Introduction

The Sultanate of Oman’s musical tradition is an integral part of its social, political, economic, geographical and religious history. Eloquent testimony to this is borne out by the thousands of anthologies of verse which form the text of Omani folk songs and which present a living history of events that have social lessons for the present and the future as well as the past. Traditional poetry embodies all these qualities.

There are over 130 different forms of traditional Omani songs and dances and each is a part of a rich tapestry. Modern Omani music is but a single strand of the country’s musical heritage. Recognizing that Oman’s present-day situation and achievements were all rooted in the past with an ancient history, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said issued directives that the country’s musical heritage should be collected and documented in order to ensure that it was preserved for future generations. The Oman Centre for Traditional Music (OCTM) was established in 1984 for this purpose.

Since its inception, the Centre has documented more than 80% of Oman’s musical traditions, including more than 23,000 photographs, 580 audiovisual media and a large number of sound recordings. The Centre has moreover compiled a digitized database of these documentation materials. It takes a comprehensive approach to the documentation of musical traditions, because in Oman, traditional music is part and parcel of the traditional lifestyle, which includes healing, fishing, planting and other work techniques. The centre has identified more than 130 different types of traditional music in Oman, which can be classified into four main traditional expressions of Omani song. These are sea shanties and fishing songs, celebration songs, Bedouin traditional music and traditional mountain music.

It is fortunate for the Sultanate that its government and leader, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, realizes the importance of preserving the arts and contributes tangibly to this cause through the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture; through television and radio and the establishment of the ‘Oman Centre for Traditional Music’.

“During its long history of civilization, Oman has been characterized by certain unique features that distinguish it among Arab and Muslim countries, such features that are clearly reflected in its historical character.

“The first, noblest and most brilliant of these features is the adoption by the people of Oman, of God’s true religion, the religion of Islam, at the summons of the last of the Prophets – Sayyiduna Muhammed – PBUH – during the noble Prophet’s lifetime.

“The Omani people, by adopting Islam of their own free will, made of Oman’s territory an extension of Islam’s birthplace and cradle, by the free choice of its people, where the belief in monotheism (God’s one-ness) became deeply rooted in their consciousness. Thus they later became a positive influence in spreading the Muhammadan creed and bearers of its message, wherever they trod or wherever their ships anchored.

“The early advent of the people of Oman to the realm of God’s orthodox religion of Islam has made its imprint on all aspects of Omani life, both individually and nationally. It has marked their traditional arts handed down in the oral tradition for many generations, until they came to us, to flourish under the patronage and care of the enlightened policy and guidance of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the exalted, and to be collected and documented according to modern scientific methods. This legacy of “arts” inherited from our ancestors is a very rich reflection of the influences of the Muhammadan creed, in the Omani consciousness, both past and present. It is natural than an Omani should seek the blessing of God’s name and that of prayers for his Prophet, whenever he sings: in his work songs, in his wedding songs and in other festive occasions as well.

“If Islam has influenced all aspects of life of the Omani people throughout their long history of civilization, the most prominent form of that influence is the unique architectural style that characterizes all monuments, whether old citadels or new buildings, a style that emanates the fragrance of a deep-rooted past, and an illustrious present.

“Omanis sailed the waters and were true masters of the sea. Some of them settled on the east coast of Africa, where they spread the message of Islam, God’s true religion, among the inhabitants of that continent where the message of Islam had not yet reached them. The people of the African coast, and its islands – there the earth with all its bountiful products that God has given to man became totally under their command, and they established a maritime empire, endowed equally with all powers, material and spiritual, cultural and military.

“Oman’s maritime history abounds with achievements and glories. The Omani – with his courage and daring, with his wisdom and knowledge of the secrets of the water and the sky – became master of the seas. He watched the starts and registered their movements in order to forecast from them the direction of the winds and predict what the sea might have in store for him, what dangers or surprises. Thus the ports of East and West became familiar and safe for him, and he would return from them his merchant ships laden with all the good products of God’s vast lands.

“With those goods, certain cultural influences permeated Oman’s traditional arts, from various sources, as if they were a record of Oman’s sea life. Thus, from east Africa and west Asia, the Omanis took some of the drums used in their arts, and from the dance types of the African coast or west Asia, they adopted dance types similar to those of the original sources. All these came to Oman, where they became amalgamated with the indigenous arts, in an artistic culturally homogenous texture that is truly representative of all that is Omani.

These are the traditional arts of Oman; a true reflection of Oman’s historical character which is closely associated with the rich legacy and traditions of its deeply-rooted people. This legacy was handed down from one generation to another, until it was handed down to us, to come under the care of His Majesty’s enlightened government, which undertook the task of collecting this ever-lasting national heritage. This responsibility has been gallantly tackled by the Ministry of Information, availing itself of all its means and tools for the collection and documentation of the arts inherited by our beloved country, by our fathers and forefathers.”

Faysal bin Ali bin Faysal Al-Said
Minister of National Heritage and Culture (October 1995)

 
   
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