Dates are intrinsic to the culture of the Sultanate. They are a sign of hospitality, served both in greeting and after every meal. Date palm orchards form lush oases in an otherwise arid landscape and its fruit provides daily sustenance. Oman ranks among the top 10 date producers in the world, with 8 million date palm trees yielding more than 250 indigenous varieties. To fertilise palm trees and harvest the dates, men wrap a harness called a habul (made of palm fiber rope, naturally) around their waists and scale up the trees, which can grow up to 75 feet tall.
In the past, family members used to share the work at farms. But with rising standards of living and youngsters finding work in cities, there are fewer locals to harvest the dates.
Most men in villages know how to climb the trees, but nowadays they also bring in farmers from abroad to help — especially during harvest season, which begins in mid-May.
To become self reliant and pass the traditional skill to younger generations, wilayats across the Sultanate have been organising palm climbing competition during Eid holidays.
A date palm climbing was recently organised in Rustaq which attracted large number of people from other wilayats. Around 22 people took part in the event set amid the picturesque Rustaq fort.
The contestants are evaluated on their speed and technique in fastening the rope around the palm to climb which is called ‘sawh’, climbing the tree, manoeuvring around the tree, climbing down the tree and untying the rope.
Climbing is an art and not everyone can do it. The crown is often very wide and its tips are covered in long sharp needles. This profession requires exceptional skills and endurance. Technical expertise is required to do the different phases of the work: climbing the trunk, working under the crown, crossing the crown, working inside the crown, or climbing down.
Beside the competition, there was traditional exhibition, which showcased different crafts made of date palm trees and traditional dancing.
Ahmed Gareeb al Nassri, who won the competition, said, “I am very glad to participate in this competition. I just want tell my friends that go learn how to climb a tree, and if you already know, don’t let foreign workers do it instead of you. It is our tradition, and our parents and grandfathers would be happy to see us keeping it alive.
Siham al Saidi