The Sultanate of Oman, located on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered on the north by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the northwest by Saudi Arabia and the southwest by Yemen is a country of astounding beauty. It also possesses a proud heritage. Explore the culture, traditions and heritage of Oman on a Middle East cruise.
Oman Ancient History
Archaeological discoveries in the ancient city of Ibri have yielded animal bones, stone and flint implements, pottery, shells, and other items. Some of these items date to the Bronze and Stones ages, while other artifacts have been determined to be pre-Bronze Age.
Sumerian Tablets referring to a country named “Magan” as a source of copper indicates that copper mining was already developed by 2000 BC. Evidence indicates there was trading, fishing and farming in what is now Oman. The modern-day name of the country is believed to be derived from migrants from the Yemeni region, Uman.
Ruled by Persian Dynasties from 6th century BC, Oman was one of the first countries to embrace Islam in the 7th century AD. After accepting Islam, Oman came to be ruled by the elected leader, the Imam. Ibadhism quickly became the dominant Islamic sect in Oman.
The Portuguese conquered coastal regions of Oman in the early 1500s and ruled Oman until 1650. The Sultan of Oman established hereditary sultans as the new rulers in place of the elected Ibadhi Imams.
Oman Modern History
Oman became so powerful that by the 1800s it was the most powerful country in Arabia with considerable influence in East Africa Coastal Areas. However, with the death of Sayyid Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid in the mid 19th century, a series of struggles for power broke out until the 1920 Treaty of Seeb was implemented. The Treaty of Seeb provided for the ruling of interior Oman by the Imam, while the coastal areas of Oman would be ruled by the Sultan.
The Treaty of Seeb did not last long, once oil was discovered in interior regions of Oman in 1954 and the Imam was defeated with aid from the British. The Treaty of Seeb was nullified as was the office of the Imam.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said assumed rule of Oman in 1970 and made developmental programs to enhance education and develop the country’s natural resources a priority. The modern history of Oman continues to evolve, adding to the rich heritage and modernization.
Cuisine in Oman is centered around rice. While the morning meal is often leftovers, the mid-afternoon meal is considered the most important meal of the day. In addition to rice with a sauce there is also fish or meat served. There is no pork in the Omani diet, as it is forbidden by Islam. Evening meals are again light.
Dates are also important in the Omani diet and are often served to show hospitality. If visiting Oman on a Middle East cruise during the month of Holy Ramadan, be respectful of the culture and do not eat, drink or smoke in public.
The geography of Oman adds to its’ curiosity and mystique. Although vast areas of desert cover central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north and southeast coasts, Oman was once a place covered by oceanic waters. Coastal plains now account for just 3% of the land area. The entire country covers an area approximately 300,000 kilometers, slightly larger than the State of Kansas.
The coastal areas of Oman are so rugged that the Elphinstone Inlet has been compared to Norway’s fjords. In all, there are seven distinct natural geographical areas dividing Oman. The principal seaport area is at Muscat, the capital of Oman since the early 19th century.
The very location of Oman has contributed to its isolation. But the geographic barriers also have made Oman less attractive to potential foreign invaders. The natural beauty of Oman means that the country does not have to go to the lengths that some other countries have to go to in order to attract tourists to its vast deserts, wilderness, mountain ranges and coastal regions.
Politics in Oman
The Sultan Qaboos recognized the need for balancing political structure in Oman along with other areas which had been modernized recently. The new 26 Council of Ministry members, all of whom are appointed by the Sultan of Oman serve as the Cabinet.
In the Sultanate monarchy, the Sultan serves as both head of state and head of government. This means he can appoint and dismiss his ministers without having to cite a reason. There are few checks on the powers of the hereditary position of Sultan of Oman.
In 1996, he presented the first constitution of Oman guaranteeing certain rights under Qur’anic and customary law. It also sets forth the procedures for naming the successor to the current ruling Sultan.
In 2000, the upper chamber of the bicameral representative body was appointed which included five women. The role of women in politics has since been well-accepted in Oman.
The weather in Oman varies somewhat, depending upon the geographical area that you are in. In the Dhofar region, the most fertile area, there is a monsoon climate. The plateau areas of Oman also flourish when there is adequate rainfall in the area. In the plains areas, humidity may reach ninety percent, while the majority of Oman is very hot and dry year-round.
The interior regions of Oman are the hottest and driest, with temperatures normally reaching over 125F. The coastal areas can suffer damage from occasional cyclones.
Wildlife in Oman adds to the spectacular natural beauty of the Sultanate. Tourists often enjoy safaris or wildlife viewing as a feature of their vacation to Oman. Numerous species of whales and dolphins make their home off the coast of Oman. With outstanding dive sites in Oman as well as marine life tours, visitors can also enjoy the many species of marine life which flourishes in Oman.
There are over 400 species of birds in Oman, as well as gazelles, Arabian Onyx, leopards, ibex, wild cats, several species of foxes and other mammals and rodents. Tourists will certainly be able to enjoy a wide variety of wildlife in Oman.
Oman is a country with a rich heritage and proud peoples who have made Oman their home for centuries. Oman is very tolerant of other groups outside its own native residents. The natural beauty, geography, and wildlife in Oman are just a few of the reasons visitors will enjoy the Sultanate of Oman.
The northern part of Oman is separated from the Southern Dhofar region by several hundred miles of desert, which has resulted in the people of Dhofar remaining culturally distinct. Other small communities of various sects are scattered throughout Oman. The primary language of Oman is Arabic, although some people of Dhofar speak unique South Arabic languages.
Omani Homes are marked with clear gendered spaces. There are segregated sitting areas even in special events of celebration such as a marriage.
Marriages in Oman, even among the well-educated are still primarily arranged, with marriage to a cousin preferred. There are still few marriages in Omani culture that are based on love rather than being prearranged. In public, females are usually chaperoned by a male relative, particularly when at an event or party where males will be present.
Clothing worn by the Omani people advertises, so to speak, their tribal or ethnic group. Head covering is required for men as well as women. Most girls leave school at an early age as Oman is one of the countries where there is a high rate of early marriage. Girls rarely return to school once they have left. Low skill levels among men are attributed to the fact that many boys leave school early seeking employment.