Last weekend, over a hundred Scots from around the world gathered in Muscat to celebrate, “The Last Hurrah”, a decade of great Highland Balls which began in Vienna in 2008 and have since been held in Vienna, Venice, Istanbul, Jodhpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan and Florence. What started as a one-off Northern Meeting for Scottish expats became a series of journeys, each one greater than the last.
Oman was an obvious and perfect destination for this year’s event, with its wild mountains and pristine beaches, celebrated pipe bands and passion for military music and traditional dance – which may possibly be the last Hoorah in the series. Oman’s beloved Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the longest-serving leader in the Arab world, was in the Cameroonians after Sandhurst and since then he has run a unified, stable and peaceful country that is infused with his love of Classical and Military Pipe Band music.
“Omanis are friendly, warm people who welcomed the visiting Scots and made a unique connection – through the energetic Scottish Reel,” said convenor and organiser of Scots in Oman, Canadian born, Andrena Woodhams. Andrena and some other chieftains play the bagpipes well, and gave a fine finale rendition by the beach to close the last night.
The first event of the “gathering of the clans” in Muscat was a reception and attendance on Thursday evening at the popular ‘Military Music: Oman and the World’, which takes place annually in the Maidan Square of the Royal Opera House, Muscat. This year the production included performers from China & Poland which showed the extent of Oman’s global cultural connections. The visitors were absolutely delighted with Oman’s Tattoo and the balmy weather – which just isn’t available in Edinburgh at this time of year!
The main focus of this gathering was the opportunity to spend time dancing Scottish reels and jigs – the authentic Country Dances of the regions. On Friday night the Desert Ball, or Grand Highland Ball, complete with dance cards, was hosted on the lawns of the Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The gentlemen participants were dressed in their traditional kilts and sporrans, and the women in sumptuous ball gowns, making a magnificent display of tartans and colour. Live music was provided by the ceilidh band, ‘Wayne Robertson Band’, flown in especially for the occasion from all over different parts of Scotland.
The whole evening had an air of a banquet from days of yore. Tables were set with place names and each course was served by white-gloved waiters from the hotel. But the fayre was not haggis and cabbage; rather entrées of Arabic mezze with flatbread and main course of Shuwa, originating from Sudan, and delicious skewered kebabs.
It must be added that the guests were not highland crofters, but English Public School educated – with the odd Laird of the clan attending – sponsored by Oman Air, Amouage and African and Eastern .
This was also an opportunity to showcase what Oman does best, and the award-winning, Royal Army of Oman Band opened the proceedings with band-music and traditional Omani dancing.
On the third night, there was an ‘Omani Ceilidh’, a social event with folk music, singing, and traditional dancing. This one also incorporated a hundred Bedouins and fifty camels in a horse and camel riding display by members of the Royal Cavalry and other Omani elements.
Outside the main weekend events, most people attending took the opportunity to explore the mountains, sea and deserts of Oman. Some flew to Salalah the next day to experience some of the historical sites of Dhofar, others to Khasab for relaxing dhow trips in the famous fjords “This gathering of the clans is a wonderful way of promoting everything Oman has to offer, as well as strengthening the bonds which already exist between Oman & Scotland” said the Master of Ceremonies, Mark Tennant. Let us hope that these well-heeled dancers do visit Oman again and that the spirit of Hurrah lives on for another decade.