At a time when the traditional crafts are on the verge of extinction, the need for preservation and restoration has become essential and urgent.
We need to ask ourselves these questions. Why is revival of traditional crafts important? What is the reality of these talented people and their crafts? What should we, as citizens, do to preserve them? And what is the importance behind documenting these crafts?
Oman is one of the pioneers when it comes to preserving handicraft industries. The government has paid great attention to its social culture.
The revival of handicrafts requires a thorough study of the culture, heritage and economic aspects of these crafts that showcase their beauty and value, emphasise national identity and enrich cultural memory.
The scientific definition of the folklore and connection of these crafts to the customs and traditions of Omani society also support the country’s income through increased travel and tourism.
Nowadays, traditional and handicraft industries have become more popular compared with all other modern industries. This could be because of their capability in absorbing a section of the unemployed and providing job opportunities for the young people.
Bader al Harthi, a photographer interested in documenting crafts and the life of craftsmen, says, “What makes me portray this kind of art is their spirit of giving, love for the profession and their patience. By portraying these people, I provide awareness about those hands that work with perfection and without boredom.”
Bader has faced difficulties in finding these talented people who are experts at making amazing traditional crafts. There are few people who still preserve these original crafts, but what surprised him the most was that while travelling around the Sultanate looking for these crafts, he came across many talented men and women who helped him document original crafts that are an essential element of this country’s heritage.
He saw women and men, including sons and daughters, willing to learn the “dying art” from these talented people. What surprised him even more was that the children welcomed and enjoyed learning about these crafts, ensuring it does not become a part of forgotten history.
How many of us are concerned about the importance of reviving these traditional crafts? How many of us take our children to watch or learn about these crafts, which are a significant element of our heritage, culture and lives?
For instance, do our children know how traditional mats were made? A wild plant cut from the valleys was washed and dried, and then connected in a particular pattern to make what we call ‘Haseer’, (name given to the mats that we sit on).
Bader says by meeting these people and talking to them, he learned about these crafts. He learnt how they were made and where they were used.
He focused his trips on different wilayats, documenting the handicrafts and traditional industries across the Sultanate. His was a different and interesting approach, where he documented these industries in reference to the present era of modern technology.
He fears that in the absence of such work, many of these traditions would become extinct and talented crafters would be forgotten forever.
His dream is to write a book about these disappearing traditions and crafts.
He hopes to organise exhibitions by giving a platform to showcase these industries and products.
We, as citizens of this nation, should update ourselves about traditional crafts. We should support local crafts, create spaces and welcome them into the markets and remind people of their value and importance.
We should encourage our peers as well as the next generation to involve themselves with these industries, learn about their cultural identity and preserve these traditions.
With support from the government and initiatives of the people, many industries like that of palm trees, clay pottery industry, dagger industry, handicrafts, sweet industry, textiles, and manufacture of wickers, mats and baskets are now thriving.
Traditional crafts and industries shouldn’t become a rarity seen only at festivals and carnivals. They should be part of our everyday lives. Like the other traditional industries, they too have a history of being passed down from generations. It is important they survive for generations to come.
Siham al saidi