver jewellery can now be witnessed only as museum pieces or within some family heirlooms.

Until recently, the silversmith was a familiar site in the souqs of all the larger towns in the sultanate 125


Congratulations to

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and the people of Oman on the occasion of the 41st National Day


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