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Oman: A Fascinating History Revealed

by | May 9, 2024 | Oman | 3 comments

Oman’s Early History

The Sultanate of Oman is a country with a much longer history than its current name. Archeological ruins show that people were living along Oman’s coast as far back as 6,000 BCE in the Neolithic (New Stone Age) era. The remains from this time are sparse, but there is much more archeological evidence from the Bronze Age, about 2500 BCE.

In Oman, then known as Majan, a thriving culture developed around the mining and trade in copper, especially with the famous Sumerians, whose empire was in present-day Iraq. Copper is the key ingredient in the production of bronze, so it was highly prized. This Majan culture zone existed beyond the borders of present-day Oman and included the area of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

Exotic Frankincense

Frankincense, known throughout the world for its wonderful scent when burned as incense, has been grown in and exported from Oman since the Neolithic Age more than 5,000 years ago. The Frankincense tree grows in the Salalah region, southwest of Muscat, and frankincense from this region is still considered the best in the world.  A slit is cut in the bark for the sap to flow, and the sap hardens into “rock crystals” as it dries.

Frankincense tree in Oman.
Frankincense tree in southwest Oman. Frankincense has been used for thousands of years as incense and medicine

In Oman, a traditional way to greet arriving guests is to burn frankincense incense for them to inhale as a way to revive themselves after traveling. When we arrived in the old village of Misfa, frankincense was burning outside our door to welcome us from our journey. 

People also use Frankincense medicinally, eating it and making it into a tea as a general panacea for good health. It is also used to produce soap and oil, as it is good for the skin.  Of course, we brought some home with us, and we burned frankincense to refresh our house and revive our energy after the long journey home. 

Frankincense gum pieces and burner with scent, Oman.
Frankincense crystals on the right and on the left, a burner with a round charcoal base inside that ignites the crystals and releases the incense.

The Introduction of Islam: Sultans and Imams

In the Islamic era, which began early in Oman in 630 CE, the interior and coastal regions in Oman developed into separate “states.” The coastal region was controlled by the Sultans, and the interior was controlled by tribal leaders and Imams (religious teachers). 

Eventually in the 1700s, the Abu Said family took over as Sultans and have remained in power until now. The Abu Said family increased Oman’s power as they captured and ruled parts of East Africa, including the Kenyan coast and the island of Zanzibar. The wealth generated from the African holdings and increased trade, especially in the slave trade, caused The Sultan to move his main palace from Oman to Zanzibar.

Eventually, The Sultan, Abu Said the Great, agreed to stop the slave trade between Africa and Oman, though slavery continued in both locations. The Omanis remained in control of Zanzibar until 1965 when Zanzibar was joined to a free Tanganyika and the modern country of Tanzania was born.      

Ship building and maritime commerce has been an essential part of coastal Oman, making them a dominant force in East Africa and beyond.

Over the centuries, the Sultans and the imams were involved in constant warfare and the country was known as Muscat and Oman as if they were two separate countries. It wasn’t until the so-called Jebel Wars (mountain wars) of the 1950s that The Sultan, with the support of the British military, took full control of the interior country. In 1970, when Sultan Qaboos began his 50-year reign, he renamed the country, The Sultanate of Oman, and the Omani Renaissance began. 

Sultan Qaboos ruled for 50 years and united and modernized Oman
Sultan Qaboos ruled for 50 years. He united and modernized Oman into a prosperous, peaceful country.

The Oman Rennaisance

Sultan Qaboos ruled for 50 years (1970-2020), and he was an enlightened leader. He spent oil revenues on the modernization of the country, building roads, free schools, hospitals, and modern infrastructure. He is beloved in Oman because the people in general very much benefitted from his policies that raised the economic level of the overall population so that today Omanis are a prosperous people. 

Omani children visiting historic Bahla Fort
Omani children visiting historic Bahla Fort on a national holiday.

One example of Sultan Qaboos’ enlightened rule was how the relationship of the different sects of Islam was handled in Oman. Everyone has heard of Sunni and Shia Muslims, but 75% of Omanis are from a third sect known as Ibadhi Muslim. In every other Muslim country with different Islamic sects, each sect prays in its own mosque and follows a slightly different approach to praying. However, in Oman, the three sects, Ibadhi, Sunni, and Shia pray in the same mosques.

Also, if a person of one sect attacks another sect’s beliefs, that person could face up to 10 years in prison. As a result of this policy of required tolerance, Oman does not suffer from sectarian violence and is one of the safest countries in the world.         


Multi-Cultural Oman

Like all countries in the Gulf, Oman has needed immigration from surrounding countries to boost its population so that economic development could take place. Today, the population of Oman is 4.5 million, with 2.5 million Omanis and 2 million immigrants, guest workers, and ex-pats. Most of the immigrants & guest workers are Muslims from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and the different ethnic groups and religions co-exist peacefully together. Of course, many Indians are Hindu, and they have their temples in Oman, where they can practice their beliefs peacefully. The various peoples of the world could learn a good lesson from Omanis about how to live peacefully in ever-increasing multi-cultural world. 

Our favorite restaurant in Tiwi. Most restaurants are run by immigrants.

For more on Oman’s, click https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oman. That’s all for now, see you down the road! 

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3 Comments

  1. jan roller

    Jule and John…I found this to be fascinating.!! Almost as if I were with you.

    Reply
    • John ONeill

      Thank you Jan. We are happy that you enjoyed the journey with us.

      Reply
    • Julie Roller

      Thanks Mom! We now have the seal of approval and glad you’re joining us for our journeys. xoxo

      Reply

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