Friday, May 6, 2011

Masirah and Muscat, 1937

Muscat Harbour guarded by Fort al-Jalali,

Fort al-Jalali, a recent photo
 of the 16th century semtinel
at the entrance of the harbour 
 I assumed that Baba must have sighted the sandy side of Masirah from the deck of his ship. 
But I never knew if he set his foot on the pebbled shore of Sur, the coastal town famous for being the birthplace of the traditional dhow and Sinbad the Sailor.
But I supposed Baba must have been captivated by the sight of the twin forts on the ramparts which protected the entrance to the harbour in Muscat.
The vessel he boarded must have skitted across the horse-shoe bay before it anchored near the trading port.  He must have taken the dhow to the corniche which wound its way from the souk-as-samak, the fish market, and led him to the ancient Mattrah souk. 
  His thoughts must have flown to Ummi, her fingers, wrists and neck decked with gold ornaments, when he and his mates entered the gold souk by the Shi'ite mosque.  The display cases at the goldsmiths would have spilled with silver, copper and gold anklets, bracelets, chains, ear studs and hair accessories for the ladies.  The narrow mazes of the gold souk then opened up into the main thoroughfare, which would have been jammed with shops selling dishdashas, belts, gilded canes, long saifs and short khanjars for the men.  Wooden chests, woollen rugs, straw mats, reed baskets, clay vessels and bukhoors would have lined the pavements, while tiny tables crammed with Arabian perfumes, frankinsence and myhrr.  The air must have been thick with incense and sweat as they dug into their paper thin Omani bread, yellow mandy rice and charcoal-grilled lamb.
  The Omani food may have tasted bland to his palates, but he must have been told by the local traders that its people were fierce and fearless.  Baba must have noticed too that they were about the same built as the Yemenis, and like them, those in the interior were used to fighting harsh sand storms and fueding tribal rivals in the arid desert.  The coastal people had always had to fend off military incursions by the Romans, Persians, Portugese and Turks. 
  Baba must have learned from the locals that Afonso de Albuquerque had attacked and occupied Muscat four years before the Fall of Melaka in 1511.  And 130 years later, between 1648 and 1650, the Imam of Oman had avenged the deaths of the men, women and children in the Massacre of Muscat and, 330 years later in 1840, Said ibni Sultan had finally driven off the Feringgis from Omani soil and all the way off the coast of Zanzibar!
  Talks about the constant friction between the Imams of the interior and the Sultans of Muscat and Zanzibar must have reminded him of the tensions between Abah and himself.  He surmised that Abah, had he been bitten by the travel bug, would have visited the castles and forts of Jibreen and Nizwa and commisserated with the muttawaks about this hukum and that fatwa instead of just smoking and playing cards with the locals at Mattrah.

No comments: