A treasure-trove of Omani crafts
A fascinating exhibition offered jointly by the Public Authority for Craft Industries (PACI) of the Sultanate of Oman and WIPO, was one of two organized on the sidelines of WIPO’s annual meetings. It also marked the 40th anniversary of the country’s National Day.
One of the world’s hottest and most arid regions, Oman is endowed with spectacular landscapes as well as a rich and unique cultural heritage. Its handicrafts originally emerged as skills of survival in harsh desert conditions. Today, under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, “a far-sighted policy of regulated development… aims to protect and nurture Omani traditions, including the heritage crafts which have sustained Omani society for millennia.”
Referring to the unique character of Omani heritage, Mrs. Aiysha bint Khalfan Al-Siyabiya, PACI chairperson said, “For centuries, Omanis have applied their creativity to developing craft-making skills that made good use of their natural resources.”
PACI, established by Royal Decree in March 2003, aims to promote Oman’s crafts sector and ensure traditional skills survive and provide employment for new generations of artisans. It trains and supports craft workers and helps in identifying new markets for their wares. It also registers, documents and conserves the crafts of different regions and identifies the needs of artisans.
In the exhibition brochure, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, pointed to the “multitude of craft industries developed over generations through the ingenuity and creativity of the Omani people” and applauded the Government of Oman’s commitment to ensuring this sector continues to develop and flourish.
This colorful and insightful exhibition showcased a range of traditional handicrafts, including precious metalwork, fine textiles, palm weaving and pottery. Delegates were offered an opportunity to see craft workers practice their skills firsthand. Oman’s traditional crafts sector is thriving in spite of globalization and modern manufacturing techniques.
Pottery and ceramics
Photos: Courtesy of Omani Crafts
Pottery is one of Oman’s most commercial traditional industries. Omani potters are renowned for the beautiful designs of their hand-thrown pots.
“The classic beauty of Oman’s earthenware has a timeless geometric grace of form which has made it a favorite amongst interior designers.”
Basket-making is still widely practiced. Natural fibers such as date palm and ghadaf, a desert plant, are woven, plied, coiled, plaited, stitched and twined to make a variety of products. No part of the plant is wasted although techniques vary from region to region.
“In Omani tradition, silver symbolizes purity and is believed to have talismanic value, bringing good fortune and protection from evil.” The Sultanate is renowned for its traditional silverware, and its silversmiths are famed for their high-quality work, particularly in producing the khanjar, an ornate dagger which remains a feature of male attire on formal occasions.
The khanjar is a hallmark of Omani heritage, identity, manhood and pride. The skill and precision required to create these ornate designs are a testimony to the fine craftsmanship of Omani silversmiths. The khanjar is worn on an ornate leather belt decorated with silver wire.
Omani silver jewelry – spiked bracelets, rings adorned with precious stones (al khatim), the mafraq (a type of headdress), earrings, pendants, brooches, etc. – is a feature of female Omani attire and also plays a role in traditional dance routines.
The Sultanate is renowned for its hand-woven cotton and woolen textiles and leather goods.
Carpentry and woodwork
A nation with a rich maritime history, Oman has a strong shipbuilding tradition. The exhibition featured models of fishing and trading vessels some of which are still in use today. Omani shipbuilding can be traced back 4,500 years.
These ornate chests, which vary in size and are highly collectible, are traditionally made from rosewood, walnut or other special woods and inlaid with brass, gold or silver and precious stones.
The jerz (axe)
Dating from the Bronze Age, the jerz is a distinctive symbol of the Musandam region. Made from intricately carved indigenous wood, it features a small axe-shaped head of engraved steel inlaid with brass.
The famed rose gardens of Jabel al Akhdar are the source of traditional rosewater production. Rosewater is often sprinkled on guests as a mark of respect. It is widely used to flavor tea, coffee and a range of culinary dishes, including Omani halwa, a hallmark of Omani hospitality.
“Shrouded in the mists of legend… the precious beads of crystallized sap were once worth their weight in gold.”
Frankincense, a prized fragrance among Omanis, is at the heart of a flourishing cottage industry. A centerpiece of Omani culture, it is used to demonstrate hospitality towards guests. This mystic fragrance is drawn from the Boswellia tree which fringes the arid Nejd desert and the dry lower reaches of the Dhofar region. Incisions made in the trunks of the trees release a pearly white liquid which hardens into semi-opaque beads. It has a number of therapeutic properties and is widely used in perfumery and cosmetics.