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.

I am happy to announce that my third book, Houseways in Southern Oman,  is now available for pre-order

I am happy to announce that my third book, Houseways in Southern Oman,  is now available for pre-order

https://www.routledge.com/Houseways-in-Southern-Oman/Risse/p/book/9781032218595

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Houseways in Dhofar: Placement of Furniture and Sightlines – التقاليد المتبعة في ترتيب المناز بظفار

التقاليد المتبعة في ترتيب المنازل بظفار: وضع الأثاث وعلاقته بمجال النظر

 

click here to see original post: Houseways in Dhofar: Placement of Furniture and Sightlines

I am very grateful to Arooba Al Mashikhi for her work in translating some of my essays about houses in Dhofar.

I am grateful to Maria Cristina Hidalgo [https://www.mariacristinah.com/ ] for her helpful plans and to my informants who have allowed me to chart their homes.

ممتنة لماريا كريستينا هيدالجو لسماحها لي بالاطلاع على خططها المفيدة، -ولأولئك الذين سمحوا لي برسم منازلهم.

[https://www.mariacristinah.com/]

 

1) Perspective view of front hallway

Model

The first point is that when one walks through the main door, there is often no furniture in sight. Sometimes there is a high, narrow table near the door to set things on that will be out of reach of children or one might be able to get a glimpse into the salle but, as the perspective below illustrates, most of the furnishings are out of sight.

1 – عرض منظوري – للردهة – الأمامية

النقطة الأولى هي أنه عندما يمر المرء عبر الباب الرئيسي،  – لا يجدُ في الغالب اثاثاً. -–توجد أحياناً طاولة مرتفعة وضيقة بالقرب من الباب لوضع  أشياءٍ وإبقاءها – بعيدًا عن متناول الأطفال أو قد يتمكن المرء من إلقاء نظرة خاطفة على الصالة ولكن ، كما يوضح المنظور أدناه ، فإن معظم قطع الأثاث تبقى بعيدة عن الأنظار -.

 

2) Ground floor plan with furniture

Below is a bird’s eye view of the same house, showing how, as is usual in Dhofari houses, all the furniture is placed against the wall except for the small, moveable tables in the salle and majlis which are put in front of guests (represented here with small squares).

2) مخطط الطابق الأرضي مع الأثاث

نجدُ أدناه منظراً من الأعلى لنفس المنزل ، يوضح كيف يتم وضع الأثاث كما هو معتاد في المنازل الظفارية ، حيث توضع جميع قطع الأثاث – بمحاذاة الحائط باستثناء الطاولات الصغيرة المتحركة في الصالة والمجلس والتي توضع أمام الضيوف (- ممثلةً هنا بمربعات صغيرة)

Model

 

A few notes about the ground floor plan:

  • All the furniture is against the wall, most notable in the kitchen which has a small built-in table.
  • The salle is open to the main hallway but there is also a sliding door in the family salle and a door in kitchen, plus the outside door in the majlis. Thus, there could be four different types of visitors to the house at the same time who would not see each other because each were using a different door: male guests in the majlis, female guests in the salle, relatives in the family salle and a cleaner, repair person or someone bringing supplies such as drinking water or a gas canister into the kitchen.
  • The arch over the hallway at the far end separates the more public area (guest and family salles) from the family-only areas of the kitchen and one of the family suites.
  • The bedroom and maid’s room doors are set at 180 degrees from someone walking in from the front door; there is no way to see in “by chance.” Further, the beds are placed in such as way that they can only be seen if a person walks into the room.
  • There is constant air movement; the house has split ACs (meaning the motor is on the roof) and the kitchen and every bathroom has an exhaust fan which are usually on all the time.
  • There are five family suites on the upper floor, meaning the staircase is both the least used in terms of time (no one sits on the stairs) and most used in that every member of the house will use the stairs several times a day, except for the person living in the downstairs bedroom. For example, a women who does not cook might not enter the kitchen every day and a man might not have a reason to enter the salle for a week at a time.

بعض الملاحظات – عن مخطط الطابق الأرضي:

توضع جميع قطع  الأثاث  – بمحاذاة الحائط ،  وتوضع أبرز قطع الاثاث في المطبخ الذي يحتوي على طاولة صغيرة مدمجة – في الجدار.

– الصالة مفتوحة على – الردهة الرئيسية ولكن يوجد أيضًا باب منزَلِق في الصالة العائلية وباب في المطبخ بالإضافة إلى الباب الخارجي في المجلس. وبالتالي ، يمكن أن يكون هناك أربعة أنواع مختلفة من زوار المنزل في نفس الوقت  لا يرى بعضهم  البعض الآخر لأن كلاً منهم كان يستخدم بابًا مختلفًا: الضيوف الذكور في المجلس ، و الضيوف الاناث في الصالة والأقارب في صالة العائلة، وعامل تنظيف او تصليح أوشخصا لجلب – الاحتياجات مثل مياة الشرب واسطوانة الغاز – إلى المطبخ. 

– يفصل القوس – الذي يعلو نهاية الردهة؛ المنطقة العامة (صالة الضيوف والعائلة) عن المناطق المخصصة للعائلة فقط مثل المطبخ وأحد الأجنحة العائلية

– – تُركّبُ أبواب غرف النوم وغرفة العاملة المنزلية – بزاوية 180 درجة – عن – من يدخل من الباب الأمامي حتى لا يتم رؤية مابداخلها “بالصدفة”. علاوة على ذلك ، – توضعُ الأسرة بطريقة لا يمكن رؤيتها إلا – مِمَّن يدخلُ إلى الغرفة.

– هناك حركة هواء – مستمرة لأن المنزل – مزودٌ بمكيفات مركزية (بمعنى أن مروحة المكيف على سطح المنزل)  وفي المطبخ وكل حمام  مروحةُ شفط تعمل عادة طوال الوقت.

– توجد خمسة أجنحة عائلية في – الدور العلوي ، مما يعني أن الدرج هو الأقل استخدامًا من حيث الوقت (فلا أحد يجلس على الدرج) والأكثر استخدامًا ف-  في ذات الوقت لأن كل فرد في المنزل سيستخدم السلالم عدة مرات في اليوم ، باستثناء الشخص الذي يعيش في غرفة النوم – بالدور السفلي. على سبيل المثال ، قد لا تدخل المرأة التي لا تطبخ إلى المطبخ كل يوم وقد لا يكون لدى الرجل سبباً لدخول الصالة – لأسبوع -.

 

3) Example of family suite

Model

 

A door to the hallway which leads to a suite with a bathroom and two rooms is a very common floor plan in Dhofar; sometimes there is an additional store room. When a couple is newly married, one room is a bedroom and the other a sitting room. If they have several children, the suite will be set up as above, with one room for the parents and one for the children. When the children are older, they might be moved into a different suite which has one room with same gender relatives of the same age (siblings, cousins, etc.) and the second room as a study/ plan room. Only in very large houses would one person have a suite to themselves.

3) –  نموذجٌ لجناح عائلي

يعد تخطيط باب – الردهة – المؤدي إلى جناح – مكوَّنٍ من حمام وغرفتين تخطيطاً شائعاً جدًا في ظفار ؛  وقد تكون هناكَ أحياناً -غرفة تخزين إضافية. عندما يتزوج شخصان حديثًا ، تكون إحدى الغرف غرفة نوم والأخرى غرفة جلوس. – وإن كان – للزوجين عدة أطفال ، فسيتم إعداد الجناح على النحو التالي ، – غرفة واحدة للوالدين وغرفة للأطفال. عندما يكبر الأطفال ، قد – ينقلوا إلى جناح مختلف – – فيه غرفة – يشاطرونها أقاربهم من نفس الجنس – والعمر (الأشقاء وأبناء العم ، وما إلى ذلك) – وغرفة – ثانية تُستخدمُ  كغرفة دراسة أو تحضير. ولن تجدَ شخصاً يسكنُ جناحاً بأكمله إلا  – في المنازل – الضخمة.

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.

Updated bibliography for Houseways in Southern Oman, June 2022

Selected references related to Houseways in Southern Oman, Dr. Marielle Risse

(photo by Ms. Onaiza Shaikh)

[references for pre-historic and pre-modern Dhofar are also listed in separate topic-specific bibliographies at the end]

 

Abdelghani, Montasser. 2013. “The Impact of Shopping Malls on Traditional Retail Stores in Muscat. Case Study of Al-Seeb Wilayat.” Regionalizing Oman. Steffen Wippel, ed. New York: Springer. 227-47.

 

Abu-Lughod, Janet. 1989. “What Is Islamic about a City? Some Comparative Reflections,” in Urbanism in Islam: The Proceedings of the International Conference on Urbanism in Islam (Tokyo: Middle Eastern Culture Center): 193-217.

 

—. 1987. “The Islamic City: Historical Myth, Islamic Essence and Contemporary Relevance.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 19.2: 155-76.

 

Adam, Khalid and Liudmila Cazacova, 2012. “The Round Dhofari House Popularity Uniting the Past and the Present.” Proceedings of the 6th International Seminar on Vernacular Settlements. Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta, North Cyprus. 365-74.        

 

Akcan, Esra. 2014. “Postcolonial Theories in Architecture” in A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture (1960-2010). Elie Haddad and David Rifkind, eds. London: Ashgate. 119-40.

 

—. 2014. “Global Conflict and Global Glitter: Architecture in West Asia (1960-2010)” in A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture (1960-2010). Elie Haddad and David Rifkind, eds. London: Ashgate. 317-43.

 

Al Gandel, Thamna and Ibrahim Bryan Finn. 2017. Learn About Dhofar from 530 Questions and Answers. Muscat: Dar al Wraq.

 

Al Harthy, Sultan. 1992. The Traditional Architecture of Oman: A Critical Perspective. Unpublished M.Arch. thesis. The University of Arizona. https://repository.arizona.edu/bitstream/handle/10150/555398/AZU_TD_BOX353_YARP_1120.pdf?sequence=1https://repository.arizona.edu/handle/10150/555398

 

Al Hinai, H., W. J. Batty and S. D. Probert. 1993. “Vernacular Architecture of Oman: Features that Enhance Thermal Comfort Achieved within Buildings.” Applied Energy 44.3: 233-44. 10.1016/0306-2619(93)90019-L

 

Al Ismaili, Ahmed. 2018. “Ethnic, Linguistic, and Religious Pluralism in Oman: The Link with Political Stability.” Al Muntaqa 1.3: 58-73.

 

Al Kathiri, Muna Salim and Liudmila Cazacova. 2014. “Islamic Architecture Features and Modern Housing: A Case Study of the North Awqad District in Salalah, Oman.” The International Journal of the Constructed Environment 4: 1-18.

 

Al Mohannadi, Asmaa Saleh, Raffaelo Furlan and Mark David Major. 2019. “Socio-Cultural Factors Shaping the Spatial Form of Traditional and Contemporary Housing in Qatar: A Comparative Analysis based on Space Syntax.” Proceedings of the 12th Space Syntax Symposium.

 

Al Mohannadi, Asmaa Saleh and Raffaello Furlan. 2019. “Socio-cultural Patterns Embedded into the Built Form of Qatari Houses: Regenerating Architectural Identity in Qatar.” Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal 12.4: 1-23.

 

Al Thahab, Ali, Sabah Mushatat, and Mohammed Abdelmonem. 2014. “Between Tradition and Modernity: Determining Spatial Systems of Privacy in the Domestic Architecture of Contemporary Iraq.” ArchNet – International Journal of Architectural Research 8.3: 238-250.

 

Albright, Franklin. 1982. The American Archaeological Expedition in Dhofar, Oman, 1952-1953. Washington DC: American Foundation for the Study of Man.

 

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Selected references – Al Baleed and Sumhuram

Albright, Franklin. 1982. The American Archaeological Expedition in Dhofar, Oman, 1952-1953. Washington DC: American Foundation for the Study of Man.

Avanzini, Alessandra, ed. 2008. A Port in Arabia between Rome and the Indian Ocean (3rd C.BC. – 5th C.AD) Khor Rori Report 2. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider.

—. 2007.“Sumhuram: A Hadrami Port on the Indian Ocean,” in The Indian Ocean in the Ancient Period: Definite Places, Translocal Exchange BAR International Series 1593. Eivind Heldaas Seland, ed. Oxford: Archaeopress. 23-31.

—. 2002. “Incense Routes and Pre-Islamic South Arabian Kingdoms.” Journal of Oman Studies 12: 17-24.

Avanzini, Alessandra and Alexander Sedov. 2005. “The Stratigraphy of Sumhuram: New Evidences.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 35: 11-7.

Belfioretti, Luca. and Tom Vosmer. 2010. “Al-Balīd Ship Timbers: Preliminary Overview and Comparisons.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 40: 111-18.

Buffa, V and A.V. Sedov. 2008. “The Residential Quarter,” in A Port in Arabia between Rome and the Indian Ocean (3rd C. BC – 5th C. AD). A. Avanzini, ed. Khor Rori Report 2, Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider: 15-59.

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

Cleveland, R. L. 1960. “The 1960 American Archaeological Expedition to Dhofar.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 159: 14-26.

—. 1959. “The Sacred Stone Circle of Khor Rori (Dhofar).” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 155: 29-31.

Costa, Paulo. 1982. “The Study of the City of Zafar (Al-Balid).” Journal of Oman Studies 5: 111-50.

Degli Esposti, Michele and Alexia Pavan. 2020. “Water and Power in South Arabia: The Excavation of “Monumental Building 1” (MB1) at Sumhuram (Sultanate of Oman).” Arabian Archeology and Epigraphy. 1 – 29. DOI: 10.1111/aae.12159

Franke-Vogt, Ute. 2002. “Remarks on the Classification of the Pottery from Al-Balid, Dhofar (Oman).” Unpublished ms., Office of the Advisor to HM the Sultan for Cultural Affairs: Muscat-Salalah.

Fusaro, Agnese. 2021. “The Islamic Port of al-Balīd (Oman), between Land and Sea: Place of Trade, Exchange, Diversity, and Coexistence.” Journal of Material Cultures in the Muslim World 1.1-2: 67-95. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/26666286-12340003

Giunta, Roberta. 2009. “Coins from Al Balid, A Preliminary Report.” Unpublished ms, Office of the Advisor to HM the Sultan for Cultural Affairs: Muscat-Salalah.

Ibrahim, Moawiyah and Ali Tigani ElMahi. 1997. “A Report on Two Seasons of Sultan Qaboos University Excavations at Al-Balid, Dhofar 1996-7.” Unpublished ms. Office of the Advisor to HM the Sultan for Cultural Affairs: Muscat- Salalah.

Jansen, Michael, ed. 2015. “The Archaeological Park of Al-Baleed, Sultanate of Oman. Site Atlas along with selected Technical Reports 1995-2001.” Muscat: Office of the Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan for Cultural Affairs.

Newton, Lynne and Zarins, Juris. 2014. “A Possible Indian Quarter at al-Baleed in the Fourteenth-Seventeenth Centuries AD?” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 44: 257-76.

Orazi, Roberto. 2002. “The Harbour and City of Khor Rawri.” Journal of Oman Studies 12: 210-222.

Pavan, Alexia. 2020. “The Port of Al Baleed (southern Oman), the Trade in Frankincense and Its Coveted Treasures.” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 29.1. doi:10.31338/uw.2083-537X.pam29.1.13

—. 2017-2018. “Husn Al Baleed: Civil and Military Architecture along the Indian Ocean in Medieval Times.” Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology 13-14: 28-41.

Pavan, Alexia and Michele Degli Esposti, 2016. The Urban Shrine in Quarter A at Sumhuram: Stratigraphy, Architecture, Material Culture. Quaderni di Arabia Antica, Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider.

Pavan, Alexia, Agnese Fusaro, Chiara Visconti, Alessandro Ghidoni, and Arturo Annucci. 2020. “New Researches at The Port of Al Balid and Its Castle (Husn): Interim Report (2016-2018).” The Journal of Oman Studies 21: 172 – 199

Pavan, Alexia, S. Laurenza, and R. Valentini, 2020. “Masonry and Building Techniques in a Medieval City Port of the Sultanate of Oman: Preliminary Typological Atlas at al-Balīd.Newsletter Archeologia 10.

Pavan, Alexia and Chiara Visconti. 2020. “Trade and Contacts between Southern Arabia and East Asia: The Evidence from al-Balīd (southern Oman).” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 50: 243–257.

Pirenne, J. 1975. “The Incense Port of Moscha (Khor Rori) in Dhofar.” Journal of Oman Studies 1: 81-96.

Yule, Paul and K.K. Mohammad. 2006/ 1998. “Report on Al-Baleed Pottery: Reference Collection,  RWTH Aachen University” Muscat: Office of the Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan for Cultural Affairs.

Zarins, Juris. 2007. “Aspects of Recent Archaeological Work at al-Balid (Zafar), Sultanate of Oman.” Proceedings of the Seminar of Arabian Studies 37: 309-24.

Zarins, Juris and Newton, Lynne. 2012 “Al Balid: Ancient Zafar, Sultanate of Oman. Report of Excavations, 2005-2011 and Salalah Survey.” Unpublished ms., Muscat-Salalah.

 

Selected references: Himbert, Rose and Usik – Pre-historic

Hilbert, Yamandu. 2013. “Khamseen Rock Shelter and the Late Palaeolithic-Neolithic Transition in Dhofar.” Arabian Archeology and Epigraphy 24: 51-8.

Hilbert, Yamandu, Ash Parton, Mike Morley, Lauren Linnenlucke, Zenobia Jacobs, Laine Clark-Balzan, Richard Roberts, Chris Galletti, Jean-Luc Schwenninger and Jeff Rose. 2015. “Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene Archaeology and Stratigraphy of the Southern Nejd, Oman.” Quaternary International 282: 250-263. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1040618215001603

Hilbert, Yamandu, Jeff Rose and Richard Roberts. 2012. “Late Paleolithic Core Reduction Strategies in Dhofar, Oman.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 42: 1-18.

Hilbert, Yamandú, Vitaly Usik, Christopher Galletti, Ash Parton, Laine Clark-Balzan, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Mike Morley, Zenobia Jacobs, Lauren Linnenlucke, Richard Roberts and Jeffrey Rose. 2015. “Archaeological Evidence for Indigenous Human Occupation of Southern Arabia at the Pleistocene/Holocene Transition: The Case of al-Hatab in Dhofar, Southern Oman.” Paléorient 41.2: 31-49.

Rose, Jeff. 2022. An Introduction to Human Prehistory in Arabia: The Lost World of the Southern Crescent. New York: Springer.

Rose, Jeff and Yamandu Hilbert. 2014. “New Paleolithic Sites in the Southern Rub’ Al Khali Desert, Oman.” Antiquity 88.341. https://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/rose341

Rose, Jeff, Yamandu Hilbert, Anthony Marks and Vitaly Usik. 2018. The First People of Oman: Palaeolithic Archaeology of the Nejd Plateau. Sultanate. Muscat: Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

Rose, Jeff, Vitaly Usik, A. Marks, Yamandu Hilbert, Chris Galletti, A. Parton, V. Černý, J. Geiling, M. Morley, and R. Roberts. 2011. “The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia.” PLoS ONE 6(11) e28239.

Usik, Vitaly, Jeff Rose, Yamandu Hilbert, P. Van Peer, and Anthony Marks. 2013. “Nubian Complex Reduction Strategies in Dhofar, Southern Oman.” Quaternary International 300: 244-66.

 

Other selected references – pre-modern

Adam, Khalid and Liudmila Cazacova, 2012. “The Round Dhofari House Popularity Uniting the Past and the Present.” Proceedings of the 6th International Seminar on Vernacular Settlements. Eastern Mediterranean University, North Cyprus. 365-74.    

Bortolini, Eugenio and Olivia Munoz. 2015. “Life and Death in Prehistoric Oman: Insights from Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Funerary Practices (4th – 3rd mill. BC).” Proceedings of the Symposium: The Archaeological Heritage of Oman. Paris: UNESCO. 61-80.

Charpentier, Vincent, Jean-Francois Berger, Rémy Crassard, Fredico Borgi and Philippe Béarez. 2016. “Les Premiers Chasseurs-collecteurs Maritimes d’Arabie (IXe-IVe millénaires avant notre ère) [Early Maritime Hunter-Gatherers in Arabia] Archéologie des Chasseurs-collecteurs Maritimes. Catherine Dupont and Gregor Marchand, eds. Paris: Société Préhistorique Française. 345-66. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311650424_Les_premiers_chasseurs-collecteurs_maritimes_d’Arabie_IXe-IVe_millenaires_avant_notre_ere

Charpentier, Vincent, Alex de Voogt, Remy Crassard, Jean-Francois Berger, Federico Borgi and Ali Al-Mashani. 2014. “Games on the Seashore of Salalah: The Discovery of Mancala Games in Dhofar, Sultanate of Oman.” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 25: 115-120.

Cleuziou, Serge and Maurizio Tosi. 2020. In the Shadow of the Ancestors: The Prehistoric Foundations of the Early Arabian Civilization in Oman, second edition. Dennys Frenez and Roman Garba, eds. Muscat: Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.

Costa, Paulo. 2001. Historic Mosques and Shrines of Oman. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.

—. 1983. “Notes on Settlement Patterns in Traditional Oman.” Journal of Oman Studies 6.2: 247-68.

Cremaschi, Mauro, Andrea Zerboni, Vincent Charpentier, Remy Crassard, Ilaria Isola, Eleonora Regattieri, Giovanni Zanchetta. 2015. “Early-Middle Holocene Environmental Changes and pre-Neolithic Human Occupations as Recorded in the Cavities of Jebel Qara (Dhofar, southern Sultanate of Oman).” Quaternary International 382: 264-76.

de Cardi, Beatrice. 2002. “British Archeology in Oman: The Early Years.” Journal of Oman Studies 12, 2002.

Garba, Roman. 2020. “Window 48- Triliths. Hinterland Monuments of Ancient Nomads. Window 48,” in In the Shadow of the Ancestors: The Prehistoric Foundations of the Early Arabian Civilization in Oman, second edition. Dennys Frenez and Roman Garba, eds.Muscat: Ministry of Heritage and Tourism. 500-10.

Garba, Roman, Alžběta Danielisová, Maria Pia Maiorano, Mahmoud Abbas, Dominik Chlachula, David Daněček, W. Al-Ghafri, Stephanie Neuhuber, Denis Štefanisko and Jakub Trubač. 20202. TSMO (Trilith Stone Monuments of Oman) Research Project Expedition Report of the 2nd Season 2019-2020. Muscat: Ministry of Heritage and Culture. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341193620_TSMO_EXPEDITION_REPORT_OF_THE_2nd_SEASON_2019-2020_campaigns_TSMO_2A_2B_Ministry_of_Heritage_and_Culture_Sultanate_of_Oman

Garba, Roman and Peter Farrington. 2011. “Walled Structures and Settlement Patterns in the South-western Part of Dhofar, Oman (poster).” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41: 95–100.

Hulton, Jessop and J. Smith. 1830. “Account of Some Inscriptions Found on the Southern Coast of Arabia.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 5.1: 91-101.

McCorriston, Joy, Michael Harrower, Tara Steimer, Kimberly D. Williams, Matthew Senn, Mas‘ūd Al Hādhari, Mas‘ūd Al Kathīrī, ‘Ali Ahmad Al Kathīrī, Jean-François Saliège and Jennifer Everhart. 2014. “Monuments and Landscape of Mobile Pastoralists in Dhofar: The Arabian Human Social Dynamics Project 2009-2011.” Journal of Oman Studies 12: 117-44.

Newton, Lynne. 2010. “Shrines in Dhofar,” in Death and Burial in Arabia and Beyond: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Society for Arabian Studies Monographs 10. Lloyd Week, ed. 329-340.

Newton, Lynne and Juris Zarins. 2017. The Archaeological Heritage of Oman. Dhofar Through the Ages. An Ecological, Archaeological and Historical Landscape. Muscat: Ministry of Heritage and Culture Sultanate of Oman.

Potts. D. 2016. “Trends and Patterns in the Archaeology and Pre-Modern History of the Gulf Region,” in The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History. J.E. Peterson (ed.). London: Bloomsbury. 19-42.

Zarins, Juris. 2001. The Land of Incense: Archaeological Work in the Governorate of Dhofar, Sultanate of Oman, 1990-1995. Muscat: Sultan Qaboos University Publications.

Zerboni, Andrea, Alessandro Perego, Guido S. Mariani, Filippo Brandolini, Mohammed Al Kindi, Eleonora Regattieri, Giovanni Zanchetta, Federico Borgi, Vincent Charpentier and Mauro Cremaschi. 2020. “Geomorphology of the Jebel Qara and Coastal Plain of Salalah (Dhofar, southern Sultanate of Oman).” Journal of Maps 16:2, 187-198.

Zimmerle, William. 2017. Cultural Treasures from the Cave Shelters of Dhofar: Photographs of the Painted Rock Art Heritage of Southern Oman. Washington: Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center/Liberty Press.

—. Crafting Cuboid Incense Burners in the Land of Frankincense: The Dhofar Ethnoarchaeology Preservation Project. 2017. Washington: Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center/Liberty House Press.

Houseways in Dhofar: Placement of Furniture and Sightlines

I am grateful to Maria Cristina Hidalgo [https://www.mariacristinah.com/ ] for her helpful plans and to my informants who have allowed me to chart their homes.

1) Perspective view of front hallway

The first point is that when one walks through the main door, there is often no furniture in sight. Sometimes there is a high, narrow table near the door to set things on that will be out of reach of children or one might be able to get a glimpse into the salle but, as the perspective below illustrates, most of the furnishings are out of sight.

Model

2) Ground floor plan with furniture

Below is a bird’s eye view of the same house, showing how, as is usual in Dhofari houses, all the furniture is placed against the wall except for the small, moveable tables in the salle and majlis which are put in front of guests (represented here with small squares).

Model

A few notes about the ground floor plan:

  • All the furniture is against the wall, most notable in the kitchen which has a small built-in table.
  • The salle is open to the main hallway but there is also a sliding door in the family salle and a door in kitchen, plus the outside door in the majlis. Thus, there could be four different types of visitors to the house at the same time who would not see each other because each were using a different door: male guests in the majlis, female guests in the salle, relatives in the family salle and a cleaner, repair person or someone bringing supplies such as drinking water or a gas canister into the kitchen.
  • The arch over the hallway at the far end separates the more public area (guest and family salles) from the family-only areas of the kitchen and one of the family suites.
  • The bedroom and maid’s room doors are set at 180 degrees from someone walking in from the front door; there is no way to see in “by chance.” Further, the beds are placed in such as way that they can only be seen if a person walks into the room.
  • There is constant air movement; the house has split ACs (meaning the motor is on the roof) and the kitchen and every bathroom has an exhaust fan which are usually on all the time.
  • There are five family suites on the upper floor, meaning the staircase is both the least used in terms of time (no one sits on the stairs) and most used in that every member of the house will use the stairs several times a day, except for the person living in the downstairs bedroom. For example, a women who does not cook might not enter the kitchen every day and a man might not have a reason to enter the salle for a week at a time.

3) Example of family suite

A door to the hallway which leads to a suite with a bathroom and two rooms is a very common floor plan in Dhofar; sometimes there is an additional store room. When a couple is newly married, one room is a bedroom and the other a sitting room. If they have several children, the suite will be set up as below, with one room for the parents and one for the children. When the children are older, they might be moved into a different suite which has one room with same gender relatives of the same age (siblings, cousins, etc.) and the second room as a study/ plan room. Only in very large houses would one person have a suite to themselves.

Model

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Houseways: House plans

(drawings by Maria Cristina Hidalgo, https://www.mariacristinah.com/ )

Below are three houseplans with comments to help illustrate living spaces in Dhofar.Model

House 1 – It is easy to note that this is an older house, probably built in the 1980s or 90s, as it has the salle as the main, not separate, room. The second (back) door is also built off the salle, not from the kitchen as is usual in more modern houses. The unmarked room would be for storage. Also note that the internal door to the majlis opens directly into the salle; now there is usually a short hallway, or at least the entrance is set at an angle so there are no direct sight lines.

Model

House 2- Note that now the salle is now a separate room and there are two doors between the  majlis and the rest of the interior of the house so that the house feels more segmented. Also there is an internal door in the hallway, to give the two back bedrooms more privacy.

IMG_2010

House 3 – built approximately 2010.

These three examples show how the trend in housing is towards creating more closed off/ divided spaces. In house 1, a person sitting in the salle would have visual access to anyone coming or leaving; in house 2 someone in the salle could see the front door but in house 3 only a person sitting opposite the salle entrance could know who was coming or leaving. Likewise in house 1, someone in the kitchen could hear what was being said in the salle; in house 2, it would be more difficult but one could hear the sounds of people in the hallway. In house 3, the kitchen is very cut off from the rest of the house. In both houses 1 and 2, the majlis is separated from the rest of the house by the bathroom area and two doors. 

 

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.