A growing number of old-style Omani homes, abandoned by their inhabitants for the comforts offered by modern-day dwellings, are being stripped of their richly carved wooden doors, often by the owners themselves, but sometimes by young alcoholics who use the proceeds from the sale of these elements of Oman’s priceless heritage to fuel their addiction.
Thanks to the menace, mud-brick Omani neighbourhoods, which stand as monuments to the nation’s rich architectural and historical legacy, are being gradually stripped of their atmospheric appeal and tourist charm.
This form of vandalism, the Observer understands, is particularly rife in small villages in the interior parts of the country. As Omani families move from their dilapidated mud-brick dwellings in their farms to new homes bristling with all of the amenities of modern-day living, their abandoned lodgings inevitably become prey to thieves.
First to be coveted are the old-style doors, prized for their wooden carvings and distinctive metal studs. Other possessions that are left behind because they are not compatible with a modern home are ransacked as well.
According to local villagers quizzed by the Observer, in some instances, the owners themselves dismantle the old wooden doors and sell them to local dealers. However, in a significant number of cases, the culprits are young men looking to make some quick bucks in order to feed an addiction, invariably alcohol in this case.
Heedless of the intrinsic value of these wooden doors, they burn these fixtures and convert them into charcoal, which is then sold in the local market for a few Omani rials per bag.
The practice recently came to light when a youngster set up an informal wood-charcoal trading business in his local village. In his dealings with some local traders, he inadvertently revealed that the source of wood for his merchandise came from antique doors burgled from abandoned Omani homes.
Some traders, hoping to capitalise on the demand for old-style Omani wooden doors, have sought to smuggle their contraband to neighbouring markets where these artifacts command top dollar. Easier channels for connecting sellers with buyers are online marketing portals like OLX. The asking price for a well-maintained pair of doors is as much as RO 1,000, it is learnt.
In demand are heavy, intricately carved doors with metal studs that will eventually end up as adornments or furnishings in high-end restaurants or homes. It is not uncommon to find examples of Omani doors as coffee-tables or shelves in plush eateries. They even serve as garden décor in the homes of connoisseurs of traditional artifacts.
Recently, Oman’s authorities decided to crack the whip on vandalism that mars the historical and tourist appeal of sites that are part of the nation’s heritage. Article 343 of the new Omani penal law states: “The penalty, with imprisonment for a period not less than a month and not exceeding two years, shall be applied to any person who commits any kind of robbery not mentioned in other articles of this chapter”.
Aziza Rashid, an Omani researcher, comments: “Oman’s rich heritage is reflected in these old houses and villages. The doors, in particular, are made of either teak or ebony shipped in from overseas markets across the oceans. Omani carpenters and craftsmen then worked on them to create the masterpieces that we see adorning the frontages of old homes these days.”
Protecting these old neighbourhoods is key to safeguarding the nation’s rich historical legacy, Aziza stresses. “It is heartbreaking to see houses being stripped of their decorative elements. It is vital to keep this legacy alive. The government should consider preserving these historical sites or moving some of these houses to protected areas, which can then be developed to promote tourism and boost the local economy. It is imperative that the authorities move quickly to conserve these remnants of our rich history.”
Mai al Abria