Sunday, November 27, 2016

Oman's National Museum, the ground floor galleries: Maritime, Arms and Armour, Omani Dress, Al Falaj, and Coins

Good morning Muscat! Oman! People reading from elsewhere!

How was your National Day long weekend?

Mine was very... "National." For one, I spent it at Oman's National Museum, and in old Muscat. My little family also went out for a lunch of rice and meat and grilled shrimp at a restaurant in Al Khoud named after an Omani coffee pot.

...That means, actually, that I spent the long weekend doing very 'expat' things in Oman, since most Omanis I know actually spent the days visiting family, and picnicking in wadis, else shopping in Muscat and UAE;).
Meanwhile, we drove out to old Muscat. There, the streets there were charmingly done up in red-white-and-green bunting.

There upon, I attempted to force my kids to try to fall as in love with museums and history as I am.

...That might have failed, being my kids are 5, 2, and 5 months;), but I enjoyed myself. I am a Museum girl. I can visit a museum and spend hours there, and come back, day after day.

...At least I could, in Canada, and in London, but in Oman it has been a struggle. The only two Museums here I really liked at all before the National Museum was built were Bait Zubair, and the Sultan Armed Forces Museum (I mean "museum" museums, not Forts and Castle or historical building-type museums of course).

...And those were kind of small. Good, but small.
But now, the National Museum exists.

It is a relief, something Oman desperately deserved and needed. Oman is very ancient, and historically important in the GCC, in case y'all didn't know that.

Oman has quite a long history, geologically, archaeologically, and historically speaking. Maritime and military history (Islamic, Persian, and Portuguese incursions) as well as cultural history are somewhat well established in Oman  and, of Oman, elsewhere. Oman's other history however, pre-Islam, pre-break of the Yathrib dam in Yemen, not so much.

But the Copper Kingdom of Magan (think of this region as Sohar up to Al Ain in UAE) and the Frankincense Kingdom of Sheba (Dhofar to bits of Yemen and Southern KSA) are not well known by even the general Omani population themselves, let alone Oman's earlier bronze age and various "Stone-age" cultural settlements and achievements.

Myself, the one section I wanted to see (bronze age) I will come back for. It was boring my kids, because we got to it near the end, and I would be reading a lot, and looking at stuff that doesn't look like much to them, so I left it....

But I will be back.
The picture above represents the times we found to be in effect at the Museum, and the admission charges. For .200 baiza you can get a map. For (I think it was 5 omr) one can get a detailed booklet/guide book. As for accessibility, it was wheelchair/stroller accessible.

The public part of the Museum consists of a ground floor, and 1st floor. When you enter the first floor you are greeted by an Omani Museum worker who can tell you where to go and advise you what to see first. I assume they always tell the general public to begin in the Maritime History gallery after the Land and People Gallery. 

I should have started on the top floor, but I know better next time. I thought I'd see a more archaeology-geared section in the "Civilization in the making" gallery...But no, that was models of forts and important architecture in Oman.

Interesting, but I've seen the full-scale originals, so I didn't bother photographing any of that gallery.

I may have also skipped the "Timeline" gallery. I find Timelines to be dull in general. Important, but dull. If I did see it, I rushed through it with my kids happy to be leaving a room so fast;).
The "Land and People gallery" (which you enter into) mostly features Omani traditional dress for men and women, silver jewelry, khanjar daggers, coffee pots, copper trays, and common palm frond goods. It reminded me a little of the Bait Zubair collections.

My very traditional Omani sister-in-law loved the silver jewelry on display here.

My Omani husband took issue with the foot-gear on the Omani "mountain" man's dress however. He said the shoes are historically inaccurate. They are only supposed to cover part of the sole of the foot, not all. I doubt the cruise ship tourists loving this gallery will notice;).
General Al Batinah Region Omani woman's dress
General Dhofar Region Omani woman's dress
General Desert Region Omani man's dress
General Hajar Mountain region Omani man's dress
the apparently inaccurate "shawawwi" shoes
From there we entered into the 'Maritime History' gallery. It held various models of dhows used in Oman along with information on dhow building, Oman's ancient sea routes and typical trade fares, as well as navigation. My 5-year old liked the puzzle area here (she didn't like much in the museum).

Myself, I was much more interested in Oman's ancient maritime history, and so I focused a lot on the pottery. The technique of joining through sewing dhows together with coconut rope was very interesting to me however, despite this technique dating from a more modern period than the rush-boats I cared about.
Photos, this, and immediately above. How boats were sewn, before nails were used in the Dhow industry.

Ancient pottery shard from Ras Al Hamra (import from Iraq). The bitumen traces found on it were likely used for caulking ancient maritime craft, such as the Magan-era replica boat pictured below (which can be seen in a gallery on the 1st floor, not the Maritime gallery).

The collection of large storage vessels pictured above (and below) was interesting to me. 1st photo down was a container for olive oil from the Mediterranean. 2nd photo down, grains from India. So before Lulu-in-Oman there was...
The next gallery was the one my husband wanted to see the most, the "Arms and Armour" gallery.

Despite what many would reckon, the most common weapon in Arabia, from the Iron age up until the emergence of the rifle, was the long-tipped spear.

Of course, (my husband's first guess at the above) the arrow, featured over a longer period, since the Paleolithic in Oman.
Of course, I love swords.

I do.

I love love love love love love swords.
And they had some Omani examples from Bronze age burials, and the early Iron age. I love that beyond my regular sword love of course.

Omani sword fighting (11th c. AD onward) requires speed and agility, which I find interesting, compared to European sword fighting styles which require more strength than agility, given similar historical time periods. 
There were, of course, a good display of Khanjar daggers as well, and some Yemeni jambiyia too. Boring to us.
Though my Omani husband remarked that the Museum claims Khanjars are valued for their blades, when we know, at least as of the 1900s anyways, they've been valued for their hilts (Rhino and ivory).

Anyways, the rifles were his favourite (I really need to take him to the Armoury in London) and a museum in Texas;).
At the very end of the Arms gallery was a colouring station for kids to draw Khanjars. I wish this was situated at the start of the gallery, as  my kids wanted to stay and draw (okay, the 4 month old was neutral) but we were ready to move to the next set of rooms.
In the "Al Falaj" gallery, which documents the irrigation system in Oman, I found this Wakeel's journal about who gets how much water and when to be funny.

I mean every village in Oman must have one right? But I guess, being so common, not every village keeps receipts for water bills going back hundreds of years right?;).
I almost skipped the currency gallery (on purpose, I'm not a currency collector) but my husband insisted I go back to see the Drachams from the Sassanian Empire (Iran) from 600 AD, which were discovered in Sharqiyah. Kind of cool.

I really think kids would like a currency gallery if they had like, fake but properly weighted ancient currencies, and a fake little Souq area (or ever a computer game for this) and the kids could learn how much the ancient coins were worth and what people earned them, and what they'd buy in their given time period. Omani kids in the Museum raced to anything with computers and headsets with videos.

My daughter was asking to go home at this point, of course, that's why I'm getting all these "make museums fun" ideas. Plus, I used to intern at Museums, and often got stuck in exhibits. I was good at it;). This Museum is good, but it isn't "back-home" good yet, and it could be better than back home good, because Oman has better history than back home. Kids could love it.

After that we went into the "mostly architectural models" area of the "Civilization in the making" gallery. While there is certainly a better artifact representation of Oman's architectural heritage in the upstairs galleries, there were a few building fragments here from Izki and Bahla, along with that turquoise glazed tile imported from Iran during the start of Oman's Islamic period that I so love:
Pretty much down the ground floor, we headed to the main elevator/stairs area where they serve dates, Omani coffee, and water, free of charge to guests.

The Museum workers in charge of qhawa were very nice to my daughter. "You are Omani?" they asked her.

"I am five," she tells them, in English.

"Can you speak Arabic?" they ask her.

She can, better than she can English, but she says nothing. "I want a pink cup," is what she says, in English.

So they give her a pink plastic cup.

There are two flasks of Omani coffee. She points to one and say, "what is this?" in perfect Arabic.

"It's qhahwa," they tell her.

She makes a face, like, gross, and point to the other. "And what is this?" she asks them in Arabic.

It's also qhawa of course, so she looks at the both of them like they are idiots, because in what sabla/majlis in Oman, do they serve two flasks of qhahwa? One of them is always "chai" aka tea-with-milk-and-sugar.

"She wants chai," I tell them, and they automatically think that this is adorable. It is a very Omani thing for her to do.

"Did you like the Museum?" they then asked her, giving her a water.

"No," she said, and they don't know what to say.

"She liked the puzzles of the boats," I rush to assure them, but she has to ruin it.

"Not really."


So, the Museum is really good. Wide, varied, and quality collections, with good access, modern preservation that doesn't detract from viewing too much, and big open spaces so people can walk comfortably.

I like it.  Best "museum" Museum in Oman, definitely.

...But to get the younger Omani generation interested in history more, I should make a post of my suggestions.

I think, unless one is doing a shorter visit (we spent almost 3 hours and I would need 4-5 to glance at everything) then kids should be at least 13-14 to appreciate the place unless they are overly interested in history in general.

Beyond kids, I really do recommend you visit, if you haven't yet. I'll post about the upper floor next inshaAllah, but this is a really long post in itself, so I think I'll end it here for now.

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