The persistence of scarecrow culture among Omani farmers

Shamis bin Rashed al Kindi grew up in a farm. And more than 30 years ago, farming was the only way of life that many people in Oman knew.
At the tender age aof 14, he accompanied his father to their small farm located a few minutes away from Rustaq. On this farm, they grew everything possible — from different root crops to dates and depending on the season, some leafy vegetables.
In the absence of reliable technology, like everywhere else in the world during that time period, necessity was the mother of invention and one of the many things that were very useful to them is using scarecrows to drive birds away from their farms.
It was an ancient means that has proven to be effective and even in modern times, when fertilizers and modern deterrents are already available, many of the farmers in the area still use this method of guarding their farms against unwelcomed visitors.
“Without smart devices, television, and electricity, we have to think of ways on how we can do farming properly,” he said.
“We learned from our fathers some of the best practices of doing work and these were passed down from family member to another,” he added.
The 1930s and 40s were different times. Farmers all over the world faced different obstacles and birds were considered as pests for being number one cause of low harvests. Attacking farmlands in large numbers, they were quite a challenge to face. In Oman, added to the problem is the climatic conditions and the availability of water, which is why all produce was precious.
Even then, the scarecrows were localised, Shamis recalled. He said that it was common practise to use old clothes. Women often go through their stack of unused clothes, give them to their husbands who would then hang these clothes on tree branches that would hold their shapes.
“You will see many of them in different farms wherever you go. They were quite a sight to behold,” he recalled.
Today, some of the scarecrows are dressed in old disdashas with matching kuma. In Shamis’ village, dozens of them are spread in different fields. Some playful young farmers even went as far as putting faces to their scarecrows.
Nassra al Hinaei, a 50-year old farmer, shared that a lot of things have changed on the way Omani farms their land. She pointed out that for instance, while Omani themselves were very hands-on in farming in the past, it’s not the case now.
She shared many are now hiring help and usually, it’s the expat labourers who do most of the difficult tasks including tending the day-to-day operation of the farms.
“But this practise of putting up scarecrow is still there. The Omanis managed to pass this practise along to some of their hired help,” she said.
“Young Omanis today, especially those whose parents have farms, know of stories and the importance of farming to their families. In the past, men would wake up very early in the morning to do their farm duties. There are lots of things they have to do — water the farms, plow the earth, plant new crops, harvests those that are ready, and some even go as far as creating household tools out of date palms. It emphasises the importance of agriculture as a major source of livelihood,” Nassra shared.
“I think it is important to save the successful methods used in agricultural production. Just because they are ancient doesn’t mean they are no longer applicable,” she shared.
She signifies that even the falaj system is an ancient method, yet it is still being used today because of its effectivity.
For Nassra, it is important for the new generation to have a good understanding of how their ancestors do things. Afterall, she said, “there are great lessons from our fathers.”

Ruqaya al Kindi