I will be talking about “Changing Kitchens in Southern Oman” at the annual conference of The Association for the Study of Food and Society & The Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society

Risse, M. “Changing Kitchens in Southern Oman.” Knowing Food: The Association for the Study of Food and Society & The Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society Conference, sponsored by Boston University. Forthcoming, May 31, 2023.

My presentation will focus on the changes to kitchen design and use in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman, over the past 40 years. Using photos from my extensive collection and data from interviews, I will explain how newly-built kitchens look different, and are used differently, from kitchens built in the 1980/90s. I will discuss aspects such as placement within the house, color choices, cupboards and tables. In addition, I will show how kitchens are used by different people at different times in comparison to the late 1900s. My goal is to use kitchens as a microcosm of changes within Dhofari society as how people prepare and eat meals is a reflection of how families interact.

One example of the type of change that has happened is that now expatriate workers are often cooking within kitchens. As many families hire a male cleaner to come for a few hours every day, kitchens now should have a door so that male workers do not walk through the main parts of the house. One aspect that has not changed it that kitchens are designed for passive safety. For example, countertops are set higher than in Western countries, sometimes so high that a family member must stand on a footstool, and stoves are placed on pedestals several inches above the kitchen floor. This is done so that children cannot see or reach food or implements (such as knives) that are on the countertop, nor can they reach the controls for the stove.

Reflections on Ethnographic Research: Changes within Cultures

(photo by Salwa Hubais)

Two writers about Dhofar were so firmly entrenched in the view that Dhofar should not be modern that their books had photos of empty streets; as if there were no Omanis in city settings. The only photos of Dhofaris had them positioned in rural landscapes.

I call this mindset “zoo mode,” and its adherents say things along the lines of:

Oh how horrible that the Dhofaris are losing their traditions! Every time I come here there are changes. Everything is to modern here now – they don’t have their culture anymore.

I have lost patience for this point of view that, in some manifestations, seems to want to turn Dhofar into a zoo-like entity where visitors can see people engaging in former lifeways. I try to be quiet (or change the subject) but sometimes I will remark:

But you yourself do not live in your grandmother’s house, with her furniture and decorations. You don’t eat what she ate in the way she ate it. You don’t wear her clothes or listen to the music she loved, so it might be unrealistic to expect other people to stay static.

Their reply is usually along the lines of: but they are losing themselves.

To me, this line of reasoning posits that the modern culture is inferior to and/or less appealing than that of previous iterations. And I wonder, how do non-Dhofaris find a vantage point from which to judge another culture?

I think Dhfoaris are transforming, adapting and making choices; all cultures change over time. What Dhofaris are “losing” is the desire to live in a way that visitors find interesting. That doesn’t mean they should return to the lifeways of 40 or more years ago. Dhofairs are not participants in a Colonial Williamsburg-type experiment in which they should work as historical reenactors to explain and demonstrate aspects of daily life in the past.

Yes, some lifeways are disappearing but so is diphtheria and washing clothes by pounding them on rocks. And the people who decide what parts of the culture should be carried forward are… the people in that culture.

As a literature professor, I take heart in rereading Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village” written in the 1770s. In this poem the narrator laments the desertion of a village because of a variety of modern evils; this reminds me that in every century there are people who think all the good times, good manners, good objects and good traditions are gone forever. And yet humans continue to create new and positive ways to live.

Here is a simple example of cultural change from working with the research guys. Before Covid, picnic dinners usually meant someone cooking dinner over a fire. I enjoyed years of delicious stews and curries; fish was cooked over the flames or wrapped in foil in placed in the ashes. Picnics stopped during the time of lockdowns and curfews with people sticking close to family units. As the threat of disease retreated, the group started to meet again, but with changes.

The man who did most of the cooking has had changes in his responsibilities, so he no longer has the free time needed to cook dinners. We have adapted by the men bringing prepared food from home and me bringing food from a “safe” (well-known/ trusted) restaurant.

One night one of the men brought… individual pizzas. The first time in 17 years that I have seen a pizza at one of our meetings and the first time that we each had our own meal. I suppose I could have cut my hair and wailed at this terrible incursion of the modern but I said thank you and ate my pizza.

Yes, I would rather have fresh-caught fish cooked over the coals but I am aware of what a dish dinner entails: the time and effort to make a certain kind of fire, wait until there were the right kind of coals, preparing the fish, cooking it, preparing and cooking the rice, etc.

Actions have costs – a picnic dinner means someone cooking (a man standing over a beach fire or a woman standing over a stove at home) and all people make choices about which costs are worth the effort. Five years ago, pizza was not one of the choices for a group dinner. Now it is.

To me, this change is only a loss if I construe “fish cooked over a fire” as the only correct/ authentic type of beach dinner, a judgment I am unwilling to make.

Foodways: Thinking about Uses of Plastic Bags and Bottles in Dhofar

In a previous essay [ Foodways: Cultural Issues Pertaining to Litter ] I talked about some issues pertaining to litter. I would like to expand on these reflections by discussing the use of plastic bags and plastic bottles.

Decreasing the use of plastics is a worthy goal and I believe that can effectively happen when the reasons for why and methods of how people use plastic products is investigated in terms of the cultural context. In my opinion, to find replacements that will be widely adopted, it needs to be clear which specific qualities are important. Thus, the substitutes for plastic bags and bottles need to meet cultural needs, as well as environmental needs.

Cultural Understandings of Plastic Usage: Plastic Bags

1 – anything given to another person should be in a bag, not put directly into someone’s hand

There is a cultural understanding that objects should be transferred in some sort of package, never passed by hand.

2 – adults seldom carry large bags and/ or anything on their shoulders

Only schoolchildren wear backpacks. It is not common for grown-up men to bear anything on their shoulders. Some female college students will carry a small rectangular bag on their shoulder, but only within the campus area. In a mall or public place, goods are carried by hand in bags.

3 – foodstuffs, including raw meat and fresh fish, are often distributed among relatives and friends

As I have discussed in my food research, many Dhofaris give extra or purpose-bought food for others. This is almost always handed over in plastics bags. For example, it is perceived as cleaner and easier to give fish and pieces of meat in plastic bags. If this was given in a dish or pot, it would need to be cleaned and returned. Also, giving food in a dish might result in spillage whereas plastic bags can be tied shut.

4 – accessibility of paper bags

Small paper bags, often printed with a store’s name or a decorative design, are common and can be used for transporting some items such as limes, books, dhobes and bukhoor. Thus there is a lot of re-use of printed paper bags with short handles which are bought for gift-giving and/or given away by stores. However, these bags usually only circulate among women as they often found in perfume/ make-up stores and men will not usually buy decorated gift bags.

4 – it is common to give food and unwanted supplies to expat laborers who travel by bike

In addition to Dhofaris giving food stuffs to family and neighbors, they often give left-over food to expat workers. As these laborers usually travel by bikes which do not have panniers, they need a bag which will easily fit over their handlebars.

For example, I sometimes buy packages of cookies for the man who cleans my car. I have to put them in a plastic bag so that he can transport the cookies home. The shopping bags for sale in the large grocery store are too large and unwieldy to be hooked over handle bars and bikes usually do not have a flat rack behind the seat.

5 –  issues of privacy/ safety/ smell

In some cultures, small, mesh/  jute/ string bags are used for everyday carrying. But open-weave bags would not always work in Dhofar as there are cultural understandings of keeping goods private, i.e. not allowing everyone to see what you are transporting. For example, in large supermarkets, there is always a pile of small plastic bags near the sanitary supplies so women can put what they are buying into a plastic bag, then set it in their shopping cart. As in many aspects of Dhofari life, people want to keep their private life private.

Another concern is that Dhofar has three months of drizzle during the khareef (monsoon) and frequent wind/sand storms in winter. Moving anything in an open-weave bag could result in the contents being splashed with mud or covered in sand.

Lastly, bad smells are perceived as very negative. Sometimes meat or fish bought at the souq is put in a plastic bag and tied the rear-bumper of the car to be taken home because no one wants the smell to permeate the car.

To me, thinking about decreasing the use of plastic bags means looking for solutions which fit within the culture. For example, one use of plastic bags among fishermen is to put pieces of sardines in a plastic bag with sand and place this within a fish box (metal fish trap which sits on the bottle of the ocean). One fisherman I know did this for years as the sand keeps the sardines at the bottom of the trap, allowing the scent of the fish to mix slowly with the water to attract larger fish. Last year, he decided to re-think this usage and now uses a sharp, large needle to pierce a group of sardines with fishing line into a circle (looking like a necklace of sardines) which is tied to the side of trap. This keeps the sardine in the trap and allows the water to carry the scent, without the plastic bag.

Small, plain brown paper bags with handles could be used in some circumstances instead of plastic bags and it might make sense to have them widely available. Another idea might be to have large stores sell or give away sturdy, long-use shopping bags which are smaller than the ones currently found. The smaller bag might also have a wide flap which could be placed over the opening (to keep what is inside clean) or simply left hanging inside the bag when not needed.

Cultural Understandings of Plastic Usage: Plastic Bottles

* hosts should give guest unopened bottles of drinks

Fresh fruit juice can be brought out for guests in (preferably clear glass) pitchers but usually water and all other beverages are served in individual bottles to be opened by the person who will drink. At restaurants, soda and water are brought to the table in closed bottles, opened and poured in front of customers; the only place you can get a pre-poured soda is at fast-food restaurants.

Many Dhofaris have a “bubbler” (a large, plastic jug of water upended into a stand; to get a glass of water, you push a small lever – some bubblers will heat or cool the water). Water jugs can be bought at stores but big families usually have a regular delivery service in which full ones are dropped off and used ones picked up. It is not common to have a bubbler in the majlis or salle; they are usually found in the kitchen.

* it’s not easy to find potable water to refill a thermos/ water bottle

In some cultures, many people carry water bottles with them, but in Dhofar it is not always easy to find potable water through water fountains. Most drinking water is carried in plastic bottles.

*a bottle of water is a kind of currency

I don’t use small bottles of water for drinking but I always have a 12-pack at home and my office to give away. At work I hand them out to the man who repairs the copy machine, the FedEx delivery guy, the worker who comes to fix the AC and the cleaner. At home I give them to the repairmen. As they don’t carry water bottles and it’s often over 85 degrees, a plastic bottle of water is a welcomed gift.

To me, thinking about how to lessen the use of plastic bottles means thinking about practical measures that would work within a Dhofari context. For example, an expat faulted me for giving away plastic bottles of water but the alternatives would be handing over a glass of water to be drunk immediately or giving a thermos full of water, which might cause the recipient to wonder how fresh the water was. I could get a bubbler in my office, hand the worker a thermos and let them fill it themselves, but then they would have to carry around the thermos. The best option is the most expensive: I would need a supply of thermoses with carrying straps and a bubbler. And not everyone has time and easy access to a sink and soap to clean the thermos. The safety issue is paramount – hot weather and high humidity can mean water becoming contaminated quickly.

Some milk is sold in cardboard containers; that is one method that might be tried for water and juice. Another idea might be for water and juice to be sold in small glass bottles which could be delivered to houses and restaurants in flat; then the empties could be picked up, washed by the company and reused.

Foodways: Cultural Issues Pertaining to Litter

(photos by S. B.)

I recently heard a lecture by Dr. Sean Smith about Pro-Nature/ Anti-Litter Environmental Discourses in Oman which led me to reflect on cultural understandings relating to litter in Dhofar.

Three issues come to the forefront for me: hierarchies of need, time and the re-use of materials. It’s also important to think about creating research that opens up discussions about blame and the role of people hired to pick up trash.

First, I want to give a short example of how “litter” can be conceived in different contexts. Last summer, I was walking around Boston with a cup of coffee. When I had drunk as much as I wanted and decided to toss the cup, I realized that I felt compelled to put my leftover coffee into the ground. Putting a liquid into a trash can felt like “littering” to me.

I hadn’t known before how much I had internalized this aspect of Dhofari culture. If one is inside a building, liquids stay in the bottle/ can/ cup and get tossed away, but if one is outside, then you empty the liquid into the earth (or in the ocean if you are in a boat) before putting the container in the trashcan. This means less weight in trash bags and less chance of spilled liquids, but to me there is also an intangible sense that you should put liquids back into the earth. Sometimes there is a more prosaic reason; while camping, you pour leftover liquids onto a fire to stop the wood from burning so you can use the wood later or to leave useable wood for someone else.

So I stood on the Boston sidewalk and looked around for an area without cement to pour my coffee. I finally found a small piece of ground next to a tree but it was very dry and hard-packed; as I poured, some coffee splashed back up and stained the hem of my skirt, the rest flowed off the dirt and onto the sidewalk. Hmmm. A research moment indeed – I was used to pouring liquid into forgiving sand.

Below are some cultural understandings of litter/ waste in Dhofar.

Hierarchies of Need

1 – making recyclable trash convenient to take is more important than maintaining clean areas by dumpsters

If someone saw me put a bag of aluminum soda cans next to a dumpster, they might think I was being lazy but several years ago a company started to pay for empty/ used cans so expat workers started to collect them. To help in this effort (and to save people from the indignity of having to get into a dumpster) Dhofaris often put empty cans next to, not inside of, dumpsters. So I collect my soda cans in my kitchen and, when I have a bag-full, I set it close to the dumpster.

At picnic sites, Dhofaris often separate cans from other trash, sometimes leaving them in a small pile by dumpsters or leaving trash in closed (knotted) plastic bags with the aluminum cans in heap nearby.

Some people, including myself, do the same with cardboard boxes. Boxes are flattened and set near dumpsters either for people to take and sell to the recycling company, or for people to take, tear into pieces and feed to goats.

2 – leaving food in a way that is palatable for animals is more important that picking up all food containers

In general, Dhofaris try very hard not to waste food. On picnics, leftovers might be carefully packaged and given to other people (even strangers) who are sitting nearby or expat workers, such as gas station attendants. If people are sitting far from others and/ or will be returning home late, extra food is usually set out for animals.

If there are clean-swept, flat rocks nearby, the food is placed there. If not, the food is placed on a piece of plastic or in a flimsy metal container. Even members of my research group, who pick up every piece of litter before leaving, will leave the food container so that wild animals (foxes, stray cats and dogs, seagulls by beaches, etc.) will have “clean” food. To set food on sandy ground is seen as not just unkind but wasteful as the food will not be eaten.

3 – taking food in a way that makes it easy to give to other people (usually strangers) is more important than not having a single-use container

It is normal in some cultures to bring glass containers to restaurants, so that leftovers can be taken home without using additional packaging. But Dhofaris do not often eat “old” food, leftover food from restaurants is either left on the table or set into foil or plastic containers and put into a plastic or paper bag which is then handed over to an expat laborer.

Time

It took me awhile to understand that during a picnic or camping trip, litter has a time component. The men in my research group will toss bottles and cans behind them (away from the campfire) or towards periphery of the living area as we talk and eat. My attempts to stop this behavior was met with firm disapproval. “Let the people take their rest,” I was told.

At the end of the evening, when the men get up and start to put belongings into their cars, one or more of them (without discussion) will do clean-up duty, pouring liquids into the earth, putting all the trash into bags and setting aside aluminum cans. So now I do the same, flinging soda cans with abandon during dinner and assiduously picking up everything later.  

If a person came in the middle of dinner/ the camping trip and saw the mess at the outskirts of where we were sitting, they might do an internal condemnation such as I used to do. Yet, in over 17 years of picnics and camping, I have never seen any Dhofari leave litter at a picnic or camping site.

Reusing

From what I have seen, only two items (aluminum cans and cardboard boxes) are collected to be sold back to a recycling company, but two other items are put to new uses: glass containers with metal screw-tops and plastic laundry soap/ cleaning fluid jugs.

Both small and large glass containers are cleaned and reused. Small glass jars bottles (with the previous label removed) are used for storing bukhoor, small pieces of wood perfumed with aromatic oils.

Large glass bottles, such as Vimto bottles, are used for honey from local hives. That size container is a standard measurement and giving honey is a smaller container would be seen as being cheap.

The large plastic jugs for laundry soap/ cleaning fluid/ automobile oil are used by fishermen to mark their fish traps. The containers are large and brightly colored (thus, can be seen from a distance), cheap, sea-worthy, long-lasting and buoyant. Several are tired to a rope attached to a fish trap which is resting on the seabed. The colors of the jugs and the way they are tired are distinctive for each fisherman so he can easily find his own traps.

[This brings up a topic I will discuss in a later essay: replacing plastics means reflecting on all the ways that item is used. For example, banning plastic laundry soap jugs would cause hardship for fishermen. One alternative might be incorporating an environmentally practical alternative in conjunction with meeting the needs of the community, such as requiring stores to carry only biodegradable laundry soap pods sold in cardboard boxes and making free, colored buoys available to all fishermen.]

Importance of Multi-faceted Research – Issue of  Blaming Tourists

The presentation quoted someone who made fun of the “blame the tourist” excuse for litter on Omani beaches/ scenic places but I have never seen a Dhofari who owned or was related to someone who owned herd animals (camels, cows, goats) leave litter after a picnic or camping. Nor have I ever seen a fisherman toss anything plastic into the ocean as “it will stay too long time.” The people who live here and are connected to animal husbandry or fishing are aware that litter will kill animals/ hurt the environment that they count on for their livelihood.

Importance of Multi-faceted Research – Issue of Cleaners

The presentation also quoted someone who suggested that the government should stop paying for workers to clean the beaches as a way to teach people to pick up after themselves.

My take on this point of view is that there is no one alive who thinks littering is a good idea. People don’t litter because they are unaware that it’s wrong, they do it because they are lazy. If such are people are confronted with a beach full of trash, they will simply find another beach and destroy that one.

And given the prevalent “don’t interfere with other people” mentality in Oman, having people police each other is not going to work. [The one scenario that might be effective is if one or more older men talked to a group of young men, but that would require the older men arriving at exactly the right time, the ages to be clear (young men would not shame older men) and for there to be no women as in Dhofar, a man will not approach a group with women he doesn’t know unless there is an emergency.]  

In Dhofar, the men who clean beaches are incorporated into systems of giving. As I mentioned above, the men in my research group will always separate out empty aluminum cans for the cleaners to sell to the recycling company; half-empty jugs of water and extra containers of drinks will also be left. Also, if staying in a shelter, Dhofaris often leave extra foodstuffs, such as vegetables and fruit, tied up to the rafters of shelters for anyone to take.

Thus there is a mutually symbiotic relationship. The picnickers/ campers can leave their trash in an organized manner (in the dumpster or in tied plastic bags) so that they don’t need to carry it home and they can leave any leftover goods knowing that they will be used. Cleaners are paid for their work and are often able to take away foodstuffs that might be eaten or sold.

sb - beach 2

Cows

As I did a post on camels – Camels and Camel-Owners  – I have to give equal time to cows. If Dhofaris have herd animals, it is usually either camels OR cows, not often does a family have both. Although it is common to own goats either alone or with camels or cows. None of the three types of animals like to be in the same area at the same time. In khareef  (the monsoon season which is ending now), camels are taken out of areas which get rain as their flat feet can’t get traction on slippery ground.  Cows are usually kept indoors during the day because of the swarms of mosquitos. With the start of fall weather (sunny and dry), camels will soon be herded back to the regular grazing grounds in the mountains and cows will be let out during the day; but the two types of animals usually keep to separate areas. Goats are almost always let out of pens with a herder, who will steer them away from the larger animals. 

 

cows

a mountain cow pen (photo used with permission)

 

IMG_3577

mountains in khareef

cows in mountain

cows in khareef

cows on beach

cows on the beach

You Have Nothing to Fear from Sheep’s Eyes but Beware the Carrot Sweet: Researching Foodways in Southern Oman

During over a decade of picnics with men from southern Oman, I have never been offered the eyes, brain, tongue or tail of any animal. The cliché of guests being offered the ‘unloved’ parts of an animal doesn’t hold here in the Dhofar region. And it’s not that large platter of rice and meat that will cause you problems. Men will encourage you to eat, but if you gather up a few grains of rice in your hand and lift it towards your mouth, the host’s attention will move on.

If you are given a fish, you can turn the head away from you and start to eat from tail up, scattering by chance a few shreds of lettuce over the eyes. Then you declare yourself full before you need to deal with the stomach area, much less digging into the skull for the fish cheeks.

What you should fear is ladies’ parties with lots of very generous, caring, strong-arming women.

Men usually have dinner with friends on the beach or in a scenic place in the mountain. It’s dark, eating is done quickly and men come and go freely; there is little policing of who eats what. Although the cook might toss special pieces of meat or fish towards you, if you don’t want to eat them, simply leave them alone.

But women parties are usually indoors, with lots of light and everyone sits in their places for several hours so you are constantly under observation.

I love wedding parties because the air is full of beautiful perfumes and everyone is in gorgeous, comfortable, multi-color thobes (the loose, traditional Dhofari dress). And the food is delicious, but you cannot escape it. Either waitresses or relatives of the groom will bring around trays of drinks and sweets and everyone, not just the hostess, but all the other guests, will encourage you to partake.

You have had four cups of super-leaded, espresso-strength, cardamom-spiced Omani qahwa (coffee)? The generous women would like you to have a fifth cup! “You didn’t drink anything! Do you not like the coffee? Do you want tea! BRING TEA, SHE WANTS TEA!”  they call.

You protest but, alas, give up. The tsunami of kindness is coming for you. Take up the tea cup and drink. And as soon as you set down the cup, here come someone with juice, soda, instant coffee, chai ahmar (“red tea,” black tea with only sugar added), chai haleeb (“milk tea,” black tea with milk and sugar), or karak (loose tea with spices and milk).

Then come the sweets accompanied by women benevolently asking you to take another spoonful of halwa, the traditional Omani dessert. And like a swan-dive into a bowl of whipped cream, you submit to your fate: a small plate of carrot sweet, a bowl of crème caramel, a slice of cake, a bowl of ice cream, fruit salad, luqaymat/ loqeemat (sweet fried dough with a sugar syrup), basbousa, and wrapped chocolates.

And now, just as you give up any thought of ever moving again, dinner is served. A generous woman hands you a plate heaped high with a selection of appetizers (hummus, fattoush, baba ghanoush, etc., with pita bread) and qabooli (a dish with spices, rice and meat). Then, of course, dessert is served.

There have been weekends in which I have inhabited both worlds. One night was spent wearing loose cotton trousers and a tunic top with a plain blue headscarf and sitting on a plastic mat on a beach out of sight from any man-made lights. Dinner was fresh-caught fish cooked over a fire. The men in my research group and I ate with our hands, drank Dew, looked at the stars, listened to the sea and talked until 1am. The next night I wore a decorated velvet thobe with full make-up, my meager supply of gold jewelry and a lot of duty-free perfume, in a room full of air-conditioning, bright lights, and delightful women who wanted to stuff me until I burst.

Omani people are very open-hearted and open-handed and doing research on foodways is a lot of fun, but it is not for the meek or the small of stomach.

Foodways: Cultures, Food Selfishness and “Could I Have a Little Bite?”

“May I have a sip?” asks a much-loved older relative.

I stifle a sigh and hand over my coffee cup.

Three minutes later, “Can I have another sip?”

With a small sigh, I hand over the cup.

Two minutes later, “Can I…” and I hand the cup over while biting my lip.

I don’t want to share. That cup of caramel/ Brazil nut/ vanilla-flavored coffee is my first flavored filter coffee in 11 months and, since I probably won’t be back to that store again this summer, it’s the last of that kind for another year. And I want to savor every drop of it.

And cherished older relative could have bought their own, heck I would have paid for their own. But no, my relatives want “just a sip” and “just a bite.”

This might have turned me into a person happy to share, but it did not. I turned into a person who hates handing over my coffee cup, doing it only under duress and after chiding myself about the importance of generosity.

Then I moved to Oman and learned a whole new system of dealing of food. There is no “mine” and no “yours” when eating with my Dhofari friends. There is “ours” and everyone attempts to be the person who is fastest to pass the freshly poured cup of tea or the newly opened box of cookies to someone else.

When I am with female friends at restaurants; food is automatically pushed towards the center of the table. We cut off pieces of whatever we ordered and place it on each other’s plates, even if that person is protesting that they don’t want any. We unconsciously put some French fries on a plate in the middle of the table or turn our plates so it’s easy for someone to take some.

On picnics, the food is set out communally on a platter. No one takes anything out of the coolbox without asking each person what they want first. At the end of the night, you try as hard as possible to give the leftovers to someone else. Several times I have pushed others to take food (halwa or qibqab, a thin, plain cracker-like bread) that I really wanted to bring home.

I do this instinctively in Oman but when I am staying with family, my food protection systems engage, the remnant of years of fending off “just a bite” and “you should share.”

Seeing food (taco salad! cinnamon-raisin bread! potato salad! cranberry muffins!) that I haven’t had for almost a year, I get selfish. When I open a small (one person!) bag of Old Bay-spiced potato chips and a relative hovers and dives in, I fight my instinct to hold the bag out of reach.

When people ask for “just a sip,” I am still cranky but I envision my Omani friends’ horror at the thought of my behaving badly. I remember all the meals shared and all the French fries I have stolen as I hand over the coffee cup.

“It’s just pie, people are more important than pie,” I say to myself as a foreign fork appears at the side of my plate. I push my plate towards the fork, saying “go ahead” with a cheery tone. Ethnographic work changes you. For the better.

 

 

 

Research on fishing in Dhofar

(photo by S. B.)

I have been looking at the theme of generosity, including sharing food, for more than ten years. For my book, Foodways in Southern Oman (Routledge, 2021), I conducted several interviews about fishing practices in Dhofar. In Spring 2020, I started a second round of formal interviews which provided the information used in the publication, presentation and essays found here: Research on Fishing in Dhofar

 

– طرق الطعام : بحث في ممارسات الصيد في ظفار وببليوجرافيات مختارة – Foodways: Researching Fishing Practices in Dhofar (in Arabic) and Selected Bibliographies

original post: https://mariellerisse.com/2022/02/19/foodways-researching-fishing-practices-in-dhofar-and-selected-bibliographies/

Arabic translation by Aruba Al Mashikhi

(تصوير: حسين باعمر)

الدافعية  

تطرقت في كتابي الأول للكتابة قليلا عن الصيادين الظفاريين من حيث نظرتهم إلى استقلالهم وترابطهم. و في كتابي الثاني ، كتبت عن شراء الأسماك وإهدائها. وبعد ذلك غيرت تركيزي البحثي إلى المنازل.

في أوائل عام 2021 سمعت نقاشًا بين العديد من الباحثين الذين يعتقدون أن الظفاريون ليسوا مرتبطين بالعالم الطبيعي كما كان الحال في الأجيال السابقة. وقد أكد أحدهم أن رجال ظفار توقفوا عن العمل بأيديهم. كما أخبرني باحث آخر بأنه يتم الآن عن طريق الاستعانة بالعمالة الوافادة كمصادر خارجية في الصيد.

أثار اهتمامي سماع هذا الأمر لأنني أحسبه مهما أن يعرف الباحث كيف يمكن للباحثين المختلفين رؤية نفس المنطقة بطرق مختلفة. يتحدث هؤلاء الباحثون لأناس مختلفين وينظرون إلى قضايا مختلفة عما أنظر أنا إليه أنا. الرجال في مجموعتي البحثية قاموا جميعًا وما زالوا يقومون بأنواع مختلفة من العمل اليدوي ، بما في ذلك الصيد اليومي.

يقوم الكثير من المغتربين بالصيد الاعتيادي في ظفار: يصطاد غير العمانيين من الشاطئ و / أو في قوارب مستأجرة لممارسة رياضة الصيد أو صيد عدد قليل من الأسماك لتناول العشاء. هناك أيضًا عمال وافدون مرتبطون بصناعة صيد الأسماك من خلال العمل على تنظيف القوارب وإصلاح الشباك وتركيب مصائد الأسماك ومساعدة الصيادين في تحميل وتفريغ القوارب وما إلى ذلك.

من ناحيتي كنت أتحدث مع الصيادين الظفاريين الذين يعملون في المدن الساحلية صلالة [المدينة الرئيسية في منطقة ظفار] ، طاقة (28 كم شرق صلالة) ، مرباط (70 كم شرقًا) ، سدح (135 كم شرقًا). ) ، حدبين (167 كم شرقاً) وحاسك (187 كم شرقاً) لأكثر من 15 عاماً. لقد كنت مع رجال ظفاريون في قوارب لرمي الشباك وصناديق الصيد – والتي تسمى محليا قراقير-  وصيد سمك التونة والصيد بالطُعم الحي خلال أكثر من اثنتي عشرة رحلة صيد في القوارب ، فضلاً عن أكثر من 20 رحلة صيد من الشاطئ.  لقد قمت أيضًا بالعديد من الرحلات الاستكشافية بالقوارب. كما سنح لي مشاهدة الصيادين الظفاريون وهم يغادرون ويعودون إلى الشاطئ عشرات المرات واستمعت إلى الرجال وهم يناقشون رحلات الصيد خلال أكثر من 350 رحلات عشاءًا حضرتها. لقد رأيت مرة واحدة فقط عاملاً وافدًا يشارك في رحلة صيد على متن قارب.

ولذلك، عند سماع هذا النقاش بين الباحثين ، فكرت في أفضل السبل التي يمكنني من خلالها تحديد ما رأيته لإضافته إلى المحادثات الجارية حول مختلف الثقافات الظفارية. وكانت إحدى الأفكار توثيق الأنواع المختلفة من العمل الذي يشارك فيه الرجال في مجموعتي البحثية مثل رعي الإبل ، وفكرتي الأخرى هي محاولة ترميز عدد الساعات التي يقضونها يوميًا في الخارج في مواقع مختلفة.  ولكن نظرًا لاستمرار الوباء ، أدركت أنني بحاجة إلى العمل على شيء يمكن القيام به عن بعد. و أردت أيضًا العمل على شيء لا توجد عنه بيانات حالية أو القليل منها.

قررت أخيرًا أن اسأل سؤالًا بسيطًا: كم يكلف الصيد؟ يمكنني إجراء مقابلات على الشواطئ العاصفة من أجل السلامة وخلال بحثي عن الطعام لم أجد أي بحث آخر مماثل في شبه الجزيرة العربية على الرغم من وجود عمل على أنواع الأسماك على طول الساحل العماني مثل:

مسار البحث

تركز معظم الأبحاث حول الصيد على أنواع الأسماك التي تم صيدها وكيفية بيعها. أردت أن أنظر إلى الصيد من زاوية أخرى: كيف يستعد الصيادون الظفاريون لصيد السمك؟ أنا ممتنة جدًا للساعات العديدة التي قضوها معي الأشخاص الذي أعتبرهم مصادري في المعلومات لمراجعة التكاليف والإجابة على الأسئلة خلال العام الماضي. كما أعرب عن امتناني لهيلين ماكبث واللجنة الدولية لأنثروبولوجيا الغذاء والتغذية لتنظيمهما مؤتمر “الأسماك كغذاء: أسلوب الحياة ومستقبل مستدام” المثير للاهتمام للغاية الذي استضافته جامعة ليفربول في سبتمبر 2021 [ http://www.icaf2021.uk/ ].

عندما بدأت بحثي حول تكاليف الصيد ، كنت أفكر في تأطير المناقشة بالحديث عن التكاليف والفوائد غير النقدية لصيد الأسماك ، لكن البيانات التي جمعتها قادتني إلى اتجاه آخر. أولاً ، بالنظر إلى النفور الثقافي من التباهي بالأعمال الصالحة أو الإبلاغ عنها ، لم يكن من السهل إقناع الصيادين بالتحدث عن الكيفية التي يتبرعون بها عن الأسماك في كثير من الأحيان. ثانيًا ، للدهشة ، لم يلاحظ الصيادون أي عيوب في الصيد. كنت أفترض أن الابتعاد عن المنزل لفترات طويلة قد يُنظر إليه على أنه يخلق صعوبات لأفراد الأسرة ، لكن الصيادين أكدوا أنهم إما سيشترون لوازم للمنزل قبل مغادرتهم أو أن أفراد الأسرة الآخرين سيساعدون في إحضار المطلوب .

قضيت معظم وقتي في محاولة لمعرفة تكلفة جميع احتياجات رحلة الصيد ، ولكن المحادثات الأكثر إثارة كانت حول كيفية تقسيم صيد اليوم. في إحدى المقابلات ، تخلصت من سلسلة من الافتراضات المتعلقة بمسألة الأعداد مثل: إذا اصطاد أربعة رجال 100 كيلو من الأسماك ، فكم كيلو سيأخذ كل شخص إلى المنزل وكم سيباع؟

بدأ الأشخاص الذين يساعدونني في بحثي العمل على خلال أشجار قرارات طويلة بينما أردت رقمًا واضحًا. بعد دقائق من الإحباط ، أدركت أنني كنت آتية للموضوع من إتجاه خاطئ لأن نظرتي غير قبلية وغير قائمة على المجتمع. ليست هنالك إجابة على السؤال التالي: إذا اصطاد أربعة رجال 100 كيلو من السمك ، فكم كيلو جرام سيأخذ كل شخص إلى المنزل؟ إنه سؤال لا معنى له لأن كل رجل في ظفار سيأخذ في الاعتبار سلسلة كاملة من العوامل قبل أن يقرر كيفية تقسيم الأسماك مثل عدد الأشخاص الذين يعيشون في كل منزل من منازل الرجال.

أدت محاولتي لتوضيح كيفية اتخاذ القرارات بشأن مشاركة الأسماك والربح إلى العديد من المناقشات الشيقة والتي ترتبط بعملي السابق حول تقديم الهدايا في ظفار (في قائمة المراجع أدناه).

ثلاثة مفاهيم ثقافية اتضحت لي خلال العديد من المحادثات على رياح الشواطئ أولاً ، أخبرني الصيادون أن مالك القارب في أجزاء أخرى من عمان يأخذ نصيبًا مضاعفًا من الأرباح. على سبيل المثال، إذا ذهب 4 رجال للصيد وكان الربح 200 ريال عماني ، سيتم تقسيم المال بخمس طرق ، حيث يأخذ مالك القارب 80 ريال عماني (سهمان بقيمة 40 ريال عماني لكل منهما). بينما في ظفار ، يدفع الرجال الأربعة جميع تكاليف رحلة الصيد أولاً ، ثم يقسمون الأرباح على 4 ، مع أخذ مالك القارب نفس نصيب الرجال الآخرين.

وعلى أية حال، إذا احتاج القارب أو المحرك إلى الإصلاح ، فسيتم سحب هذه الأموال أيضًا من الربح قبل تقسيم الأموال. على سبيل المثال إذا حقق 4 رجال ربح 200 ريال عماني بعد دفع مصاريف الغاز والطعام والطعم. إلخ ، ولكن المحرك قد تم إصلاحه للتو بتكلفة 100 ريال عماني ، ويحصل مالك القارب على 100 ريال عماني. سيتم تقسيم الـ 100 ريال المتبقية بالتساوي بين الرجال الأربعة. [المال لإصلاح القوارب والمحركات أحيانًا يكون مقدمًا من قبل الرجل الذي يشتري المصيد ، ثم يتم سداده من الأرباح المستقبلية دون أي فوائد.]

ثانيًا ، يجب دائمًا تقسيم الأسماك بنفس الطريقة ، حتى لو تم استخدام الأسماك لأغراض مختلفة. على سبيل المثال ، أوضح أحد الصيادين لنقل بأنه (س) أنه غالبًا ما ذهب للصيد مع رجل (ص)  يعيش في منزله عدد قليل فقط من الأشخاص بينما كان لدى (س) أكثر من 25 شخصًا في منزلين قام بتزويدهم بالسمك. قبل بيع المصيد ، سيخصص (س) ما لا يقل عن 3 أسماك كبيرة لعائلته ويضع نفس الكمية جانبًا لـ(ص) وسوف يصر (ص) على عدم احتياجه لكل هذه الأسماك ويصر (س) على أن يأخذ الاثنان حصة متساوية حتى لو كان (ص) لايحتاج هذه الأسماك وسيقوم بتوزيعها على أشخاص آخرين غير عائلته.

أخيرًا ، نظرًا لعملي على بحثي السابق في تقديم الهدايا ، كنت أعتقد أنه قد يطلب الصياد سمكًا إضافيًا ، على سبيل المثال ، إذا كان يخطط للذهاب للتخييم مع أصدقائه وكان يحتاج إلى المزيد من الأسماك. أو قد يرفض اصطياد السمك إذا كان جميع أفراد أسرته خارج المنزل ، لذلك لا داعي لإحضار السمك لتناول العشاء. أو إذا عُرف أن أحد الصيادين بحاجة إلى ذلك ، أقسم الآخرون أن كل العائدات ستذهب إليه أو يمكن للرجل أن يطلب أكثر من نصيبه كقرض. وتساءلت كيف يتعامل الصيادون مع رجل يطلب في كثير من الأحيان المزيد من الأسماك أو المال.

وكانت الإجابات على هذه الاستفسارات هي أن مجموعة من الرجال قد يصطادون معًا لمدة موسم أو عدة مواسم أو لسنوات [يغير الرجال المجموعات بسبب شخص يشتري أو يبيع قاربًا ، ولديه وقت أكثر أو أقل للصيد ، وما إلى ذلك] ولكن مرة واحدة في مجموعة يحاول الجميع الحفاظ على توزيع عادل ومستوى للأسماك والأرباح في جميع الأوقات. لا ينبغي لأحد أن يطلب أكثر من حصته أو يحاول رفض حصته.

إذا احتاج رجل يمكنه سؤال أصدقائه بعد التوزيع. كانت التفاهمات الثقافية التي كنت قد توصلت إليها في السابق تتعلق بالمواقف الشخصية. قيل لي إن الصيد كان “عملاً” ، وضمن “العمل” يجب أن يكون هناك اهتمام دقيق بأن يحصل الجميع على نصيب متساوٍ. يتم ذلك جزئيًا لأن الظفاريون عادة ما يحاولون تغطية مشاكلهم.

أحد الأمثلة التي أعطيت لي أنه إذا ذهب -أ- و –ب- و –ج- و –د-  للصيد واقترح -أ- إعطاءهم ربح اليوم إلى –ب- لأنه سيتزوج قريبًا ، أو على سبيل المثال إذا خطط –ج- لاصطحاب أحد أفراد الأسرة إلى مسقط من أجل حالة طوارئ صحية ولديه بالفعل حاجة أكبر للمال. بدلاً من محاولة تحديد من لديه ما يحتاج إليه ، يتم تقسيم السمك والمال بالتساوي ولكن ليس بمستويات محددة مسبقًا مثل أن يحصل الصياد على 5 كيلوغرامات.

في مرحلة ما ، سأود أن أشارك في المقالات المدرجة أدناه فيما يتعلق بكيفية توافق أبحاث الآخرين مع السياق الظفاري ، لا سيما مع مناقشة لانكستر الممتازة والمفصلة عن الصيد في جعلان والراشدي ومقال ماكلين حول النساء و صيد السمك في الوسطى.

Resources

  • selected bibliography – fish and fishing in Oman
  • related research on M. Risse’s website
  • related publications and presentations by M. Risse
    • books
    • other publications
    • presentations
    • research in partnership with other members of the Dhofar University community

Selected Bibliography – Fish and Fishing in Oman

Al-Jufaili, Saud, Greg Hermosa, Sulaiman S. Al-Shuaily and Amal Al Mujaini. 2010. “Oman Fish Biodiversity.” Journal of King Abdulaziz University 21.1: 3-51.

Al-Marshudi, Ahmed Salim and Hemesiri Kotagama. 2006. “Socio-Economic Structure and Performance of Traditional Fishermen in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resource Economics 21: 221-30.

Al Rashdi, K. and E. Mclean. 2014. “Contribution of Small-Scale Fisheries to the Livelihoods of Omani Women: A Case Study of the Al Wusta Governorate.” Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries: Navigating Change – Asian Fisheries Science Special Issue 27S: 135-149.

Chittick, Neville. 1980. “Sewn Boats in the Indian Ocean, and a Survival in Somalia.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 9.4: 297-310.

Choudri, B., Mahad Baawain, and Mustaque Ahmed. 2016. “An Overview of Coastal and Marine Resources and their Management in Sultanate of Oman.” Journal of Environmental Management and Tourism 7.1: 21-32.

Clements, Frank.  1977. “The Islands of Kuria Muria: A Civil Aid Project in the Sultanate of Oman Administered from Salalah, Regional Capital of Dhofar.” Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) 4.1: 37-39.

Field, Richard. 2013. Reef Fishes of Oman. Gharghur, Malta: Richard and Mary Field.

Gardner, Andrew. 2013. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Oman and the UAE. Frankfurt: Edition Chimaira.

Haines, Stafford. 1939. “Memoir to Accompany a Chart of the South Coast of Arabia from the Entrance of the Red Sea to Misenat, in 50, 43, 25 E. Part I.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 9: 125-56.

—. 1845. “Memoir of the South and East Coasts of Arabia: Part II.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 15: 104-60.

Harrison, David. 1980. The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

Janzen, Jorg. 1986. Nomads in the Sultanate of Oman: Tradition and Development in Dhofar. London: Westview Press.

The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

Kenderdine, Sarah and Tom Vosmer. 1994. “Maritime Graffiti in Oman.” Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 18: 33-45.

Lancaster, William and Fidelity Lancaster. 1995. “Nomadic Fishermen of Ja’alân, Oman.” Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-44.

McKoy, John, Neil Bagley, Stéphane Gauthier, and Jennifer Devine. 2009. Fish Resources Assessment Survey of the Arabian Sea Coast of Oman – Technical Report 1. Auckland: Bruce Shallard and Associates and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Mendonca, Vanda, Barry Jupp, Musallam Al Jabri, Thuraya Al Sariri and Mohamed Al Muzaini. 2003. National Report on the State of the Marine Environment. Muscat: Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment & Water Resources, Marine Pollution and Coastal Zone Management Section.

Morris, Miranda. 1987. “Dhofar – What Made it Different’,” in Oman: Economic, Social and Strategic Development. B.R. Pridham, ed. London: Croom Helm. 51-78.

“National Aquaculture Sector Overview-Oman.”  2019.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations-Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. http://www.fao.org/fishery/countrysector/naso_oman/en

Omezzine, Abdallah. 1998. “On-shore Fresh Fish Markets in Oman.” Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing 10.1: 53-69.

Omezzine, Abdallah, Lokman Zaibet and Hamad Al-Oufi. 1996. “The Marketing System of Fresh Fish Products on the Masirah Island in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resources Economics 11: 203-10.

Randall, John. 1996. Coastal Fishes of Oman. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Saunders, J. P. 1846. “A Short Memoir of the Proceedings of the Honorable Company’s Surveying Brig ‘Palinurus,’ during Her Late Examination of the Coast between Ras Morbat and Ras Seger, and between Ras Fartak and the Ruins of Mesinah.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 16: 169-86.

Serjeant, Robert. 1995. “Customary Law Among the Fishermen of al-Shihr,”in Farmers and Fishermen in Arabia: Studies in Customary Law and Practice. G. Rex Smith, ed. Aldershot: Variorum. 193-203.

—. 1968. “Fisher-Folk and Fish-Traps in al-Baḥrain.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 31.3: 486–514.

Siddeek, M., M. Fouda and G. Hermosa. 1999. “Demersal Fisheries of the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.” Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 49.1: 87-97.

“Sustainable Management of the Fisheries Sector in Oman: A Vision for Shared Prosperity, World Bank Advisory Assignment.” 2015. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group and Muscat: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth.

Tabook, Salim Bakhit. 1997. Tribal Practices and Folklore of Dhofar, Sultanate of Oman. Unpublished PhD thesis, Faculty of Arts, Exeter University.

Vosmer, Tom. 1997. “Indigenous Fishing Craft of Oman.” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 26.3: 217-35.

—. 1993. “The Omani Dhow Recording Project: Sultanate of Oman.” Indian Ocean Review 6.2: 18-21.

Wilkinson, J. C. 2013. Water & Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia (Studies on Ibadism and Oman). New York: Georg Olms Verlag.

related research on M. Risse’s website: https://mariellerisse.com/

related publications and presentations by M. R. Risse

books

Foodways in Southern Oman. Routledge, 2021

This book examines the objects, practices and beliefs relating to producing, obtaining, cooking, eating and disposing of food in the Dhofar region of southern Oman. The chapters consider food preparation, who makes what kind of food, and how and when meals are eaten. Dr. Risse connects what is consumed to themes such as land usage, gender, age, purity, privacy and generosity. She also discusses how foodways are related to issues of morality, safety, religion, and tourism. The volume is a result of fourteen years of collecting data and insights in Dhofar, covering topics such as catching fish, herding camels, growing fruits, designing kitchens, cooking meals and setting leftovers out for animals.

Community and Autonomy in Southern Oman. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019

This book explores how, in cultures which prize conformity, there is latitude for people who choose not to conform either for a short time and how the chances to assert independence change over time. The main focus is on how the traits of self-control and self-respect are manifested in the everyday actions of several groups of tribes whose first language is Gibali (Jebbali/ Jebali, also referred to as Shari/ Shahri), a non-written, Modern South Arabian language. Although no work can express the totality of a culture, this text describes how Gibalis are constantly shifting between preserving autonomy and signaling membership in family, tribal and national communities.

other publications

“Questions About Food and Ethics,” in Emanations: When a Planet was a Planet. Brookline, MA: International Authors, 2021. 403-408.

“What’s in Your Bag?” Anthropology News. American Anthropological Association. Oct. 30, 2019. http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2019/07/23/whats-in-your-bag-2019-edition/

“Generosity, Gift-giving and Gift-avoiding in Southern Oman,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 45 (Oxford: Archeopress) 2015: 289-296.

presentations

“The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman.” Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future, annual conference of the International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, hosted at the University of Liverpool. Sept. 1, 2021.

“Ethical Eating in Southern Oman.” Just Food, virtual conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society; Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society; Canadian Association for Food Studies and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, hosted by the Culinary Institute of America and New York University. June 12, 2021.

“Foodways in Southern Oman.” for the session “Uncovering Truths, Building Responsibility in A Pandemic: Insights from Emerging Monographs at the Nexus of Culture, Food, and Agriculture.” American Anthropological Association, on-line conference. Nov. 9, 2020.

“Foodways in Southern Oman” (June 23) and “Overview of Community and Autonomy in Southern Oman” (June 16) for the Language and/or Nature in Southern Arabia Workshop, sponsored by Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leeds. 2020.

“Foodways and Society in Southern Oman.” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leeds. June 26, 2019.

“Accounts from the Journeys of the Brig ‘Palinurus’ Along the Dhofar Coast in the mid-1800s.” Maritime Exploration and Memory Conference, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England. Sept. 15, 2018.

“‘Words Mean Nothing’: Fluency in Language and Fluency in Culture in Anthropology Fieldwork in Southern Oman.” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Wales. July 15, 2016.

“‘A Man Was Always Catching Fish’: Fairy Tale Elements in the Ali al-Mahri/ Johnstone/ Rubin Gibali Texts from Southern Oman.” American Comparative Literature Association Conference, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. March 18, 2016.

“Generosity, Gift-giving and Gift-avoiding in Southern Oman.” British Foundation for the Study of Arabia’s Seminar for Arabian Studies, The British Museum, London. July 27, 2014.

research in partnership with other members of the Dhofar University community

“Culinary Examples,” photographs by Salma Hubais as part of the Foodways in Southern Oman project, 2019-2020.

“Fishing Boats,” photographs by Onaiza Shaikh as part of the Fishing Practices in Dhofar project, August-December 2021.