Centuries of trading with other nations and an imperial history have created a race that is multi ethnic and many colored; fair, dark and brown complexions, all are part of the Omani people. Predominantly Arab, with Arabic as the official language and also language of daily use, intermarriage with other groups particularly from East Africa and Asia, has resulted in this varied ethnological mix.
Omani people have a strong sense of their tribe and usually their names indicate which tribe they belong to. The three major racial strains among Omanis include Omanis, the Baluchis and the Zanzibaris.
The Omanis, it is believed belong to two main tribes, the Hinawis and the Ghafiris. The Hinawis moved in from neighboring Yemen and the Ghafiris from Central Arabia. The Baluchis, who are originally from the region of present day Baluchistan, came into Oman as warriors and were mobilized to the Sultan’s army as mercenaries in the wars with the Persians. Today they are concentrated up the Batinah coast and speak Urdu and Arabic. The Zanzibaris migrated into Oman from Zanzibar, present day Tanzania, once a colony of the Sultan of Oman. Zanzibaris or Zinzibaris as they are often called, speak both Swahili and Arabic.
Smaller ethnic groups like the Kumzaris in the Musandam Peninsula, who speak an Indo Iranian dialect which is a mixture of Farsi, Arabic and Portuguese and the JIbbalis, a Jewish community in the Dhofar region, who speak `the language of the birds’, a completely disparate language, complete the multicultural racial picture. Trade with India resulted in the settlements of Indian traders in Oman, notably the Baniya community from Sind, many of whom though Hindu, have been granted citizenship by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
The population of Oman today number around three million and includes about half a million expatriates.
The national dress for men is the dishdasha and for women the dress varies depending upon the region.
The dishdasha is a long, collarless, full sleeved gown stretching up to one’s ankles. The most commonly worn color is white, although a variety of other colors such as black, blue, brown and lilac can also be seen today especially among the youth. A tassel (furakha) is stitched into the neck line and is usually perfumed. A plain piece of cloth worn from the waist down under the dishdasha completes part of the national dress.
Omani men sport a variety of head dresses. The most common head dress is the kummar, an intricately embroidered cap. The men often also wear a muzzar, a finely woven woolen or cotton fabric, wrapped and folded into a turban, covering the head and sometimes partially the ears. Underneath this, the kummar is sometimes worn. On formal occasions, the dishdasha may be covered by a black or beige cloak, called a bisht. The embroidery lining the bisht is often in silver or gold thread and is intricate in detail.
The Omani dress is incomplete without the Khanjar, a silver, hand-crafted knife or dagger. Traditionally worn at the waist, it is a symbol of Omani masculinity and elegance. The dagger is characterized by the distinct curve of the blade and a near right angle bend of the sheath. The Sheaths may vary from simple ornate silver to heavily decorated ones embellished with precious stones. The shapes and type of Khanjar vary depending on the region. Most handles of the Khanjars are flat though the ones used by the ruling class, the `Saidi’ is rounded with a cross shaped top.
The shawl, a long strip of cloth is worn as a band across the waist acting as a holder for the khanjar. The shal is usually made from the same material as the muzzar. Alternatively, the holder may be fashioned in the form of a belt made from leather and silver, which is called a sapta.
Men also carry the assa, a wooden stick, which is simply used as an accessory during formal events.
Omani men, on the whole, wear sandals on their feet.
In direct contract to the staid color sense of the Omani men, the women have a bright and colorful dress tradition with clothes depicting their region. (Need material)
In general, all women wear the abeya over the regional dress. Most Omani women leave their face uncovered and cover the head with a colorful scarf except for Bedouin women of the Sharqiyah region, who wear a peaked face mask or a burqa, covering their face with openings for their eyes and mouth.
Food and Lifestyle
It is only apt that a nation of sea farers and traders should imbibe a world cuisine. Omani cuisine does have traditional dishes but has adapted remarkably to international influences over the many years. Locally available cuisine tends to be of Lebanese origin but food in Omani homes reflects Oman’s ethnic diversity.
Omani hospitality begins with khawa or Omani coffee. Served with dates, Khawa is unlike western coffee in that it is made by mixing ground coffee beans and cardamom. It is served into small cups without handles and the cup holds not more than two ounces of this dark, strong brew. It has a strong aroma and leaves a bitter after taste.
On the whole, Omani food is simple and multicultural. Most of the whole meals have rice or bread as the main ingredient along with cooked meats; chicken, mutton or beef. Salads are a must with every meal and are usually based around fresh vegetables, smoked eggplant, tuna fish, dried fish or watercress. The main meals are usually eaten at midday and the evening meals tend to be lighter.
There is not much that is purely Omani but for some selective dishes like the Shuwa, Harees, Kabuli, Maqbous, Aursia, Mashuai and the Rukhal.
Harees is wheat powder boiled and flavored with chicken and tomato, seasoned with pepper, lime and cumin seeds, served with ghee and garnished with slices of onion fried in oil. Maqbous is rice tinged with saffron and cooked with spicy red or white meat. Kabuli is a tasteful combination of potatoes, meat and rice flavored with garlic, onions and raisins. Mashuai is a meal of whole king fish roasted in a pit and served with lemon rice.
Festival meals have distinctive Omani flavor and taste. Aursia is a meal served during celebrations and consists of mashed rice flavored with spices. The festival of Eid brings along a variety of Omani dishes. Ruz al mudhroub, a dish made of cooked rice and served with fried fish, and maqdeed, special dried meat begin the Eid celebrations. The last day’s lunch during Eid features the `Shuwa’, an Omani delicacy prepared only on special occasions.
Whole villages participate in making this dish, which consists of a whole goat or a cow, roasted up to two days in a special oven prepared in a pit dug into the ground.
The elaborate cooking ritual begins with marinating the meat with red pepper, turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom, garlic and vinegar. The meat is then tied with palm fronds or sacks of dry banana leaves. These sacks are then put inside the oven and covered and sealed with a lid so as to not allow the smoke to escape. The sacks, buried in the sand are left to cook between 12 – 24 hours. The succulent meat is ready to be served with dried onions after 24 hours!
It is in Ramadan that the Omani cuisine displays its variety. At Iftar, the breaking of the fast, two of the most popular dishes are the sakhana and the fatta. Sakhana is a thick sweet soup made of dates, molasses, wheat and milk and fatta is a meat and vegetable dish mixed with Rukhal, Omani bread. The Rukhal bread is a thin, round bread originally baked over a fire made from palm leaves. It is eaten at any meal, typically served with Omani honey for breakfast or crumbled over curry for dinner.
For Dessert, Omani halva or sweet meat is the popular favorite. The main ingredients that make up this sweetmeat are light and dark sugars, water, starch, ghee, rosewater, cardamom, nutmeg and almonds.
Festivities always come to a close with a brazier passed around, on which is placed frankincense or bokhur; bokhur is a mixture of sandalwood, myrrh, jawi and dhufran.