Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Oman 1913-1950: Imamate, Sultanate, Muscat and Oman, and Zinj... and what does all that mean

FROM AMAZON.COM: "In 1955 the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman, southeast of Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Sea, was a truly medieval Islamic State, shuttered against all progress under the aegis of its traditionalist and autocratic ruler. But it was also nearly the end of an imperial line, for in those days the British Government was still powerful in Arabia. Rumors of subversion and the intrigues of foreign powers mingled with the unsettling smell of oil to propel the sultan on a royal progress across the desert hinterland. It was an historic journey--the first crossing of the Omani desert by motorcar. Jan Morris accompanied His Highness as a professional observer, and was inspired by the experience to write her major work of imperial history. The Pax Britannica Trilogy. The author of some forty books, Welshman Jan Morris has established herself as one of the great modern travel authors. Originally published in 1957 (Faber and Faber) and now back in print."
I read this book. I honestly found Jan Morris' writing to be colourful, detailed, but highly racist/colonial. Referring to an entire region as "a bunch of warring inbreds" is very... ugh. What more can I say to someone alligned with another bombing innocent civilians and another country to take over new territory? That aside, it is well worth a read to get some perspective. A nice look inside Sultan Taimur's palaces as well.
Sultan of Muscat, and later Oman: HM Al-Wasik Billah al-Majid Sayyid Taimur Ibn Turki with his Muscat entourage, photo from www.heathcaldwell.com
Guard from Muscat main gate. Photo courtesy of  www.heathcaldwell.com
Muscat circe 1913. Photo courtesy of www.heathcaldwell.com

A part of Omani history often glossed over for expats was that Oman was three seperate countries pretty much at the turn of the century. The Imamate/Sultanate consisted of Muscat, Dhofar, and some of the Al Batinah coast with alleigences to Sheikhs from the Ash Sharqiya region.
Sheikh of Cheru and Sheroo, 1913. Photo courtesy of www.heathcaldwell.com
Sheikh of Kais, photo courtesy of www.heathcaldwell.com
Mutrah Corniche, circa 1920s
Old Muscat, 1913. Photo by  www.heathcaldwell.com
Old Muscat, 1913. Photo by  www.heathcaldwell.com
The Interior/formed Islamic center consisted of the Interior with small patches of Al Batinah with Nizwa being the Capital.
Nizwa, circa 1913. Photo courtesy of www.heathcaldwell.com
Zanzibar was a territory [referred to as Zinj extending into Central Africa as well] that had split off into its own Imamate and had its own Sultans until the Zanzibar revolution.
Etching, circa mid 1800s, of Bait Ajaib (the house of wonder), Palace of the ruling Imam until Bait Sahel was established in Zanzibar
The Imams at this time were Al Sayyiid in both Muscat and Zanzibar who managed to push out the Persians. Previously they had been the Yaruba Dynasty who had pushed out the Portuguese (this was peacefully settled with a marriage between the last Yaruba Imam's daughter and the new Sayyiid Imam. The Imamate were basically Military leaders not religious leaders. Often encouraged I find in Oman, is the idea that the old Islamic leaders were always killing each other off, referring to the Imamate. The Imamate is in fact the Sayyiids (the current Royal Family) and previous, Yoruba dynasties, i.e. the Sultans. A book I really enjoyed detailing this turbulent early time in Oman's history up until the 1900s was Lady Genesta Hamilton's "Princes of Zinj". It explains that concept quite well, detailing the Royal families history up until they split into two sections, the one in Muscat, and the one in Zinj.

"Princes of Zinj" by Genesta Hamilton, available on Amazon.com and one of my favourite Zanzibar histories just for the fun read that it is, like "Three Musketeers" in Africa with Sultans, Pirates, Slaves, and rebel Princesses
But for the non-Omani, or even Omanis from certain regions, reading Jan Morris' book might give you an idea of old resentments that divide to this day somewhat, the Interior against Muscat (i.e why is the Opera House a big deal but nothing against Qaboos personally). The Jebel Akdhar war, bombing of the interior, were brutal. This was the end of the Interior's independence, and forcing the country, Oman (the Interior) to unite with Muscat + Dhofar+Batinah Coast (the Sultanate). While you will find that Sultan Qaboos is quite beloved of Interior Omanis (he kicked out his own Dad,
Sultan Taimur, Photo courtesy of www.heathcaldwell.com
that dude, Sultan Taimur, who bombed them afterall, many feel unhappy still they were forced [nothing against Qaboos or developing the country at all really---Interior folks are much better off now than before in so many ways]. That's why I feel sometimes there's a support for the sayings of the Grand Mufti (an actual Imam, not military leader but a leader of prayer) even by those who aren't particuarily religious enough to understand what is meant by a statement or religious ruling issued by the Grand Mufti against the Muscat government in general [case in point---the opera house debacle where the convert dude "sang" qu'ran by mistake and protesters were jailed yada yada yada]. Does any of my long-winded rambling make sense?

Anyways, another book I also enjoyed (I'll have to scan the photos) is by
Bosch, D. (2001). "The American Mission Hospitals in Oman, 1893-1974". published by Oman's Ministry of Health. The book gives the history of the hospitals (and roads) built (and telephone lines hung) by the American Mission in Old Muscat and Mutrah, as well as their trips into Al Batinah and the Inerior region. It is a great little history, which gives a good perspective of how much has changed for the better since Qaboos, but that also, those Interior "Imams" referred to as "warring inbreds" by Morris, were nothing of the kind. Beautiful photos. Many Omanis from old Muscat and Mutrah have remained close to the families of the Christian doctors who served them to this day.

There you go, three books about Oman OPNO recommends and some photos to make you go wow, times have changed.


Jan morris said...

Where did you find those words you quote as mine? I can't find the anywhere, and I don't even know such a noun as "inbrds". JAN MORRIS

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Jan Morris: I will ask to borrow the book back from the friend who lent it to me so I can let you know the exact page number. Maybe you were quoting another historian's word if I am mistaken. But I read it in your book.

Michael H-C said...

Looks fascinating, and looks a very exotic place with an adventurous history. Lady Hamilton was always intrigued by the history of Oman and Zanzibar and was a constant traveller. Regards Michael Heath-Caldwell

Michael H-C said...

Looks fascinating, and very exotic. Lady Hamilton was always intrigued by the history of Oman and Zanzibar, inspired possibly by some of her grandfather, Sir Leopold Heath's stories. Regards, Michael Heath-Caldwell

Michael H-C said...

Woops. This has made me do two comments. Can not work out the webpage comment section. Regards, Michael HC

Michael H-C said...

I am still learning how to do this. Not sure if my comments are coming through or not. It asks me to prove that I am not a robot?! It looks like you have got the art of blogging sorted out quite well, and it is looking good!
Regards, Michael Heath-Caldwell