Food and Culture

My current research focuses on the practices and perceptions of buying, making, eating and disposing of food among Dhofaris in the southern region of Oman. I am examining details of food preparation (who makes what kind of food in which location), as well as when, where and how food is eaten. I will also compare Dhofari food traditions with anthropological accounts from Yemen and recent changes in food culture including expanding selection of foods, hiring people to help with cooking, dieting, monetizing food and cooking methods.

“Accounts from the Journeys of the Brig ‘Palinurus’ along the Dhofar Coast Oman in the mid-1800s” – presentation at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Sept. 15, 2018

[painting: Island of Faroun near the head of the Sea of Akabah. Showing the HEIC’s surveying vessel Palinurus. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London]

I will be presenting “Accounts from the journeys of the brig ‘Palinurus’ along the Dhofar Coast in the mid-1800s” at the Exploration and Memory Conference, Mational Maritime Museum, September 14 and 15th.

https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/exploration-and-memory-conference

This three-day conference, from Thursday to Saturday, will consider exploration from the vibrant perspective of memory studies. Presentations will focus on the history, poetics, and material and visual culture of exploration, exploring how these have changed over the years and what their legacies have been, and continue to be.

Thursday

  • Collections and memory

Unseen Art of Australia’s First Fleet; Naval collecting between Cook and Darwin; Sir Rex Nan Kivell: ‘Collecting the explorers’ and not recalling ones’ past

  • Remembering people

Mapping movement and memories of coastal South America, 1680–1750; Representations of James Cook in Australia during the 1920s and 1930s; Convicts and Cartography in the Australian Colonies

  • Memorialization

Remembering the shipwreck of the Querina, 1431–32; Lost and forgotten: the story of the first Cook memorial; 21st Century challenges to the memorialisation of explorers

Friday

  • Knowledge and Encounter

British perceptions of difference in voyage narratives to the South Seas in the 1740 and 1760s; Encountering a “Savage” Land in the Romantic Era; Indigenous knowledge in New South Wales and London in the early nineteenth century

  • Histories

The Afro-Brazilian architectural heritage in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin; Exploring inter-personal spaces in India-Bangladesh borderlands

  • Making memory

Pacific Encounters: museums and memory making; The Taonga have memories too; Rites of space at ‘the shrine of geography’: the Royal Geographical Society, memory and exploration

  • Film, science and exploration

Arctic expedition and encounter; Fragmented Landscapes: Memory, Photography and the Polar Expedition

Saturday

  • Memory and encounter

Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios: exploration, ethnography, and identity negotiation; The Battle of Goringhaiqua and the death of Viceroy D’Almeida: contested histories, popular memory and ancestral voices

  • Travel writing

Between poles of memory in Ed O’Loughlin’s Minds of Winter;  Accounts from the journeys of the brig ‘Palinurus’ along the Dhofar Coast in the mid-1800s; Time and memory in Antarctic exploration literature for children

Hurricane Mekunu

Still trying to get my house dried out. Deepest thanks to the electricity, water and phone companies – all three stayed on during the storm which made everything easier. The government did a great job of warning people (to the point of forcing people to evacuate from low-lying areas), arranging free housing, food and water. Many civil aid trucks are out and about; roads are getting cleared. Darbat is RUNNING!

The patience and tolerance to live harmoniously in an unfamiliar culture; the fortitude to be content with less than comfortable circumstances for prolonged periods; an understanding of and sympathy with a foreign history and religion; a willingness to learn a new language; the flexibility, imagination and humility necessary to climb into the head of people who live by a very different set of assumptions; none of these are found automatically in our modern developed Euro-Atlantic culture. (Gardiner, In the Service of the Sultan, 174)

 

 

 

 

I will be presenting at the Maritime Exploration and Memory Conference, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England – Sept. 2018

Accounts from the Journeys of the Brig “Palinurus” Along the Dhofar Coast in the mid-1800s

Dr. Marielle Risse

Although there is a fair amount of written descriptions about the northern part of Oman, there were few travelers who wrote about the southern region of Dhofar until the 1970s. The first sustained exploration by Westerners was done by two teams on the Brig “Palinurus.” Captain Haines and his crew from the Indian Navy surveyed and explored the Dhofar coast in 1834, 1835 and 1836. Commander J. P. Saunders, with the same ship and some of the same crew, continued this surveying work in 1844-1846. Both Haines and Saunders published accounts of their voyages,

The primary focus of these journeys was to figure out how the lands investigated might be of use to the British government and merchant class, as when Haines tried to buy the island of Socotra from Sultan Omar to use as a depot for steam-boat traffic between India and England. But there is a fascinating wealth of cultural and historical information from the articles written by members of the “Palinurus.” For example, the brig’s assistant-surgeon, Henry Carter, wrote up a brief archeological survey of “The Ruins of El Balad” (1846), in which he includes a succession of rulers/ governors of the Dhofari coast. Cruttenden’s short article (1838) details his journey from “Morebat” [Mirbat] to Dyreez [Dhariz],” approximately 71 kilometers along the coast.

My paper will discuss the articles published in relation to the “Palinurus” voyages along the Dhofar coast to compare the details of what was recorded in the mid 1800s to the present day. I will also briefly mention later travelers who came to the region by boat including Theodore & Mabel Bent and Bertram Thomas.

 

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

Differences/ Hierarchies

I have no fear of bugs and love camping because of the time I spent in the Caribbean as a child. The geography of Salalah also reminds me of the Caribbean island I knew because Dhofar, uniquely on the Arabian Peninsula, has a summer monsoon season (called Khareef, the Arabic word for ‘autumn’) which brings in 3 months of rain/ drizzle. Salalah has farms with coconut, papayas, mangos, bananas and limes. Many houses have gardens with bougainvillea, hibiscus, and oleander like houses in the Caribbean.

But beyond the physical remnants of the island, there is a psychological and intellectual level. Steve Caton’s Lawrence of Arabia: A Film’s Anthropology (1999) struck a deep chord with me in terms of how the “theme of the outsider, of the individual who does not feel comfortable in his or her own society” from the film resonated in his own life and in the lives of many anthropologists (145).

When I read Abu-Lughod’s question from “Writing Against Culture,” “Does difference always smuggle in hierarchy?” (1991 146), my answer is ‘not if you don’t want it to.’ I disagree with the cliché that anything that makes a difference makes a division.

Abu Lughod states that it is part of “anthropological discourse to enforce separations that inevitably carry a sense of hierarchy” (1991 138). Further, “self is always a construction, never a natural or found entity… the process of creating a self through opposition to an other always entrails the violence of repressing or ignoring other forms of difference” (140). In a later article she argues that “a difference between self and other will always be hierarchical because the self is sensed as primary, self-formed, active and complex, if not positive. At the very least, the self is always the interpreter and the other the interpreted.” (2008 13). Or put another way, “Can we think of a difference without putting it against a norm?” (Mascia-Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen 1999 29).

I think we can. I think people can code a norm as a norm for only ourselves and recognize that it is/ should not/ must not be the norm for anyone else, hence a norm without prescriptive power.

Given my background, I don’t believe that the hierarchy is an essential part of discussing cultures. I loved our island and cordially hated Columbia, the town I grew up in, but even as a child I couldn’t say that one ‘culture’ was better or worse than another – they were merely different. I have spent almost sixteen years living overseas in four different counties and have lived in seven different American states, I can’t rank any of those cultures into any kind of hierarchy.

When I hit a cultural aspect that’s difficult for me – the question is ‘why is this hard to deal with?’ The fact that you have to pay for garbage to be taken away in Vermont was annoying because I didn’t have extra cash. The fact that you don’t in North Dakota doesn’t make one state better or worse – it simply means to you have to think about all sort of factors such as cost of land, location of land-fill sites, tax burdens, ground water supplies, price of gas, cost of maintaining garbage trucks, etc. People may, or may not, always be partial to their own culture, but refusing to say, “My culture is best” is an intellectual choice. It’s impossible to say that a grilled cheese sandwich at noon is a better lunch than rice and mutton at 2pm.

Except for physical harm, most constructs that are deemed “better” simply need to be picked apart and analyzed for how that construct fits into larger issues. For example, Dhofari families with small children are often restaurants at 10pm. This is soemtimes  viewed by expats as bad child-rearing. But strict and early bedtimes in America, for example, are linked into to a host of other physical and mental cultural features.

Children have an early bedtime in America because there is a cultural understanding that children and adults live on separate time schedules and do different activities. In the States it is common for children to eat different things at different times than adults. Children often have their own room, so they can be put to sleep separately from adult sleeping spaces. Parents may often not have seen each other since the morning and might welcome an hour or two of peace and quiet to watch TV or talk.

In Dhofar, children and adults live in the same rhythm, for example, eating the same food at the same. In Salalah, adults who work and school-age children get up early, but for others it’s normal to rise at 9 or 10 am. Omanis eat lunch at home, so there is two to three hours space for parents to talk in the middle of the day. Everyone takes a nap after lunch so people are refreshed for staying up late. Thus, families with children are often seen eating in restaurants, shopping or picnicking at ten or eleven at night.

 

“I Came to You for Good”: An Ethnographic Discussion of Folk Tales from Southern Oman. – RAI, London, October 26, 2017

baby baby

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

Risse, Marielle. “‘I Came to You for Good’: An Ethnographic Discussion of Folk Tales from Southern Oman.” Third Joint Seminar of The Folklore Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute;  Royal Anthropological Institute, London. October 26, 2017.

http://folklore-society.com/events/folklore-and-anthropology-in-conversation-1

In the 1970s Dr. Tom Johnstone documented the un-written, Modern South Arabian languages of Gibali and Mehri in the Dhofar region of southern Oman by recording autobiographical stories and folk tales. Several of these spoken folk tales were translated into written English and published by Aaron Rubin in 2014. My presentation will explain how these folk tales, recorded just at the beginning of modernization, reflect worldviews that I see daily in my anthropological work in Dhofar.

I will demonstrate how these texts are representative of southern Omani culture by analyzing the various textual elements of the folk tales such as use of setting, characters, plot events and theme. These texts are among the very few documents transliterated in Gibali and help illustrate ways in which the Dhofari culture has, and has not changed, since the rapid modernization after the 1970s. I am specifically interested in how the folk tales reflect still current understandings of the nature of the relationship between married couples and the existence of djinn.

Anthropology – Literature – Travel Writing

DSCN0200

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

When I began to read anthropology texts about the Middle East. I found, as with travel books, anthropology is always fixated on “just vanishing, dusk-shrouded other whose shape can be discerned at the moment it slips forever from sight’ (Gilsenan 232). Literature, luckily, is not embedded with the same, depressing ‘it’s all over’ rhetoric of travel writing and anthropology. But it was interesting to see Peacock try to work out the relationship between the genres:

Ethnography is unlike literature and like science in that it endeavors to describe real people systematically and accurately, but it resembles literature in that it weaves facts into a form that highlights patterns and principles. As in good literature, so in good ethnography the message comes not through explicit statement of generalities but as concrete portrayal. (83)

What is significant is the vision of someone’s (the native’s) existence interpreted through he sensibilities of someone else (the ethnographer) in order to inform and enrich the understanding of the third party (the reader or listener). Ethnography in this sense is like literature: as a source of psychological and philosophical insight (and possibly aesthetic pleasure) when read as the author’s struggle to elucidate a perspective on life through his portrayal of a way of living – as he experienced it and analyzed it. (100)

Peacock, James. The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus. CUP; New York, 1986.