On the third day of Eid, after the afternoon prayer, Mai al Abria and her family dressed to the nines to join the rest of the villagers of Al Hamra for the Al Razha.
“It’s a big celebration everyone looks forward to. You would see the whole side of the mountain opposite this filled with people,” she shared while showing us where the celebration was taking place.
The location she referred to is a five minute drive from her home. The action happens at a mosque bordered by date plantations on the left, and the towering mountains on the right.
By the time we got their, families by the hundreds had already descended from their homes. Out from the trunk of their cars came camping and picnic gears from multi-coloured mats to home-cooked beverages and food.
“You came at a perfect timing. Everyone just removed the shuwa from the Tannour — large pit where the meat is cooked — early this morning. After an afternoon rest, the celebration takes place,” she explained.
Al Razha is one of Oman’s most enduring traditions. While Al Razha itself referes to the sword dance, the celebration happening in Al Hamra already mixes sea dances which includes drums, clapping and rowing movements. As a whole, Al Razha has become a combination of poetry, singing, and sword fight — the folk dance taking place during all important occassions, from weddings and some important Eid celebrations.
“It’s usually the men who perform these dances and sword fights. These are enduring legacy and tell of different stories depending on which wilayat or village is doing the celebration,” she said.
Folk dances like Al Razha has been passed down from generation to generation and was shaped by the people’s history. It is for these reason that the lyrics of the songs, often poetic, differs. Oman afterall is made up of different people living different lives. For instance, the Bedouins would definitely sing praises of the desert while those who live in coastal areas will definitely talk about life in the sea. At present, Omanis sing mainly about these topics and most recently, even about urban living.
The Al Hamra celebration was participated by almost a hundred men. Some are plain observers and formed a square with the centre serving as the main stage.
With every beat of the drum, the men sing in unison uttering poetic verses while men with long sword jump into the air making sure they don’t falter.
While the sword fights and chanting may sound totally chaotic for an outsider, everything meant something to the Omanis. The sword performers have to make sure that when they throw the sword in the air, they smoothly catch it for it demonstrate their strength and prowess. Al Razha afterall, communicated the tribe’s stance, whether they are declaring war, victory or organising the troop to be ready for war.
Some form of modernity has seeped into the celebration these days. While in the past, Al Razha definitely would have been a serious business, it has become a source of entertainment these days bringing villages together.
Not far from the main stage area, even on the nearby mountains, food and toy stalls were set up. One can buy almost all kind of beverages and street foods with some of the favourites including corn, magoes and the beloved Oman chips.
Mai and the ladies of her family have neatly camped hundreds of metres away. From where they were, they can still hear and see the jolly celebration down below. There are about seven kids in the family and it is to them that they are passing down this perhaps century-old tradition.
There are not a lot of expats during the celebration. Even for my case, I feel like I intruded something sacred. Everyone was welcoming, however and they are happy to provide context to what was being done. And for me personally, one has to experience such a celebration if one is to somehow understand the beauty of Omani traditions.