Monday, January 14, 2013

Exploring the Omani Coast

Enjoying the company of friends on a fine evening near Sohar

Here I am, crossing the Omani border in a little blue Mitsubishi thinking I had just learned from the last of the last. It's true, on the Emirate side of the Gulf,  only one man is still continuing the art of the Shasha. Yet as I explored the beaches and backroads  (the main roads are impeccable) of Oman, pretending that I was driving a dune buggy (I'm surprised I never got stuck in a pit of sand or that I didn't pop one of the tires off on a huge rock!) I was pleasantly surprised by the surviving culture in a rapidly changing world.

Shasha in fisherman's shack, also made from date palm frond

I documented more than two dozen remaining Shoosh along the coast, the kind fishermen owners of which didn't seem to mind my questions or photo taking of their fantastic boats. The tradition survives in particular near the towns of Sohar (the home of many famous sailors including the semi-fictional Sindbad) and Saham, where I was able to witness a bullfight between giant bulls led into a sand ring along the beach and then thrown into a competition of strength. They are broken up, before anyone gets hurt, and then washed off in the warm ocean. Embracing this event while discussing religion or politics in Arabic while eating dates and smoking Sheesha (which I was able to enjoy thanks to Oliver!) and you've really got the idea!

Each Shasha is unique. This style of "canoe" really lends itself to practicality, like much of Arabian art, and different materials that fisherman could find to suit there needs are used accordingly. Even different designs, with or without gunwales, opening for a fishing line, or ways of tying the rope can be found different in each one. In those handful of remaining Shoosh, no two were the same. Seeing each was a joy in itself.

Lone palm near Sohar beach. 

Oman's civilization has been ruling the Western Indian Ocean's seas for thousands of years. Visiting the small (n today's terms) town of Sohar, you would find it hard to believe that it was at one point a capital of a vast oceanic trading network spreading from what was the Persia, today Iran), south along the African coast, including the spice rich and familiar Zanzibar.  The rise of fall of frankincense, pearls, and even oil today have mixed with the desert and ocean cultures of a now very Islamic culture to be one of the oldest and most influential in regional commerce. I continued driving south through the beaches until I reached the capital of Oman and historical capital of the fertile plane protected by the Harar Mountains in what is truly oman's breadbasket.

Muscat Coastline looking over the Muttrah Souk (market)

After admiring the gold, beduin artifacts and strong aromas of frankincense, myrrh and other beautiful goods in the Muttrah souk, I headed up up and up into the mountains, driving along dirt roads to the top of Jebel Shams, Oman's highest peak at over 3000 meters. There, I slept and enjoyed a rock and desert sunrise the next morning. How that tiny little car survived my totally wacko driving, I'll never know.

Harar Mountains near Jebel Shams and my little blue Mitsubishi

Soon I leave the Arabian Peninsula after a brief yet incredibly stay. Another culture, land, and artwork has embraced me and taught me. All I can say is that I've grown and am always ready for the next bit of  learning. I begin making the long journey to Polynesia, where on the North Island of New Zealand i'll begin learning from the Maori.

Shasha waiting for its fisherman

1 comment:

  1. Great post Will! Really fascinating culture and scenery. Good luck in Kiwiland! Rick