Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Shopping in Sohar for REAL Omani Swords, Sheilds, and Khanjars, and a Visit to the Silversmith

Now, a visit to the Omani handicraft center may have seemed like a let down, from the outset, for anyone Omani in our crowd. However, Omani husbands (from Dakliyia and Muscat were DELIGHTED and over-the-moon EXCIITED to discover the prices in the handicraft center in Sohar FOR REAL OMANI CRAFTS THAT OMANIS THEMSELVES ACTUALLY PRIZE). Disapointment began for us expat womenfolk as well, due to the fact that despite the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Oman website saying this place opened 8am, by 9am, only two shops were open at all... a silversmith, and a basketry store. For myself, this came as no surprise, since we were the only tourists we saw at all and we were there for a few hours, due to the fact that the sign at the entrance is ONLY IN ARABIC, and in English, says, "MINISTRY OF TOURISM". Awesome job, folks at Tourism Ministry. Bravo for your incandescent attempt to help out Omani craftspeople. {Sarcasm is heavy here}.
Anyways, we window shopped, and the man in the basketry shop was really nice and explained all the other stuff he had besides baskets. I bought a basket. I like baskets. 1.5-2.000 OMR only, that's a better price than my husband gets in Fanja or Nizwa so I went for it, even though, I probably don't NEED another basket. He also had "zamoota" which is an Omani stomach medicine, in case you need zamoota. It smells like listerine. I had a cat named Zamoota once...
Prices MAY be excellent, due to the lack of foot traffic in the place. I don't know.

The next shop we went to was the silversmith since it was the only other place open.

The shop turned out to be awesome for Omani husbands, since the prices the shopkeeper charged for silver and to decorate rifles was apparently super good.

My Omani husband ran to the car, and got his rifle out of the trunk. We bought a vintage 50 year-old old-school-style piece of heavy silver which the smith tailored to his rifle for 45 OMR. In Mutrah we paid 20 OMR to decorate with very thin new style design silver of a much smaller ring for my husband's stick assa.

It was very well made compared to the Mutrah one, so the men were super pleased, being like, oh look at my gun, let me see your gun, oh, the site is so much better, ha ha, now it won't move when you fire, jolly good.

I am translating what they were saying in Arabic, I suppose.

Then the silversmith invited us all back to his house for lunch. People in Sohar are always inviting you for a meal, and watch out because if you have plans, they will kidnap you. What started out as coffee, will be a meal, and then it will be a dinner, and then you have to spend the night. Omani generousity here is beyond words. We say no of course.

And then, lo and behold, the silversmith informed my husband there is also a weapons (mostly rifles) shop opening just now next door.

So the men rush to that.

BELOW, photos of the silversmith making the rifle ring and photos of his work area (he didn't mind I take photos but I was a little shy since I am a woman and he's a man and my husband was at my elbow the whole time so forgive the quality, it was a rapid shoot):
 
 Some random photos of stuff in the silversmith's shop... like  that thing for the donkey/camel baggage (don't know what it is called):
Now, I totally imagine you could get old Omani silver jewelry fixed here, and whatnot, but I don't really care for jewelry much myself. I hardly wear any of it, so me telling you a guide for buying old bedouin silver jewelry would be pretty hard to do. However, when it comes to weaponry, me, anything steel like knives or swords, and my husband, rifles, this we probably can say something about....
Khanjars and me, I think they're lovely but stupid, really. Beautiful, lustful, pointless objects of decoration. Why do I say that? Because they are all about the materials of the hilt on the khanjar and not at all about the blade.

The above example is the KING OF KHANJARS. The only way it could be worth more is if it were a historical item. The silver design on the Khanjar denotes its age---not commonly reproduced in the souqs anymore, and the wear on the silver is consistant with its age. Antique dealers will show you how to catch this difference... the wear isn't even like a thief in the souq who uses dirt and stones and sandpaper etc... to try to age an object... Only a real expert could rightfully fake it, and even then, not under a looking glass. The wear should be uneven and it will only be where someone holds and lifts the weapon. Again, can't photograph that for you. My husband used to have a khanjar with silverwork like this about 100-200 years old but he sold it for 150 OMR... it was worth 300-500 but whatever...

The above pictured Khanjar is worth 3,000 OMR. You got that. THREE THOUSAND OMANI RIAL. That is like, nigh nine thousand USD. Why?

Because what the hilt is made of. The hilt of this khanjar is Rhinocerous horn. Due to its rarity (since harvesting it is now illegal) it has a high value in Oman and USUALLY denotes its age thus. Omanis tend to call Rhinocerous horn Giraffe, I don't know, since Giraffe bone isn't expensive, and this at first confused me. My husband's old antique khanjar's hilt was made of sandalwood. Ivory, from elephants, also compose the hilt of Khanjars, and those are around 1,000 OMR.
The above example, is in the style of the Omani Royal (Zanzibar Branch) Family, and is a boy's dagger. These are common these days. What makes this particular Khanajr valuable (and I found it in Canada not in Oman, where it had been sold to antique's dealer who specializes in salvage from historical sea wrecks by an old British Naval Sea Captain's great granddaughter) is the age of it (but being a child's dagger, so what on that---there isn't much of a market for children's khanjars) but its history. It belonged to a young prince of Zanzibar. It has only a sandalwood hilt, but the silver is aged exquisitely, and authentically, and the blade is a better quality than now found. In the Al BuSaidi style and with an accurate date for its origin and ownership, in the 1750s, makes it quite collectible. My husband is still mad at me that I didn't buy it for 150 Canadian dollars, which is what it was selling for in Canada;) until the dealer decided to list it on Oman's online sabla for a whole lot more.
 So yeah, back to the day itself... The silversmith had finished up with the antique silver rifle ring, and so the men went to visit the rifle shop which had just opened.

We waited a long while to go in, but turns out, rifle shop? Busiest shop there.

Emirati lads had wheeled down from UAE just to buy rifles here, and it was always filled with customers, all males, so as we girls sat outside waiting (we could go in but my husband wasn't comfortable with that) and talked about expats rights to purchase and own weapons.

While I am not sure if we are allowed to carry them, I carry a hunting knife myself, and a pocket knife, most of the time (unless I know I am going through metal detectors or something) and when I have travelled from Oman to the US and Europe and Canada, I've always been fine taking even swords, and Omani khanjars (coming into Oman although I have never been asked despite carrying a handgun in my checked luggage I have never declared anything {the gun is not working and cannot be made to work}). Don't trust my advice on this because it is experience not information, but the khanjar is always all good, and swords too. But my father used to buy antique Omani rifles, and he took those back fine to the States.  I have been told that I am not allowed to carry a concealed hunting knife but I do. Enough said.

Omanis, when purchasing weapons in Oman, I know this much, the weapons, if they are going to be fired in Oman, have to be registered with the ROP in Qurum, Muscat. Handguns, require a special license. Anything with sites that see-at-night---illegal. Most modern weapons, illegal. Automatic weapons---illegal---but I don't know many Dhofari or Baluchi families who don't have at least one in their home or to their immediate family's name.  I have no idea how well controlled the arms trade IS in Oman, but I've gone to stores that front as crappy ugly-ass women's fabric shops that sell bullets for Ak-47s, so...I dunno. Dude at the airport seemed to question why I brought a paper parasol into the country but didn't ask about the handgun....

While he could have no idea it conforms to the regulations of Oman, technically I should have declared it... but since they never ever ask... all I can say is hmmmm. I think I'd make a rather fine smuggler so long as I don't pack salad dressing in wine-bottle-carrying cases or paper parasols :XD

...My Omani husband WANTS me to buy a rifle for myself in case thieves break in to our home, but I don't think I am allowed to carry here, and any rifle small enough for me to shoot effectively is over 1,000 omr anyways, or is a handgun, and illegal to me for sure. So guns and me, are for the shooting range (all of which suck in Oman especially for women) and I can borrow from my husband.

Back to the story at hand... While waiting for the men to look at all the rifles and hand around THEIR RIFLES to have people ooh and aww or whatever men do over rifles, my husband later tells me his rifle was appraised at 850 OMR which he bought for 500 before the war in Yemen so he's like, good right?

I am like, your rifle to you, is what a Chanel 2.55 black leather handbag is to me, so peace out. So we girls went into another store, that looked like it sold pottery and jewelry from the window but ACTUALLY sold old newspaper clippings, and Omani swords and sheilds.

I love swords. I am a sword girl. Leave me in the armoury in the tower of London, and you can go see the crown jewels, and I'm all good.

I have a sword. My father literally forged it for me. Its kind of a family tradition (although I should have been a boy but we broke some rules since my brother died and so now I am the sword-carrier in the family). I guess it will die with my father, since beyond making the sword for me, traditionally, he was supposed to teach me how to make a sword as well, but he thinks I am crap with a hammer and a klutz so... My little sister has a Japanese (cheap katanna I think those are called---they're super expensive the good ones and I don't like anime stuff as much as her so I've never been into them). Once we fought in the backyard with our swords, and I sliced up her arm really good and my father took them away from us, for like, a year.

Yeah, try explaining that to the ambulance medics, my father says, why your kids have sword wounds, and why they had real swords in the first place....

But I won the argument of "you paid too much for your fake sword" since my blade dented and bent her's, and it shouldn't have if her's was real.  My uncle has an old Syrian curved saber, up on the wall, and that's the only Arabic sword I saw until I came to Oman and went antique shopping. I guess that's my history with swords.

I don't think I could have married my husband if he didn't know how to use a sword either. On Eids, he's one of the men who do the sword dance (that thing more properly known as what Prince Harry did in Bahla on his last visit to Oman?). I hope he teaches my son one day, even though, I think sword dances are lame, compared to actual bouts with practice swords, but Omanis don't do that anymore, and think practice swords are lame.

Lame says the man who sliced off his thumb with the dancing sword, I say.
ANYWAYS... in the sword/sheild shop, the way to guage the blade of the real Omani dance sword (this one has a straight blade) is how it bends if you press it, without leaving a mark. It is supposed to vibrate wickedly, and this is what makes it attractive or beautiful in a dance. Apparently, the metal from these most often came from the suspension in trucks, and in older swords I-have-no-idea-where as I do not care that much about them.

I do think they are beautiful to look at, however, and they are worth around 300 OMR.  Maybe I'll buy one one day. Somehow I can't see myself buying a fake but pretty one they sell in boxes for you to hang on the wall. That'd be like wearing one of those really bad t-shirts from Ramez that says "Gucci" or "Louis Vuitton" on it and acting like you thought that was chic or something.

The older ones, of better metal, but hard for even me to tell the difference unless there is a maker's mark (many of the swords from 1950s back to the 1850s have signatures on the blade) are made of something better of course. You have to know the maker's signatures too of course, because a sword made last week might have the same, I dont know. My husband said he'd be wary buying a 1000 OMR one... We don't know maker's marks ourselves.

The curved swords are the real ones. These start at 1000 OMR and go up if they are real. They pretty much all tend to be antiques, as the reproductions are not properly weighted (important if you actually use a sword for fighting) and the blade is usually not fixed to the hilt in any proper manner AT ALL. So... if for example if I stuck it with MY SWORD, which is a light-handed 12th century style from Europe, it will snap a reproduction, not from the blade {which would mean inferior metal}, but the blade will come loose from the hilt {which mean reproduction or very very very very bad restoration}). While I cannot see any Omani shopkeeper being okay if I beat their stock with my existing sword to see if the quality is better, my sword, will take a dent from anything Arab worth the 3,000 OMR mark because the  way the metal  was forged is just better. The steel tends to have a blueish tone if you have an antique dealer's chemist kit with you as well... probably not... but worth getting an expert with you if you are buying ANYTHING above the 3,000 OMR mark.

The quality of the metal in the blade and how it is fixed to the hilt are the number one indicator(s) of value. However, a sword is more prized for its balance after that, and last, on any decoration. Historical ownership of even an antique decorative object may also cost. So it is hard for me to give a guide without, like, making youtube videos or something, and even those would be too vague to guide you if you are a beginner sword purchaser. They can start at 1000 OMR and go up to priceless. Most  Omani examples are 1000 to 3000 OMR.

If you want something authentic to hang on the wall, the guys in Sohar Handicraft center are pretty honest. I have yet to find an honest sword-seller in Mutrah souq who gave a fair price;) and even in Nizwa and Sur, its a lot of bartering, and beyond my skill of bartering, usually, to get even 1000 OMR for a real sword of the usual quality---I have to get an Omani from that area and age group to do it for me. Anyways...
The sword guy also had some super cool Omani sword dance sheild things. I have no idea how to use them or how to buy them and figured I'd buy them, but the shop-keeper, Mohamed Al Balushi, told us they have Rhino horn in them, and are 800-1200 OMR each. So I guess I wouldn't buy them, right?

 He also invited us for lunch I assume, when the men came into the shop, and when we refused, he forced juices on us, and bags of chips, even though, in the end, we had bought nothing out of his shop. Sohar people, I tell you;).

We told him the sign is bad for the location. It isn't in English.

He said, when the Ministry of Heritage was running the place it was better and people came and all the shops were open all the set hours, but now there wasn't any point for all the craftspeople to be there, so they just left their GSM numbers on their shop doors.

This is disheartening, because Sohair itself, could use a couple more tourist attractions, and Omani craftspeople, can use all the support they can get, to keep this valuable and beautiful heritage alive... so I hope the Tourism Ministry bothers with something better for the area. At least.... a sign. The website describes how many square meters the souq has but doesn't provide a map, or address, or phone number or hours of operation (we took our GPS and hours from Lonely Planet's webpage I guess, not even the tourism Ministry). The Tourism Ministry's description is more like, this is what we did since 1999, shove it in your FACE Heritage Ministry!... than anything ACTUALLY useful for tourists.
This is the map we used for our google maps phone app GPS http://www.lonelyplanet.com/oman/al-batinah-region/sohar/sights/other/traditional-handicraft-souq and it got us the right way, but was not 100% correct, however there was an English-printed sign that said handicrafts souq on the passenger side driving following the GPS up to that point. After, we went with the way indicated by the sign, which was different than the GPS, but led us to the building and signage photographed below. Despite the English on the sign, I assure you, it is the Omani Handicrafts Souq of Sohar, not Oman's Tourism Ministry, much love to those self-glorifying lazy inept advertisers of Oman's economical diversification from oil money;).

3 comments:

Raheel said...

That's really cool! I've never been into any of the better shops, just the overpriced touristy ones in Mutrah. Thanks for taking photos, it's almost like being there.

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

Raheel: No problem. I take thousands of photos... uploading them is what take forever lol.

It is a pretty authentic and cool souq.I don't know how it would be if throngs of tourists properly descended upon it... but Sohar is a pretty long drive from Muscat, so....

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