With translation from Mai al Abri
As a country with one of the longest coastal areas in the Middle East, Oman has always been in history books as a stopover for merchants, seafarers and traders. While it may have been known in different names throughout history, the ports of Qalhat, Suhar, Sur and Khor Rhory are some of the most exemplary trading ports that gave Oman its seafaring fame.
The popularity of some of Oman's coastal villages overshadowed others but it doesn't mean these smaller coastal areas have no stories to tell as fascinating as those that found themselves recorded in the annals of history. For instance, one of the most time-enduring stories that the world is familiar with is Sindbad that many of the people of Suhar claim come from their area.
For Omani author Jawaher Mohammad al Zaabia, telling the stories of smaller coastal villages is just as important not only for documentation or for posterity but also in making sure that their historical importance will be remembered by future generations.
Her book, "The Land is a Treasury of Gold" looks into what life is like in the coastal villages in the Wilayat of Saham in North al Batinah Governorate. If young Omanis today will be asked what they know of Saham's historical sea trade, the probability of anyone knowing will definitely be less than one per cent which is why Al Zaabia believes that creating a book will serve a greater purpose of educating the masses.
Al Zaabia's book discusses the long-standing historical activity filled with beautiful memories of the sailors and their voyages and marine adventures, and their connection to the sea and traditional ships of all kinds, each of which carries an integrated story.
In this book, the writer relied on the memoirs of the life and sea voyages of her father, captain Muhammad bin Salem Al-Zaabi, who began the story of his struggle and his connection with the sea and ships since he was 7 years old until he passed away at the age of 78. She also reinforced this by collecting some historical information through an interview with people who lived through that era and also through reading books. She talked about the sea voyages and the glories that the Omanis have achieved since they knew the sea.
In her introduction to the book, the writer said: "This biography bears many meanings between its lines, including the glories that our Omani fathers and grandfathers wrote since ancient times and their close relationship with the sea. Let's smell the scent of dried lemon and fish on the shores of the Sultanate of Oman, until we reach the shores of India and smell the aroma of spices. We watch closely the quiet beaches at times, the walking boats and the gulls soaring in the skies of the homeland, passing by watching the giant ships in their full elegance, defying the raging waves of the sea and standing tall in front of the strong storms to reach the shores of the Sultanate in peace."
The book is a good mix of nostalgia for the past and the celebration of the great changes that had swept Saham in the last 100 years.
Did you know that Saham used to export dried lemons? Other than his father's story and the families that lived in the area, Al Zaabi also delves into the kinds of ships that were used by Omanis to cruise Oman's challenging seas. One of her topics looked into the vessels used by the people of Saham on trips to export dried lemons, the method of making these ships, and the types of ropes and wood used in that, as well as the most prominent challenges experienced by sailors on their voyages before the advent of the age of development and technology.
Overall, upon reading the book, one will notice the author's attention to detail. Al Zaabi documented the smallest details of life in the old days in a village overlooking the sea, inhabited by the people with simplicity, calmness and serenity of the soul, and how young people learn from their parents the rules of the sea and the controls of sea voyages and patience in the face of risks and challenges, interdependence and collective cooperation, especially in travelling and the conduct of trips that extend for several months.
Other interesting sub-stories also cover the life and work of a shipbuilder and a silversmith whose jobs were integral to the sea trade. On his father's part, Saham explored how his father's name was linked to the ship “al boom” which he bought from Sur and was later called Taybat Saham and became the wilayat's icon that is almost always in attendance to all national occasions in Saham. Taybat Saham is still present with all its beautiful memories and photos, despite the passing away of her captain about 10 years ago.