The following is an English translation of an excerpt from “A Soldier from Oman: Memory’s Nectar” by (ret.) Inspector-General Said bin Rashid al Kalbani
Under the Sabla’s Shadows
Akin to a consultative, cultural and educational council, the sabla played (and still does) a huge social role in Oman. It was the place where neighbours met on many occasions, where wedding contracts were announced and where guests were welcomed. The adults sat in regulated lines, while the youngsters in a corner. It was a particularly effective educational institution for the latter. Remaining silent unless asked by the elders to talk, they would take turns in enthusiastically serving the attendants with qahwa and water.
They would learn in the sabla both local principles and traditions and hear proverbs and accounts of their elders’ tales, something that contributed to developing their personalities. No wonder you would see a child at an early stage of his life, probably before 14, rather sombre and serene, disciplined as to when he should listen and when he should talk, logical in his thinking and mature enough to take responsibility.
In those days, raising children was not an exclusively parental issue. Having the right to both direct and guide, or better still, to discipline any child who misbehaved, every man was like a father to all children. If a father was told that his child misbehaved and someone accordingly punished him, he would not hesitate to thank that person; he might even go so far as to further punish his child.
When I see the current generation, I wonder how they could digest the principles we lived by.
Not only raising children but other social responsibilities were communally shared. Honouring the guest, for example, wouldn’t simply be the responsibility of the person whose house he entered; it would rather be the responsibility of all people, both those in the nearest home and those living farthest away. All would join together to welcome the guest and invite him in their homes. If he stopped eating, he would be asked to have more. The children would attend to his animal, feed it, give it water and lead it to an appropriate place. They would take the guest’s gun from him as a gesture that he was safe, he was amidst hospitable people, and that he had no need for the gun. They would clean it and put it away in a safe place in the sabla.
People stood by each other in a genuine brotherly fashion. For example, if a farmer was harvesting any crop, all would help him wholeheartedly without expecting any pay. The farmer would provide them with food, usually qashe, small and dry fish, dates and sidaf, leaves of tree from valleys. If someone started building a house, they would all take part. If a dispute arose, it would be settled without resorting to court. Despite its limited resources, our society was a unified and coherent entity, one single extended family anchored by, first and foremost, revering the elders and respecting each other.
These experiences are what we present to today’s generation and the succeeding ones. It is up to them to examine them and judge them in the manner they wish.