Tuesday, May 17, 2022 | Shawwal 15, 1443 H
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Bahla Souq is a traditional market that can meet all the practical requirements, from handmade ropes to utensils to traditional wooden boxes.

But there is one person at the souq who can take his customers way back in time.

Sulaiman bin Saif al Yahyai has a shop called Heritage House Trading, dealing with antiques. The shop’s board reads ‘Antiques and gifts Shop’. Here one can find the most exciting aspects of lifestyle. In the frame is an auction record of Date Palm Fruits. Adjacent to it on the wall is a wooden cylindrical container to store grapes used in Jabal Al Akhdhar. Attractive are also the traditional footwear made out of palm fonts and ones made in wood.

He even has old boards, radios, metal vessels etc. His career in government service meant he could travel and stay in various parts of the Sultanate of Oman, which also meant a great opportunity to collect antiques. Once retired, he ensured he established his shop for antiques at the Bahla Souq.

He has great satisfaction with his shop of antiquities. People love visiting his shop not just to see his collection, but also to converse with him.

Al Yahyai remembered, “This place was full of people coming from Adam - border of Al Dakhiliyah, and Ibri from Al Dhahirah. People also used to come here specifically to buy Awwal, salted, dried fish.”

His interesting conversation can go on for a while as he is flooded with questions, and knowingly he has placed a sitting area. His table is also a display tool because this is where customers can get to see the demonstrations. For instance, one will get to know there is more than frankincense and Bakhoor that can be burned as incense - such as King Rosemary that grows naturally on Jabal Al Akhdhar. And there are many more herbs.

“They can cleanse the atmosphere of the whole house,” he said.

He has a collection of coins that could take us through a history class.

He poured out the coins from bottles and showed us the inscriptions. There were worn out coins depicting the exchange of hands it has gone through, coins used in Zanzibar, coins called Anna used in the Sultanate of Oman and India and many more.

“Sometimes I get the coins, and at other times people approach and give me.” These old coins are of historical significance, but what was of great surprise was something this reporter had been looking for, for years. Had read about it but walking into the shop’s second room gave me the biggest clue about the topic that has always been on my mind - Indigo of Bahla.

On the shelf was a wood block with floral design that led us to this fascinating journey.

Holding it in his hand, Al Yahyai explained, “The cloth produced was white, but women wanted colours, and these woodblocks were used for block printing on the fabric. Of course, predominantly indigo was used, but they were also mixed with other plants to create different colours such as red, green and yellow.”

“Nyla is extracted from the plant Adhlub, (indigofera tinctoria) and this plant was cultivated and harvested. It was stored and kept wept near the aflaj. It used to be grown everywhere. But the last time indigo was produced was in Nizwa in a place called Farq. At Hail Farq the plants were cultivated. But it has not been cultivated anymore like in the past. But we noticed that in the recent rains, the plants grew on their own once again. They are in Bahla too,” he added.

Eagerly asked him if he had indigo, sure enough, he walked up to the shelves and brought back containers and laid out the contents and there they were, the indigo blocks with a beautiful hue.

“I sell each block of Nyla for about RO 1.200 and smaller ones for RO 1. The Omani Nyla was used for many purposes but mainly for dying textiles. Mixing with other plants such as Qarrath gave different colours and designs. Another colour was by using the peel or skin of pomegranate fruits. Some plants were brought down from the mountains. Nyla blocks, when boiled, flowed like honey by the time it was ready to be used as a dye,” Al Yahyai described.

The World Crafts Council had described about Bahla’s indigo - “Indigo is used in the colouring of clothes, especially women’s. Blue colour and there are specialised persons who can use this colouring in clothes and are called local dyers.”

Indigo textile was of great cultural significance, especially during weddings and childbirth ceremonies. Indigo was considered to have benefits for the skin. They are still used in Dhofar, particularly in the people’s attire of the mountain regions - the Jabal. The fabric when worn leaves blue colour on the skin and was considered to be beneficial for health and believed to enhance beauty.

The maroonish shiny cotton material with a blue tinge is also worn with great pride by the Firqat Force in the Sultan’s Armed Forces.

There have been few initiatives to revive the indigo tradition of Oman. Hoping the indigo artisans will inspire a new generation and will find new markets. For the time being, the rains have brought back plants.

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