Houseways – Dhofari/ non-Dhofari house plans

[illustration plan by Maria Cristina Hidalgo, https://www.mariacristinah.com/ ]

 

Sometimes you can only understand what is “normal” for you when you see the same object used differently or in a different place. That sudden shock can help you understand the unwritten/ unacknowledged rules of your culture.

One housing example is light switches. Americans who move to the Arabian Peninsula are confronted with 6 or 9 identical switches in a room or in a hallway. The switches will be placed higher than expected, almost shoulder height, and will be for the ceiling lights, wall lights and fans. As most ceiling lights are florescent which take a few seconds to turn on and the fan has a separate circular switch for speed-adjustment (but is also turned on and off by a switch) you can spend over a minute pushing switches trying to figure out how to turn things on and off. It’s even more confusing for bathroom fixtures as the switches are outside next to the door and will be for the ceiling light, vanity light and extractor fan, as well as hallway lights.

Another example is looking at house plans; since I have started on this project, I have spent a lot of time looking at house plans and seeing examples from other cultures helps me articulate what are some of the expectations of designing Dhofari houses.

Example 1:

example - walk into kitchen

In this home, you walk into the dining room, something that would not happen in a Dhofari house. Also the kitchen in open-air, with no separating wall, much less a door. This would not work in a culture in which cooking smells are considered as negative. Notice how someone standing at the sink has complete visual access to the dining area, living room and porch; there is no possibility of gender segregation. And there are 21 seats (including the 2 floor cushions in the living room), if the dining room table was rotated 90 degrees and the 2 chairs in the living room were turned, the space could easily hold 25 or more people. The space allows for a large, mixed gender party.

Example 2:

example - maids room - ready

What struck me about about this plan is how little seating there is: only 14 seats in the main area and there doesn’t look like there is enough room for 4 people on the small sofa in the private TV space. If the couple who live here invite another couple for dinner, someone is going to spend the evening sitting on a dining room table chair. Also interesting is the maid’s bedroom and bathroom. Having a female maid live-in is common in Dhofar and the room is usually next to or near the kitchen in a one-story house

Example 3:

example - 4 sitting rooms

I loved trying to figure out this house – it’s the perfect expression of a culture that has a lot of concern over who sees what and how in/ out of the group a person is.

In the bottom left is the most ‘out-group’ space:  it’s a majlis (male sitting room) with NO connection to the interior of the house and no bathroom. To the right is the main male entrance, leading to majlis with a bathroom opposite. Further ahead to the left is a dining room that is set up with two doors so the lower door (near majlis) can be closed/ locked while the table is set up, then the door near the majlis is opened while the upper door (leading into the house) is closed for family privacy. When the men leave, the door near the majlis is closed and the door to the house is opened for clean up, so male visitors can never see or hear any of the house occupants.

To the right, above the majlis, is the family entrance which opens into an entryway with a bathroom opposite the salle (sitting room for female relatives and visitors). If needed, female guests could use the dining room if the lower door (to the majlis) is locked. Notice how, if a female visitor left the salle and turned left, then left again to enter the dining room, there are NO sight-lines for the family seating section or even the doors to the kitchen or bedroom. To get to the family seating area, a visitor would have to turn right and cross the atrium; there is no way someone could do this ‘by accident’ so visitors will never be able to see who else was in the house. 

Family members would pass through the entryway and turn right into the family space, with the family bathroom to the left. Except for the bathroom that is inside the bedroom, all three bathrooms (near majlis, near salle and near family space) are built in two sections with a sink area, then an inner door leading to a toilet and sink.

The kitchen is in the upper right-hand corner (with door to prevent cooking odors from reaching the house) and a door to the outside, for bringing in supplies and taking out trash without entering the family section. The bedroom in the upper left hand corner is, to me, too big for a maid’s room (which I would expect to be on the roof or near the children’s rooms). I would assume that this would be for either an older family member, so that they don’t have to climb the stairs, or the couple most responsible for the house.

There are a lot of details that remind me of Dhofari houses, such as the storeroom off the kitchen that can be locked and the side tables in the corners of all four seating areas (external majlis, main majlis, salle and family sitting space) so that people are always sitting in a circle-shape.

Another detail is the set-back of the bedroom and kitchen doors. If you look at the bedroom door, for example, you can see that it could be moved forward (to the left) so that the doorframe is flush with the end of the lower wall. But in its current position, one can’t see if the door is open or shut unless you are standing in front of it. Further, given that the TV in the family sitting room is on the lower wall (shared with the bathroom for the salle), the people in that area can’t see who is coming out of/ going into the kitchen.

Details I see as non-Dhofari are the separate dining room, the circular table near the family seating area and the door to second staircase (below the family area bathroom). That door surprises me as there is no way from that staircase into the house, one can only go up to the upper floor where I  would expect 5, 6 or 7 bedrooms. In the houses I have seen in Dhofar, where there is a second staircase accessed from outside the house, I have always seen an internal door on the ground-level.

Also the separation of the male visitor (majlis) and female visitor/ family doors is not usual. In Dhofar, the two doors are usually a few feet apart, set at a 90 degree angle. Also the outdoor seating area is unusual in Dhofar. Outside of towns there is usually not a high wall around the house so inhabitants might sit on chairs or the steps with an open view. In towns, there is usually not outside seating by a door.

A last note on sight-lines. To me, the kitchen table next to the outside door is awkward. Anyone bringing in supplies needs to walk past the table and turn. It would make more sense to have the table on the lower wall (i.e. sharing the wall with the chairs for the family sitting room). But if the table were moved, then the people sitting at it would be able to see the door to the bedroom. As it is now, the people sitting at the kitchen table have no sight-lines.

Photos for my presentation “The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Sept. 1, ‘Fish as Food’ conference, International Comm. on the Anthro. of Food and Nutrition

“The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Dr. M. Risse

Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future, International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

hosted at the University of Liverpool, Sept 1-3, 2021, http://www.icaf2021.uk/

(photo by Onaiza Shaikh)

Below are a collection of photos to help document the types of boats used and the coastal areas. I am very grateful to Onaiza Shaikh, Hussein BaOmar, M. A. Al Awaid and S. B. for kindly giving me permission to use their photos to help illustrate cultural issues in Dhofar.

Fishing boats and dhows, photos by Onaiza Shaikh

Fishing boats and fish by Hussein BaOmar

Catching sardines and drying abalone by M. A. Al Awaid

Sardine catch and coastal areas by S. B

Data for my presentation “The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Sept. 1, ‘Fish as Food’ conference, International Comm. on the Anthro. of Food and Nutrition

“The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Dr. M. Risse

Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future, International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

hosted at the University of Liverpool, Sept 1-3, 2021, http://www.icaf2021.uk/

(photo by S. B.)

This post contains:

  • the abstract
  • data set discussed in the presentation
  • selected bibliography
  • list of seafood

Abstract

My presentation discusses two important questions about fishing economics: how much does it cost to catch fish and how does that expense create a social benefit for fishermen, regardless of the money earned from the catch? My research is based in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman, where I have been looking at the theme of generosity, including sharing food, for more than ten years. In this presentation I will explain how much a typical day and season of fishing costs a fisherman, as well as how giving away part of every catch creates a benefit that is more than monetary. Using interviews and personal experiences, I will explain how the cash outlay for gas, nets, bait, etc. is transformed into social, in addition to economic, capital for fishermen.

Data Set

To give an overview of the fishing industry from data collected by the Omani National Center for Statistics and Information (ONCSI), latest available yearly data is 2019, latest monthly data is April 2021:

  • renewed fishing licenses in Dhofar – 2,424 (33%, out of 7,266 for all of Oman)
  • new in Dhofar – 324 (20%, out of 1,607 for all of Oman)
  • renewed boat licenses in Dhofar – 998 (11%, out of 8,847 for all of Oman)
  • new boats in Dhofar – 57 (10%, out of 547 for all of Oman)
  • tons landed by traditional fishermen in Dhofar – 74,400 (14%, out of 550, 210 tons for all of Oman)

In other words, in 2019 in Dhofar 2,748 licensed fishermen using 1,055 boats caught 74,400 tons

Two other data points. First there is a wide seasonal variation because of the monsoon season: approximately 7,794 tons in October 2020 – 10,653 tons in December 2020 – 5,447 tons in February 2021

Secondly, at the last monthly data set available: April 2021: 8,401 tons were landed in Dhofar by traditional fishermen and the same month 1,392 tons landed by all commercial fishermen

information from the ONCSI at:

Selected References about Fish/ Fishing in Dhofar/ Oman (including cooking and historical texts)

In brief, there has been work done on the types of fish along the Omani coast (e.g. Al-Jufaili, Hermosa, Al-Shuaily and Al Mujaini 2010; Choudri, Baawain and Mustaque 2016, Harrison 1980; McKoy, Bagley, Gauthier and Devine 2009) and how fish are sold (e.g. Al-Marshudi and Kotagama 2006; Al Rashdi and Mclean 2014; William and Fidelity Lancaster 1995; “National Aquaculture Sector Overview-Oman” 2019; Omezzine 1998, Omezzine, Zaibet and Al-Oufi 1996; Siddeek, Fouda and Hermosa 1999).

Al-Hamad, Sarah. 2016. Cardamom and Lime: Flavors of the Arabian Gulf, the Cuisine of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the U.A.E. Singapore: IMM Lifestyle Books.

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 Maskiry, Fawziya Ali Khalifa. 2004. A Taste to Remember, 3rd edition. Muscat: Al Nahda Press

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.

Campbell, Felicia. 2015. The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia. London: Andrew McMeel.

Carter, Henry. 1846. “The Ruins of El Balad.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 16: 187-99.

—. 1845. “Notes on the Gara Tribe.” Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society: 195-201.

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.

Cruttenden, Charles. 1838. “Journal of an Excursion from Morbat to Dyreez, the Principal Town of Dhofar.” Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society 1: 184-88.

Ghazanfar, Shahina. 1998. “Status of the Flora and Plant Conservation in the Sultanate of Oman.” Biological Conservation 85: 287-295. 

Gilette, Maris. 2019. “Muslim Foodways,” in The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. Jakob Klein and James Watson, eds. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 48-73.

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.

Higgins, Andrew. 2011. With the S.A.S. and Other Animals: A Vet’s Experiences during the Dhofar War 1974. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Publishing.

Ibn al-Mujāwir. 2008. A Traveler in Thirteenth-Century Arabia: Ibn al-Mujāwir’s Tarikh al-Mustabir 19, Third Series, G. R. Smith, trans. London: Ashgate for the Hakluyt Society.

Ibn Battuta. 1929. Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354. H.A.R. Gibb, trans. London: Rutledge.

Janzen, Jorg. 2000. “The Destruction of Resources among the Mountain Nomads of Dhofar,” in The Transformation of Nomadic Society in the Arab East, University of Cambridge Oriental publications 58. Martha Mundy and Basim Musallam, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 160-75.

—. 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.

Kanafani, Aida Sami. 1979. Aesthetics and Ritual in the United Arab Emirates. unpublished dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.

Lancaster, William and Fidelity Lancaster.  1995. “Nomadic Fishermen of Ja’alân, Oman.” Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-244.

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.

Miller, Anthony, Miranda Morris, and Susanna Stuart-Smith.  1988. Plants of Dhofar, the Southern Region of Oman: Traditional, Economic, and Medicinal Uses. Muscat: Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court.

Mintz, Sidney.  1996. Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Mintz, Sidney, and Du Bois, Christine.  2002. “The Anthropology of Food and Eating.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31:99-119.

Morris, Jan. 2008/ 1957. Sultan in Oman. London: Eland.

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: 203-210.

Patzelt, Annette. 2015. “Synopsis of the Flora and Vegetation of Oman, with Special Emphasis on Patterns of Plant Endemism.” Braunschweigische Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft. 282-317. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281240453_Synopsis_of_the_Flora_and_Vegetation of_Oman_with_Special_Emphasis_on_Patterns_of_Plant_Endemism

Sadeghin, Farideh.  2015, Oct. 27. “The Food of Oman is Too Good to Ignore: Recipe-testing a Middle Eastern Cookbook Gives our Test Kitchen Director a New Love for an Under-appreciated Cuisine.” Saveur. https://www.saveur.com/food-of-oman-cookbook-cuisine-felicia-campbell

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, R. B. 1995. Farmers and Fishermen in Arabia: Studies in Customary Law and Practice. G. Rex Smith, ed. Aldershot, Variorum.

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.

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

Thesiger, Wilfred. 1991/ 1959. Arabian Sands. New York: Penguin.

Thomas, Bertram. 1932, reprint. Arabia Felix: Across the Empty Quarter of Arabia. London: Jonathan Cape.

Webster, Roger. 1991, October. “Notes on the Dialect and Way of Life of the Āl Wahība Bedouin of Oman.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 54.3: 473-485.

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

Yamani, Mai.  2000. You Are What You Cook” Cuisine and Class in Mecca in A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, eds. New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers. 159-72.

topic – fish types

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

topic – catching fish

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.

Lancaster, William and Fidelity Lancaster.  1995. “Nomadic Fishermen of Ja’alân, Oman.” Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-244.

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.

“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: 203-210.

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.

List of seafood

This is a short list of types of seafood eaten in Dhofar. It is not comprehensive and rough translations are given in italics, A – Arabic, G – Gibali.

abalone – sufela, regulated season for a few weeks at the end of November/ December, depending on quantity, some years the season is canceled

amberjack – A shathruch, G shatrach

barracuda –  A akama/ G ‘eqmat (not perceived as dangerous for swimmers close to shore but possibly dangerous for men diving for abalone as fish is attracted to anything sparkling, might bite hand, for example, if person is wearing something silvery)

belt fish – G sasul

black tip trevally – A thumkeri (thum-ker-ri), G thumkiri (thum-kir-ri)

cuttlefish – A habaar, G tarbha, common, usually used for BBQ (not seen as delicacy)

farsh – A gazelle/ G batemeera (only caught with ‘live’ bait, e.g. cut sardines)

grouper –  andak/ andaka/ G. anthka (usually in deepwater @ 200 meters, comes closer to shore in khareef when it can be caught by line)

hagmam – A shatruck/ G shatraq (2rd or 3rd most expensive fish after kingfish, only caught in boxes)

hamour – G difn (2nd or 3rd most expensive fish after kingfish, caught in boxes or by live, usually favorite fish to eat

king fish – A kanud/ G tharnak (most expensive fish at 3 or 4 OR per kilo, caught by line and net, now protected by a winter ‘season’ [allowed to be caught and publicly sold only at certain times], fairly rare in Dhorfar because it prefers flat, sandy seabeds and Dhofar coast/ seabed is usually rocky except the straight, flat beach between Raysut and Taqa)

lobster – shaarkha, regulated season from March to end of the April

mahi-mahi – A anfluss, G bathubon (caught by line)

mussells – A zukka, G zikt (gathered by women at low-tide, often cooked with pasta, usually found along coast north of Salalah)

red mullet – A and G zajajee (only in deep water, caught in boxes)

red seabream – A  fraha/ G farhat (usually in deepwater @ 200 meters, comes closer to shore in khareef when it can be caught by line)

saafi – A seesan, G seedhob (used to be a very important fish for trading, was dried and shipped to other countries, still eaten but not dried and shipped, usually in 2 – 3m water)

salted fish – A marakh malah – salt and raw fish layered in a bucket, covered and kept for 1 to 4 weeks

sardines – freshly caught are served grilled; air-dried (usually on a beach) are used for animal fodder

sea catfish – A khann/ G gamm – least expensive kind of fish, often 200 or 300 baisa per kilo

shark – not often caught/ eaten, owaal – dried shark (sliced open, cleaned and, with skin still attached, the meat is sliced into thin sections, this is dried in the sun for 2 to 10 days, fewer days with lower humidity)

sheri – A shari/ G hamshk

squid – A habaar, G atharaya – usually caught only in khareef, and further north along the coast than Salalah – often 2-4 kilo, better tasting than cuttlefish

sultan Ibrahim – G. ali br dughun (caught in boxes, not by line)

tuna – unregulated season from the end of January/ beginning of February until end of May, best times are March and April, depending on ocean temperature

trevally – A/ G minaya

Houseways: Doorways – Design and Culture

In an earlier essay, I discussed how rooms were arranged: https://mariellerisse.com/2021/07/03/houseways-comparisons-types-of-rooms-and-sightlines/

This essay is one of three related pieces about the interplay between behavior and space: how certain behaviors create a need for a certain kind of space (entryways), how a certain kind of space creates the need for certain behaviors (talking in the salle) and the intermix of house design and behavior (front doorways).

Talking about front doors is, to me, a chicken-and-egg issue. Did behaviors help form door shapes or did door shapes help form behaviors? Impossible to tell.

Whatever the cause, most Dhofari houses have two front doors of differing sizes. The main door, leading to the main hallway, usually faces is the street and is both larger and more decorated than the door which leads to the majlis, which is often at a 90 degree angle to the main door and the street.

In Salalah, main doors of houses that are set-back from the street are often Palladian-style with an arched transom window and thin vertical windows with opaque glass on either side. They are also often wider than average to allow large furniture to be moved in and out. This usually means either one wide door or double doors in which the right-side door is used daily while the left is locked in place and only opened when more space is needed. There is never a post between the two doors as this would defeat the purpose of having a large open space. Screen doors are seldom, if ever, used.

The majlis door is usually the standard size [apx. 115 cm wide, 210 cm high] and, while it might have a transom window, there are usually not windows on either side. It might be a double door, but I have never seen one that was as wide or wider than the main door.

In terms of the connection between structures and behaviors, having wider doors at the main entrance makes sense as this is used by the people who live in the house and women who are visiting. And a Dhofari woman does not often go visiting by herself, she will bring children, sisters, her mother and/ or aunts along and when they arrive, they are greeted by the children who live in the house so that perhaps ten people are standing in/ near the doorway or just inside in the foyer.

Whereas it is more usual for a man to visit a house by himself, and even if a group of men approach the majlis door together there are, as one Dhofari friend says, “protocols” of how men should enter a building. Anyone who visits Dhofar will get used to the logjam/ shuffle that occurs when several men walk up to a doorway. Younger men will step to the side or backwards to show respect; older men will move aside to avoid acting as if they want to go ahead, sometimes gently pulling on the shoulder of another man’s dishdash to allow him the honor of going first. Sometimes the negotiations will take 15 seconds until one man is persuaded to enter, then there might be further parleys until it is decided who will go second. Dhofari men go through doorways one at a time after careful demonstrations of respect and good-will.

The same sequence does not usually occur with women. If four women approach a doorway at the same time, there will not be a delay in entering. Perhaps a young woman might let an older woman go first but for example, children might race ahead or tug their mother’s abayah to pull her forward or a younger woman might enter, then turn around to help an older woman over the threshold.

When leaving, the same dichotomy exists. Women leave together by the main door, unconcerned about who goes through the door first and, in any case, the door is usually wide enough to allow two or more to walk through at the same time. The doorway cluster can be the group of women who came together or, if a single woman came to visit, then the hostess, children and perhaps other women in the house will be near the door to say “goodbye.”

From the majlis, unrelated men leave singly, trying to time “goodbyes” so that one is not approaching the door at the same moment as another man which would necessitate at least a symbolic “after you – oh no, you first – please, I insist – I couldn’t, please go ahead” sort of exchange.

Men who are related or friends can leave in groups as the order of precedence (or lack thereof) is established and will not require gestures of politeness.

To explain this phenomenon another way, there is a general cultural understanding in Dhofar that the person standing on the right hand side of a doorway should enter first. But whereas men will actively try to maneuver themselves towards the left and another man towards the right, women will not attempt to change their position or the position of another woman as they approach a door.

I don’t know all the reasons for the why of this behavior. I think it is partly due to women not wanting to draw attention to themselves in public and wanting to get to an inside space as quickly as possible. Women are also often carrying or leading children and a crying baby or sleeping toddler who needs to be settled is of more importance than who walks in the door first. Also, as women’s faces are usually covered while men’s aren’t, a man stepping aside to let another man go first is publicly showing his good behavior.

From watching men’s behaviors in cafe and on picnics and women’s behavior in the salle, the same dichotomy exists in terms of seating: men actively try to give other men the ‘best seat’ (most central, closest to AC, most comfortable) while women sit where there is space closest to women they know. If there are no seats open in the salle, younger women and/ or women who live in the house will stand up to make place, but if the guest waves them down, there is not a protracted back and forth. Some older women prefer to sit on cushions on the floor and if a woman has settled herself, no one will try to force her to another place.

Anne Meneley, research on Yemen

(photo of Sarfait, close to the Dhofar border with Yemen, taken by M. A. Al Awaid)

I was so pleased that Anne Meneley came to the session on “Social Attitudes Toward Food and Eating” at the recent Just Food conference. It was her work on ‘food and morality’ that helped me start to think about the connections between food and ethical behavior in Dhofar. Although her research focus has moved beyond Yemen (see below) I would like to list four publications which have greatly helped me in understanding Southern Arabia.

Meneley, Anne. 2017. “The Zabidi House,” in Architectural Heritage of Yemen: Buildings that Fill my Eye. Trevor Marchand, ed. London: Gingko Library. 195–203.

—. 2011. “Food and Morality in Yemen,” in Food: Ethnographic Encounters. Leo Coleman, ed. New York: Berg. 17-29.

—. 2007. “Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-De-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks.” Cultural Anthropology 22.2: 214–243.

—. 1996.  Tournaments of Value: Sociability and Hierarchy in a Yemeni Town. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Re-released on the 10th and 20th anniversary of publication – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1436862.Tournaments_of_Value

Selected publications from her website:

https://www.trentu.ca/anthropology/faculty-research/anne-meneley

2020  Anthropology News, 29 June 2020 The Distance of a Hockey Stick, Pandemic Insights.

2020a Hope in the Ruins: Seeds, Plants, and Possibilities of Regeneration. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, online.

2020b The Olive and Imaginaries of the Mediterranean. History and Anthropology 31 (1):66-83.

2019 Walk This Way: Fitbit and Other Kinds of Walking in Palestine. Cultural Anthropology 34(1):130-154.

2018 Consumerism. Annual Review of Anthropology 47:117-32.

2017 The Zabidi House. Architectural Heritage of Yemen: Buildings that Fill My Eye. Ed. Trevor H.J. Marchand, pp. 194-203. London: Gingko Library.

2016 Checking Your Waistline at the Checkpoint: Dieting as a Peace Initiative. Jerusalem Quarterly 68:90-103.

2014a The Accidental Pilgrims: Olive Pickers in Palestine. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5: 186-199.

2014b Resistance is Fertile! The Re-invention of Food: Connection and Mediation, Cristina Grasseni and Heather Paxson, guest editors. Special Edition of Gastronomica Vol. 14(4):70-79.

2014c The Qualities of Palestinian Olive Oil in Fat: Culture and Materiality, Christopher E. Forth and Alison Leitch, eds. pp. 17-31. New York: Bloomsbury.

2014d Discourses of Distinction in Contemporary Palestinian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Production. Food and Foodways 22 (1-2): 48-64.

2014e Comment on Andrew Bevan’s “Mediterranean Containerism.” Current Anthropology 55 (4):408-409.

2011 Blood, Sweat and Tears in a Bottle of Palestinian Olive Oil.  Food, Culture and Society 14 (2): 275-290.

2011 Food and Morality in Yemen.  In Food: Ethnographic Encounters.  Editor, Leo Coleman.  New York: Berg. Pp. 17-29.

2008 Time in a Bottle: The Uneasy Circulation of Palestinian Olive Oil.  Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP). Fall 248:18-23.

2007 Fashion and Fundamentalisms in Fin de Siècle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks. Cultural Anthropology 22:214-243.

2003 Scared Sick or Silly?  Social Analysis 47(2):21-39.   Also reprinted in Illness and Irony.  M. Lambek and P. Antze, eds. 2004  New York: Berghahn.

1999 Goods and Goodness. Social Analysis 43(3):69-88.

1999 Introduction to “The Structuring of Subjectivities in Material Worlds.”  Social Analysis 43(3):1-5.

1998 Analogies and Resonances in the Process of Ethnographic Understanding.  Ethnos 63:202-226.

Today I will be presenting my talk “Ethical Eating in Southern Oman” for the Just Food conference, hosted by the Culinary Institute of America and New York University.

 

“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 9-15, 2021. 

 

My presentation combines research from the fields of anthropology and food studies to examine the connections between food and morality in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman. Much has been written about Arab hospitality in terms of generosity to guests, but this presentation focuses on two other aspects of food-related behaviors: the ethical way to eat and to dispose of food.

 “Ethical eating” refers to two common behaviors in Dhofar. One is the social pressure to eat in such a way that the left-over food is “clean,” meaning suitable to give to others because it is not touched by people’s hands. A second issue is that the remaining food must be given away, as quickly as possible, following the culturally-accepted sharing hierarchy of friends/ family, other humans, then animals.

 The information discussed has been gathered from formal interviews during 2019-2020 and countless social events with Dhofari informants and friends over the past 14 years.

This work is part of my Foodways in Southern Oman project.

Foodways in Southern Oman (Routledge) 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. Marielle 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.

 

https://www.routledge.com/Foodways-in-Southern-Oman/Risse/p/book/9780367859558

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/foodways-in-southern-oman-marielle-risse/1137456632?ean=97803678595587

 

Houseways – Types of Apartments Buildings (Family/ Public)

To start this discussion of apartments in Dhofar, I would like to informally divide apartment buildings into two types: “public” meaning available to be rented to any person (usually expat or non-Dhofari Omani) and “family,” meaning built to be given or rented to only people who the owner knows (usually family or tribe-members) or someone vouched for by a close friend or relative. Thus family-type apartments are almost always rented by Dhofari Omanis.

This difference is sometimes, but not always, by location, as some sections of land in Salalah are occupied by inter-related families within one tribe while others, especially newly-built areas, have a mix of inhabitants.

In general, “public” buildings have several floors and an on-site manager who has a small office and/ or lives in a small apartment near the front door and is responsible for up-keep, fixing problems and keeping an eye on the building.

A person who owns a “public” apartment building will advertise widely, for example hanging a ‘for rent’ sign, taking photos and putting them on social media and/ or registering the apartment with rental companies.

“Family apartment” buildings are usually smaller, either 2 or 3 floors, a subdivided house or apartments built into the back of a family house. When the apartments are ready, the owner will not advertise in any way, but fill the apartments by word of mouth among friends and relatives. There would never be an on-site manager for a family-only building as no one would want someone watching who comes and goes and when.

There are also significant differences in terms of how the rooms are placed and designed which I will discuss in a later essay.

“Family”

For the past 50 years or so, a “house” meant cement-block built living space for a father, mother, unmarried sons and daughters, married sons and their families, older relatives and temporary guests, for example a married daughter whose husband is out of town for work. Sometimes the house would be built to 2 or 3 floors, or one floor was built, then upper floors added when more space was needed.

From the 1990s until recently, sometimes the majlis (the male/ guest sitting room which has its own entrance and bathroom, separated from the rest of the house by an interior door) was rented out in khareef, the monsoon season from the end of June until the end of August. The owner would give the space to family living in other parts of Oman or rent it by letting friends and relatives know the space was available.

Sometimes there was the opposite use of space, in which a house was rented out but the majlis was kept for the owner. For example, if the owner worked in Salalah but lived in the mountains, the owner would be able to use the majlis as a place to nap/ relax and occasionally sleep in and rarely see/ interact with renters who lived in the house.

Another division I have seen (only once) was for the owner to put a new interior wall and a wall in the hosh (courtyard), then broke an exterior wall to make a door, thus lengthwise dividing a one-story house into two apartments: one with the majlis and salle (women’s sitting room) at the front of the house and the second with the kitchen and two bedrooms at the rear. The renters of the back half of the house had a narrow driveway to reach the kitchen door.

 A newer style is to buy land that is open on two sides, usually a main road to the front and an alley to one side. The house is designed with a front gate opening to the main road and a smaller gate on the side (which would normally lead to the kitchen) leading to a door which opens to a small landing with 1 or 2 small apartments. Thus the family lives in the main house, sharing a wall (but not entrance) with several small apartments which can be rented to help pay for the mortgage, given to relatives or, in time, given to the married sons so that the couple has some privacy, while still being close to the husband’s family.

Another style is to make a small apartment block with the same type of divided entrances. For example, a 2 story-building with 4 flats in which 2 flats (ground-floor and 1st floor) are accessed though one gate and the other 2 flats (ground-floor and 1st floor) are accessed through a second gate, with a cement-block wall dividing the hosh into two spaces. (example A, discussed below)

There are a few housing complexes, often only 4 to 10 houses surrounded by a wall with narrow, internal road(s), which are usually “public” and rented to expats, as well as Omanis who use the houses for informal get-togethers, not to live in. A few complexes are for one family, for example a wall surrounding 4 houses and a separate majlis for a man with four wives or a father with several sons. Infrequently there are larger complexes (with over 20 large houses) for one extended family.

Apartments and Sightlines

Another factor besides having a manager and number of units to differentiate “family” and “public” types of apartments is that for “family” apartments, it’s important to limit sightlines for outsiders. For example, in a small apartment building (A) as described above, not only are their two entrances, but each ground floor apartment is given control over the small hosh area, while each first-floor apartment is given control over half the flat, tiled roof.

Thus there are two factors to heighten privacy. First, the inhabitants of all four apartments have their own outside area to use for drying clothes, growing plants in pots, etc. The roof area is divided by a low wall, with the built-in drying racks built at opposite sides of the space.

Second, the building design means that the apartment’s front door is seen by very few people. If a person in the ground-floor apartment wants to leave and, while opening the front door, hears footsteps on the stairwell, they can quickly close the door, wait for the person (from the first-floor apartment) to leave, then go out. Thus the residents can limit or prevent being seen by anyone else.

Whereas a “public” style apartment building would have one hallway on each floor and only one main entrance, with perhaps a small back staircase for fire safety if it was several stories high. Every time a person exited their apartment, they would be on display, so to speak, for all the other neighbors to see and everyone would pass through the main entrance.

Two additional notes:

None of these houseways essays argue that these types of buildings/ ways of using the buildings in Dhofar are unique. I am trying to explain the current pragmatics of housing without making a claim that these methods are found only in southern Oman. For example, the methods of small-scale landlords using renters to find other renters (i.e. preferring to fill small buildings by word of mouth and personal recommendation, not using social media or public signs) reminds me of renting while I was getting my PhD in North Dakota. A friend (X) in my program found a beautiful apartment in a converted house that had two other apartments. Within a year both other apartments were also rented by English graduate students. X had parties, everyone liked the building and location, several colleagues asked about the two other apartments and the owners liked X, so as the two apartments came open, the owners asked X for recommendations. I eventually took over X’s apartment and when I left, another English graduate student took that apartment.

I would like to highlight that both men and women can own land and houses, although it is less common for a woman to live in a house she has bought entirely herself. For example, a woman might be given or buy a plot of land and have a house built which is then rented out while she lives in a house which her husband/ husband’s father owns. As I continue to look into houseways in Dhofar, I hope to find statistics on land and house ownership delineated by gender but among my informants I know of many types of ownership:

  • one man owning the land/ house where his wife, married sons and unmarried sons and daughters live
  • one man owning the land/ house where his wife and children, mother, married brothers and unmarried brothers and sisters live
  • brothers and sisters joining together to buy land and build a house for their mother to live in with them if the mother is widowed or divorced, with the deed either in the name of several siblings or one brother’s name (who acknowledges the ownership rights of his siblings although those rights are not legally represented)
  • one woman owning the land/ house which is rented out

There are a lot of possible permutations as house/land ownership and house/land occupancy are not necessarily the same. For example, it’s rare but an older woman might live alone in her father’s house when all the other family have moved away. The house might legally belong to a brother or a nephew, but the house is discussed as being “hers,” with the understanding that she has the right to live in it until she passes away. On the other hand, a man might live temporarily on land that is not his. For example, when herding camels, a man might set up a semi-permanent camp and stay for several weeks on land that he does not have a permit for.

Example of front door to family apartment building, having one door signals that the interior is divided into apartments as almost all  single-family houses have two front doors, one for the majlis and one for the main section of the house (photo taken by informant who wishes to remain anonymous and given to me for use on this webpage)

I will be presenting “Ethical Eating in Southern Oman” at the annual convention of the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, June 2021.

I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting “Ethical Eating in Southern Oman” at 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 9-15, 2021.

(photo from social media)

y - good morning 1

https://foodanthro.com/2020/12/01/just-food-because-it-is-never-just-food/

https://www.food-culture.org/2021-conference/

Foodways and Living Expat

One of the issues I have run into doing research about food is trying to stay neutral when describing unfamiliar foodways. It’s easy to fall into finger-pointing about “bad food” such as Omanis discussing my oatmeal cookies (to them, they taste like sand) and my declining to try their dried, salted shark filet.

The men in my research group are disgusted at my eating “old” food (cold, leftover pizza) and it took me a long time to accept that a toasted white bread sandwich with processed cheese spread, crushed Chips Oman, a sliced boiled egg and hot sauce is a good snack.

They tease me because I can’t cook rice; I have yet to eat a decent muffin in Oman (and don’t get me started on the hollandaise sauce!) Even food metaphors fall apart cross-culturally: one store had a large sign: “if life doesn’t give you lemons, we deliver.” I think I have enough ‘lemons’ at the moment, I do not want any delivered!

Like at home, my friends know each other’s favorite restaurants, but since food appears and disappears in the grocery stores, we are all on the look-out for basics. You slowly learn what others crave and preform the basic kindness of standing in grocery aisles and calling/ sending messages: “they have blueberry yoghurt,” “molasses is here,” “vanilla powder is in” and “I see Dr. Pepper!”

Shopping is more stressful to me than at home – there’s a lot of hide and seek. Pasta sauce is in three different aisles, and often the salsa is mixed in. Salt has its own section not near the spices (and don’t even dream of finding tarragon or rosemary), sugar is with the coffee not the flour, muffin cups are on the other side of the store from the muffin mix, the few times cranberry sauce appears it is next to the golden syrup, croutons are next to dried soup mixes and crackers are in the cereal aisle.

Then, when you have found something – there is always the debate: is this going to be worth the money? The joy of seeing Ben and Jerry’s was canceled by the fact that the three times I have ventured to try it, the ice cream had freezer-burn. Many delicious-looking cakes and tortes have tasted liked wood shavings. I have bought many items because I was afraid the store would never have it again (green salsa), to encourage the store to keep it in stock (dried tortellini) or that I will never eat (Lindt bears as holiday decorations, cookies and 7-Up for workers).

Once covid hit, friends and I tag-teamed shopping so I learned to find all sorts of things I never knew existed: sprouted rice, coconut flour, beetroot powder and pea pasta.

There a lot of rabbit holes to fall down, especially in reading menus. There are misspellings: “frut” for “fruit, “pommel grenade” for “pomegranate,” “mashromme” for “mushroom,” and “pasilic” for “basil.” Some words are just transliterated so you can get quickly lost with “rocka,” “arais,” “pine” and “akkawi.”

Just as a person needs to learn that “Florentine” means “with spinach,” there are place adjectives in Middle Eastern cooking; for example, “hummus Beiruti” means “with garlic.” When I try to get a pizza the way I want it, I need to use all three ways to describe one thing: green peppers, capsicum, and fil-fil bard (“cold peppers”). And you can’t order a cheese pizza, you need to say “margarita,” but that word is often confused with “fajita” so you end up with a spicy chicken pizza instead of plain cheese. 

In addition to food, it took me awhile to get used to how to eat – I still spill a lot of rice when eating with my hands. And, after a few years, I am finally accustomed to the eat-then-talk-for-hours routine in Dhofar. When a non-Omani friend invited me for dinner (sitting outside!), we arrived at 7:30, were done eating by 9 and as I was expecting that we were going to settle in to talk, she asked for the bill. I was amazed – weren’t we going to “visit”? I had forgotten my previous understanding that dinner in a restaurant took 1 ½ to 2 hours, 3 or 4 hours is normal to me now.

(photo from social media)

IMG_4560

Foodways – Perceptions of “Old”/ “Fresh” Food

(photo by Salwa Hubais)

It is always interesting to have cross-cultural discussions of timing words such as “late” and “early.” If you say that you ate dinner “late,” do you mean 9pm or 2am? If you had breakfast “early,” did you eat at 5am or 8am?

In the same way, perceptions of when food is “fresh” varies widely between cultures. For example in Dhofar a meal of rice and meat, fish or chicken should be eaten right away. After 1 to 3 hours, it is seen as “old,” i.e. not edible/ not suitable to be given away to others and should be put out for animals.

However during Ramadan, the food cooked for iftar is usually left out for snacking for several hours. It is often covered with plastic wrap and placed on a side table but could also be simply left on the ‘table’ (thin plastic drop-cloth) on the ground for a few hours. For example, set out before the sunset call to prayer then people would eat, pray, perhaps eat again, relatives/ friends might stop by to eat, and the food is finally cleaned up/ thrown out/ given away at 10 or 11pm.

How is one meal “old” and another not “old” after several hours? This difference is partially because of method of serving and food choices. A rice and protein for lunch is usually served on a platter with a few sides dishes/ condiments, but iftars should have a much wider variety of food but with fewer portions, thus there is not usually one platter, but many plates (holding, for example, samosas) and small, glass open-proof dishes which are easy to cover.

Rice with protein on a platter is eaten with hands, but iftar choices are usually spooned out of a container or finger food so that when a person takes something, nothing else on the plate is touched. Examples of typical food served at an iftar – spooned out of baking dish: mashed potatoes spread on top of tuna with tomatoes and spices, baked macaroni with white sauce, shredded chicken with tomato and spices, baked compilation of vegetables (pieces of potatoes, onion, carrots, green peppers);  by hand: samosas, baked potatoes wedges, pieces of watermelon and melon.

The same idea obtains for water. On a picnic, water and drinks are usually give out of a coolbox (cooler) or a plastic bag, signaling that they were just bought and hence “fresh.” Since my friends know I always carry water in my car, if I offer anyone a bottle of water that they have not seen me take out of a bag from a store, they will ask, “How long was it in your car?” If I say, “a few days,” they will decline as they don’t want “old” water.

A related cultural construct is what happens when people finish eating? When I have dinner with Italian friends, we talk while eating and then sit at the dinner table for at least an hour after we are done. Dhofaris usually refrain from long conversations while eating and so soon as everyone is finished, the food is taken back to the kitchen or, on a picnic, covered and set aside. One doesn’t talk over the remains of a meal.

meat rice and solona

(photo by Salwa Hubais)