A Car in Miskin
I remember the first car that arrived in Miskin and stopped motionless in the aabiya, the open square. It was driven by Sayyed bin Hamoud bin Nasr al Busaidy, who served in the Oman Coastal Regiment. On patrol in the region, Al Busaidy and his companions left their car and went into the village to have qahwa with Shaikh Rashid bin Said al Kalbani and the other tribesmen. As customary, the guests were taken to the sabla, the council in the Omani tradition, where they were dutifully and warmly served.
The car remained in the village square. It was something of a wonder to people, probably like a new “animal” that they took pity on as having travelled long distance and consequently suffered a great deal. It was, however, something of a bounty to us, as we had the chance to ride in this strange “creature” and enjoy a tour around the village.
Throughout Omani history, the tribe leader, Shaikh, in Oman has played an active role in his local community. He was akin to the head of a small government, administrating the affairs of his village, no matter how big or otherwise. He would also contact the wali, who in his turn, was the representative of the government in Muscat. Our village was no different from the rest in this regard. It is believed that in the past Esa bin Sulaiman al Kalbani was the Shaikh of our tribe. The mashyakha then went to Shaikh Saif bin Rashid al Kalbani, succeeded by his two sons, Sayyed and Rashid who would take the leadership in turns. If one was away the other would take over. Our elders, my father Rashid and his brothers Ali and Salim, sons of Mohammed bin Sulaiman al Kalbani and Uncle Saif bin Sulaiman al Kalbani were neighbours to Rashid and Sayyed, all living in harmony with each other.
Uncle Ali and Shaikh Sayyed bin Saif went to Zanzibar, where they were business partners. My father, Rashid bin Mohammed and Shaikh Rashid bin Saif were on friendly terms with each other both when at home or when travelling. They would also go hunting together sometimes.
As for my uncle Salim, he devoted all his time to attending to people's affairs and settling their disputes, a quality everybody testifies to even today. For such purposes, he would sometimes go to Maqaniyat and Najed. If required, he would go to the wali’s office. It is said that if he heard a couple quarrelling with each other, he would not sleep until he had helped them patch up their differences.
When Uncle Ali and Shaikh Sayyed came back from Zanzibar, Shaikh Said moved to Maqaniyat. As for Rashid, he travelled to Saudi Arabia to earn a living and would come back only occasionally. He finally settled in Abu Dhabi. Uncle Salim then took charge of Mashyakha by the unanimous consent of the Miskin people.
My brother used to work in the police. After the death of our father in 1971 he resigned to stay at home and help Uncle Salim in attending to our family and social affairs. Upon the death of Uncle Salim, my brother became the shaikh by the approval of the tribe.
* An Arabic word used in the local dialects of the Arabian Peninsula to refer to the process of choosing a notable person from the tribe both to administer its affairs and represent it in the wider socio-political organisation, especially when coordinating with other tribes or with the representative of the government. The person chosen would be locally referred to as “Shaikh” (the translator).