Artisans in Oman are becoming more creative when it comes to materials to use for their crafts. On a farm in Ibri, a local artisan is diversifying his portfolio by transforming date palm fronds and leaves into something more than just mats and qafeers or traditional weave containers.
Rabae al Maskari is in his 60s but he doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Finding him recently under the canopy of date palms in Al Qabil for a once-a-month Saturday souq, he was busy hammering away to demonstrate that the mandoos he sells are a product of his own craftsmanship and genius.
Mandoos sold in Oman are typically made from wood and take different ornate shapes and sizes. In the past, they were gilded with different gemstones, silver and even gold and they are treasured possessions passed down to family members.
Over time, the creation and the ornaments added to the mandoos also make use of available resources within a particular locality. Artisans coming from the coastal areas used shells to decorate their products while others added more metal elements to the design.
“I’ve learned how to use certain portions of date palms in creating mandoos. It was a lot of testing but I discovered that the materials work just as well as the original wood products,” he said.
For Rabae’s mandoos, the date leave’s midrib served as the base of the boxes. Cut into different sizes, they also served as embossed decorations attached by golden nails.
They come in different sizes, usually depending on the customised order of his buyers but the smallest he has on display is about half a meter wide by one meter long. They also come in muted colours usually pale brown or pale green respecting the original colour of the palm fronds giving the mandoos a nice finish.
“The bigger ones usually take three days to finish while I can do the smaller ones in a day,” Rabae shared.
“The designs are inspired by Islamic and Arabian art and are also very symmetrical. It’s an Omani product created by an Omani craftsman — it’s very unique compared to those marketed in big markets,” Rabae said.
“I use organic products that are available on the farm. Some come with rope decorations or I sometimes mix them with weaved date leaves. The flexibility of the materials also allowed me to be able to attach photos on the mandoos and it can serve as a family heirloom where they can put their photos if the buyer so wishes,” he said.
Some of his earlier products were decorated with photos of the late Sultan Qaboos and His Majesty Sultan Haitham.
Rabae shared that he usually puts his finished designs on display in different morning souqs near his home. He said that as a small-scale producer and with this style requiring lots of technicalities, he can only produce a limited number of mandoos which makes them more special.
An evolving craft
Rabae shared that other than mandoos, his family also produces other palm frond products like qafeer and mats being the base of their small business.
He is also venturing into producing other products made from palm fronds and now offers tissue holders, photo frames, small display tables, ornamental displays for homes and even palm frond benches.
“For those who like to infuse their homes with traditional decorations and crafts products, these are fitting additions to your homes,” he said.
He added that what he does is an evolving craft and that the products he can make depends solely on his imagination. So far though, he is happy that they are moving to other territories some people can’t believe are from date palms.
While his products are not available yet in big supermarkets and department stores, Rabae said that he is happy to be able to market his products in different morning souqs so that he can physically interact with his buyers and share information about each of the products they are buying.
It can be challenging to move his items from one location to another but he said that seeing people becoming more interested in local crafts gives him a sense of happiness.
He hopes that he will be able to market his products to a bigger audience and give even non-Omanis an opportunity to buy local products of good quality.
To check out other products and updates from Rabae, you can follow him on Instagram @rabae_almskri or call him at 99005501.