Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Racial Tensions in Oman? : Zanzibari, Baluchi, Lawatia, African-Omani and Omani-Omani

I was asked to write a serious post about racial tensions that exist in Oman along the lines of Omani, Balushi, Zanzibari, Lawatia/Iranian Omanis, African-Omani, and Jebali/Dhofari (I don't know about these things in the South of Oman at all so I can't give that perspective.

Oman is composed of a variety of racial backgrounds and cultural influences, which is what makes the country so wonderful to me. The above are some of the cultural/racial groups that exist here. Of those groups you will find even a dispora of Islamic groups: Ibadhi, Sunni, and Shia, even some ethnic Jewish and Christian tribes! Even the Omani Omanis (as I hate to use that term) are divided into the Northern and Southern Arab stocks which used to war with one another. Using them as the first example:

My husband is a Southern Omani Omani if people are disgustingly technical about that. All my in-laws are that as well. They hate another Omani-Omani tribe nearby to them, who were of a Northern Omani-Omani origin, because that is just how tribal alliances were formed a couple thousands years back. I myself think it is ridiculous, and work quite peaceably with a dozen or so people of this so-called "enemy tribe" just fine. The only example of tension I find that exists, is within corruption within several of the government Ministries, where people favor tribe members over the former enemy tribe, regardless of accomplishments. But nowadays, friends from outside tribal crap are also involved in the wasta triangles formed there, so... I again, believe it to be an antiquated notion that only backwards people follow.

One of my bosses is Balushi and former boss was of Persian origin, and another Al Zadjali, and another yet was Zanzibari. None of them claimed about restrictions put on them along racial or tribal lines. Education and hard work were all it took to succeed they insist to me, and I believe them.

Racism exists against African Omanis of course. I hear people say "they used to be slaves of our tribe" and "so they are like this". Poverty makes people a certain way. No it doesn't keep them that way, but it does make them react differently than others. I do not believe they are truly discriminated against on racial grounds, as I know a lot of highly paid African Omani girls who stepped into executive positions in big corporations other Omani-Omani girls were too timid to fill,  but I do believe chances to pursue higher education are harder to attain when for example, the parents do not speak English and cannot afford tutors for their children when it comes to schooling.

This problem is not exclusive to Oman of course. The situation is much worse if you visit the slums in Washington D.C., in the USA, or in Georgia.

One disgusting bit I DO hear however, is, "the girls wear their scarves like that" or "tight like that" because they are "Baluchi/Zanzibari" which is a stereotype, and quite unjust. I know some highly strict and Islamic girls from each group. It is just a stereotype, often bourne out of jealousy.

Same with saying "Lawatia" Omanis are cheap. Well, for one thing, most of the ones I know, save their money, and know that property is a good investment. I believe that statement also bears out from the jealousy of the person unable to plan or save.

I hate that. Hate it, hate it, hate it. As if one is claiming an "Omani Omani" is much more superior to anyone else, even though I have seen perhaps greater stupidity among Omani-Omanis myself, living among them more closely than others;).

There ARE cultural differences, that result in what careers Omani citizens are likely to take. That is true. Education, and the stress placed on education is one factor depending on culture. Another factor is planning, and savings. Some tribes/racial affiliations have this in their culture, others absolutely do not. Another is what stress is placed on security and what is seen as appropriate lifestyle. This affects career and lifestyle. Many Omani Omani I know favor the security of Government job positions, while the Zanzibaris I know, prefer the risk/chance of the private sector towards becomming more affluent/and having greater independance.

I am probably not the best to write on this subject, so forgive, as I am one of the most un-nationalistic of souls. As a Muslim, I simply don't find myself restricted in borders or passports, and any Muslim is kin to me, whether they hate me or not, whether they accept me or not. Those are my humble observations. Maybe a better Omani writer could take them, and write something great from these snippets of mine, but what I have is the firm belief, that being Omani isn't a race or a single Arab culture alone.

I do however prefer ,(when I compare Oman to other GCC countries with similar tribal and racial diversity, such as Saudi Arabia[ as much as they'd deny it]), that Oman keeps its racial and tribal identities. As much as that divides them, it also makes them so much more unique, than trying to brainwash the citizens into believing that they are Muscatis/Sayeedis you know, the way Saudi culture is often only narrowly reflected as being Riyadi/Sa'udi? I think the beauty of that diversity is a uniting factor, if there could be anything more powerful than the dissention of misplaced pride [in family, traibe or culture alone]. Let's hope to that,

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a sensitive subject to write/talk about I guess.
I do experience it around me that people from certain ethnic backgrounds prefer not to do business or deal with people from other ethnic backgrounds. A bit sad in my opinion. The thing binding and keeping everyone together here is the His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in my opinion as they all respect him.
Therefore I do not see the future for Oman too bright once the Sultan steps down from power or passes away. History has shown many times that once a strong leader leaves a country with so much diversity can easily fall apart.

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

Anonymous 12FEB14 12:53am: I don't think it is sensitive:). We should talk about it, especially those who experience it? I don't so much but if others do they should speak out, for that is the only way things change.

I have a little more faith in Oman and Omanis I guess. I see a few strong personalities in Oman, and hope for the best inshaAllah, in the event that we do lose his Majesty. Someone that sees the diversity as a beauty, and preserves it, yet is strong enough to unite against any misplaced pride of his/her people. InshaAllah, ameen.

Zaynab said...

*Resists urge to conduct massive unpaid unpublishable research project*

Anonymous said...

Mashallah. Thanks for writing this!
The racial dynamic and tension in the Gulf is very interesting. And I guess it is the same all over, unfortunately. May I ask though, what is the difference between Zanzibari and African Omanis? Excuse my ignorance, but I thought they were same?

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

Anonymous 12FEB14 7:55 am: Zanzibari Omanis were Omanis who lived in Zanzibar and maybe they intermarried with African Omanis but they oriuginated from Oman.

African Omanis were either brought here a cheap labourers who may have gained an important trade skill and thus swore allegience to a tribe whose name they took or whose name they made up for themselves, or are the descendents of slaves who were freed, either by the families who owned them and then they took on that family/tribal name, or they were freed by the royal decree of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.

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

*originated

Zaynab said...

If anyone is interested in talking about their experiences with racial or ethnic prejudice and discrimination in Oman, they can email me at purple.figtree@gmail.com. I may do research on this at some point in the future, but right now this is just personal interest, not for publication, and I would never disclose anyone's name or personal information without permission. I'm a Western expat and I read English, Arabic, and French.

Anonymous said...

When first I saw this subject I felt this is not an Omani princess as it addressed, You westerner should be the last people talking about racial, because this in your blood trying to spread it as past. but Omanis are more educated now... You are so funny ((Omani-Omanis))

Hope you wont be Omani coz Oman in our heart and too good for people like you.

Dalz R said...

Diplomatically said.

You were able to touch on a lot of the various dynamics within the Omani culture.

It’s interesting to note that the younger generation do not see this diversity and have actually “intermarried”. There is nothing that defines one Omani over another other than his/her hard work and education.

Where am I supposed to place myself within those categories? I am Omani (period)!

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

Anonymous February 15, 2014 at 1:16 AM: First off, the blog is jokingly called "Omani princess" but the blogger tag is "not Omani" just to clarify.

Thankfully, people who can read get to decide who becomes a citizen or not;).

As a "white" westerner as you so put, another racial stereotype I suppose, I agree, I am the person who should write least on the subject. I only did because I reader asked me to write anything I DID know on the subject. Everything I have written has come FROM OManis I know, and how they steroetype themselves and others. Sadly, if I call someone Omani, even my own inlaws, will clarify racial and tribal origins, and as I wrote over and over again in this post, I find that DISGUSTING. And I am not trying to spread it. It exists still, in backwards minds, I hear Omanis from Buraimi, Nizwa, and Salalah refer to themselves to me as "Omani Omanis" and that isn't something I made up. I wish it were. It owuld be less disgusting then wouldn't it. Thankfully, as Dalz R write below your comment, it is dying. Let's wish it the quickest death possible right?

And further it is my wish, that Omani, American, European ect... simply were "HUMAN". Not Arab and Western. But hey, that's my humble observation.

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

* a reader asked me

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

Dalz R: I am so glad!!!

I agree, I am happy to see the old barriers (and mindsets) crumbling.

As for the younger generation, I think it also depend on how isolated one is. Where my family is from, in the mountains, some people much younger than me still feel divisions exist and should. But I base that on lack of life experience. When they travel to work or go to school, inshaAllah that "Omani Omani" and "they're balushi/zanzibari" mindset goes along with them, and gets schooled. InshaAllah:)

Dalz R said...

I am from the moutains too :)

Yet as you correctly mentioned the mindsets are ever so slowly changing based on experiences.

Once the realisation stricks that as a nation we are more golbal than the old mindsets will fade with it.

Sad that you were "attacked" on your own blog though I would admit that from your posts, that your more traditional than the average "modern" Omani

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

Dalz R: Really? Would it be prying to ask which region of mountains?

Experience is key, also economic balance as far as equality can go in a less than idealistic world, and access to education.

Internet attacks are fine;). I am experienced with these. Funny thing is, white westerner me, is never labelled purely white in my own country, due to being Muslim and being a traditional one at that, and having lived in Oman, and having carried that culture with me:).

I think "modern" versus "traditional" are as contestable terms as "western" and "omani omani" ;). I see myself as pretty modern but with a love of history and culture.

Dalz R said...

The Green Mountain, part of the Al Hajar Mountains range in Oman

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

Nice;). Lucky you, with pomegranites and grapes.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of diversity in Oman. The term Omani Omani is not used very often though, maybe a few people have used it with you, but I can assure you most people do not use that term. Most of the Omanis on the coast are of mixed origins. The Omanis in the Interior are more traditional and less mixed. Lawati's are a minority group in Oman that do not exceed 50,000 people. They are not from Iran like you suggested but they are actually from India, from the Gujurat and Sindh regions of India. They speak Khojki which is a dialect of Hindi. So their origins are Indian, although some migrated to Iran, just as others migrated to live in Oman. The Balochis which my family are from are from both Pakistan and Iran. Because our Balochistan province is spread in both Pakistan and parts of Eastern Iran. We have always not felt a part of Pakistan or Iran. We have been discriminated in both countries over the years. That is why a lot of Balochis migrated to Oman when his majesty Sultan Qaboos invited us when he took power. Every Omani is very proud of his majesty Sultan Qaboos. Balochis number around 200,000 in Oman. So we are a significant number in this country. The Zanzibaris are the Omanis who went to live in Oman and returned to Oman when his majesty invited them back. The Zanzibari Omanis are diverse themselves as some of them are the grandchildren of Omanis who migrated there in the early 1800's while others only spent one or two generations in Zanzibar and East Africa. Some of the Zanzibaris are of pure Arab decent while others are predominantly of Arab decent and others have minimal Arab decent. So there is a great diversity in that community but they all share the experience of living in East Africa and are sons of Arab men. But as Arabs, they returned to Oman after they were supressed by the Africans in East Africa. The Ajam, are Omanis of Persian Origin, they come from Iran, they are very small in number in Oman, but they need to be mentioned as they are still a part of Omani society. The African Omanis are the children of African workers or slaves brought to Oman in the 1800's and earlier. They predominate in Muscat, Sur and especially in the South of Oman. The Southern Omanis themselves are of mixed origins. Some are very fair and others are very dark. They are clearly of some mix race even though they are all Arab in origin. At the end of the day, whether we are Arab or not, whether are originally from other countries or lived in other countries or never stepped outside of Oman, we are all Omani. We all get a long very well and we see each other as Omanis, we do not differentiate. Our religion and culture does not recognise the differences. What we know is that we are all Omanis and muslim and we are proud of this fact.

Amour Rashid said...

But I love Zanzibar a lot. I pray that my mother Zanzibar regains her dignity that made people people from various parts of the world including Sayyid Said bin Sultan and my grandfathers from Oman come and live here.
I am very proud of it.
My mother come up and be what you were.

Amour Rashid said...

I love Zanzibar.

Mirzada Majid Mullazai said...

According to Baloch lore, their ancestors hail from Aleppo in what is now Syria.[16] They are descendants of Hazrat Ameer Hamza, uncle of the prophet Muhammad, who settled in Halab (present-day Aleppo). and they fled to the Sistan region.[17] They allegedly remained there for nearly 500 years until they fled following a deception against the Sistan leader Badr-ud-Din to the Makran region.

However, based on an analysis of the linguistic connections of the Balochi language, which is one of the Western Iranian languages, the original homeland of the Balochi tribes was likely to the east or southeast of the central Caspian region. The Baloch began migrating towards the east in the late Sasanian period. The cause of the migration is unknown but may have been as a result of the generally unstable conditions in the Caspian area. The migrations occurred over several centuries.[18]

By the 9th century, Arab writers refer to the Baloch as living in the area between Kerman, Khorasan, Sistan, and Makran in what is now eastern Iran[19] Although they kept flocks of sheep, the Balochs also engaged in plundering travellers on the desert routes. This brought them into conflict with the Buyids, and later the Ghaznavids and the Seljuqs. Adud al-Dawla of the Buyid dynasty launched a punitive campaign against them and defeated them in 971-972. After this, the Baloch continued their eastward migration towards what is now Balochistan province of Pakistan, although some remained behind and there are still Baloch in eastern part of the Iranian Sistan-Baluchestan and Kerman provinces. By the 13/14th centuries waves of Baloch were moving into Sindh and by the 15th century into the Punjab.[19] According to Dr. Akhtar Baloch, Professor at University of Karachi, the Balochis migrated from Balochistan during the Little Ice Age and settled in Sindh and Punjab. The Little Ice Age is conventionally defined as a period extending from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries,[20][21][22] or alternatively, from about 1300[23] to about 1850.[24][25][26] Although climatologists and historians working with local records no longer expect to agree on either the start or end dates of this period, which varied according to local conditions. According to Professor Baloch, the climate of Balochistan was very cold and the region was inhabitable during the winter so the Baloch people migrated in waves and settled in Sindh and Punjab.[27]

The area where the Baloch tribes settled was disputed between the Persian Safavids and the Mughal emperors. Although the Mughals managed to establish some control over the eastern parts of the area, by the 17th century, a tribal leader named Mir Hasan established himself as the first "Khan of the Baloch". In 1666, he was succeeded by Mir Aḥmad Khan Qambarani who established the Balochi Khanate of Kalat under the Ahmadzai dynasty.[note 1] Originally in alliance with the Mughals, the Khanate lost its autonomy in 1839 with the signing of a treaty with the British colonial government and the region effectively became part of British Raj.[19