Dates are some of nature’s best gifts to Oman. Everything about the different parts of a date plant can be utilised for different purposes making it a close competition to coconuts as a tree of life for its many different uses from roots to fruits.
One of the many people who can attest to its many uses is Omani artist Ghalib al Sawafi whose main medium for his work usually involves a portion of these prized trees. Growing up in one of Oman’s villages with access to these trees, he has a connection with these palm trees that he considers them his dear friends — an important part of his childhood.
His latest artworks involve tapping the core of the palm trees and using them into different pieces that can be displayed beautifully in homes, galleries and everywhere else that art is the centrepiece.
“According to my experience, it is possible to take advantage of the core of palm tree to produce products such as chairs, tables, bookholders, plant pots and many others’’, Ghalib said.
With palm tree trunks as his medium, Ghalib combines his passion for art and his love for crafts. While he may not have a fancy degree in the art given by a university, he has great experience from the university of life which taught all he needs to be able to convert things into something awe-inspiring. Multi-skilled in arts and crafts, his mission is to help conserve Omani heritage through his art.
“Work-wise, I have lived in many parts of Oman during my career. I learned and gained many experiences that had a good impact on developing myself. I have always adored the Omani environment and was inspired by the beauty around me and have its impact obvious on my works”, he shared.
The quality of the product recycled from the wood of the palm tree depends on the age of the stem.
“The older the palm tree, the better the quality of the wood. If the palm tree is young, the quality is low. Although the types of palm trees are similar in terms of shape, the quality of their wood depends on many factors. The most important is the type of palm from which the wood is extracted’’, he said.
He added, “For example, there are types of palms whose wood had been used in the construction of Omani castles and forts, and which were able to withstand very difficult environmental factors such as Al naghal, Al barshi, Al khasab and many more of them’’, Ghalib said.
“There are other factors besides age, which play a role in the quality of the product, like the place of cultivation, care and nutrition, the type of soil, the weather and availability of water directly affect the type of wood. And don’t forget that the method of drying wood or dealing with it after the tree has been cut plays an effective role in the hardness and quality of wood’’, he said.
Just like any art process, creating something out of palm trunks start with an idea. Ghalib’s wild imagination has led him into creating the most intricate of accessories, the most detailed of window frames, the most elaborate of decors and even the simplest of benches and home furniture. Some craft products take one day and some need more effort and time that it takes him two weeks or a month to finish a project.
“The methods of working with palm wood are mostly similar to the methods of working on the other types of wood, but the palm wood needs more care due to the nature of its fibre formations and the possibility of product damage in the advanced stages if some steps were neglected or exceeded’’, he shared.
The carving and formation of the palm wood product differ from those of the products of other types of wood. Unlike palm wood, timber imported from outside the Sultanate of Oman is widely used in various industries and comes in multi-size ready panels which doesn’t need much effort to work on.
Palm trees wood requires working from scratch, starting with choosing the best types of trees, and then many very stressful stages. Also, palm wood needs expenses that do not ultimately lead, and in most cases, to reach satisfaction with a modest financial return compared to the effort expended in producing any craftwork.
He said there are several materials to work with. He prefers using many mechanical tools to execute piercing, screwing, polishing and snapper tool because they give a quick result during the work.
Carving from palm wood is very different from carving on hardwood. Date palm wood, in particular, is a softwood that contains longitudinal fibres of low density and is hard relative to its fibres. The fibres are of low density and thickness, but they are solid as a formation, capable of cohesion and withstand external conditions of heat, rain and other hard conditions. “Our forefathers in the past used palm trunks, that give constant and continuous heat unlike the other types of wood, to make plaster used in construction. This was a challenge for firefighters because a fire on palm wood wouldn’t extinguish easily and the fire remains alive for days’’, Ghalib said. For Ghalib, it is important to also look into caring for the arts and crafts that use date trees.
“In the Sultanate of Oman, we do not have an industry or a real investment for this wasted wealth, which can supply the national economy and support the tourism sector if it is optimally invested. Coordination with experienced Omani after investing in this project would support tourism greatly’’, he said.