Frankincense burners stir up fragrant tradition

MUSCAT, August 20 – The frankincense burners of Dhofar are a sure souvenir for visitors. What many may not know is that it is part of an industry that has existed alongside the era when frankincense was more precious than gold. The ancient frankincense burners were made up of limestone and some times metal. They are displayed at the Museum of Frankincense Land at Al Baleed Archaeological Park and the Sumhuram Archaeological Gallery. Incense burners constitute a significant group of objects discovered at Samharam. According to experts, not only they vary in shape, dimension and materials such as stones or metal they were also used for both at home and for religious ceremonies.

Astral motif
These burners are dated from the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD. In 2008 yet another limestone incense burner about 31 centimetres high was discovered at the same site. It was decorated with astral motifs while yet another limestone incense burner about 31cm high displays decorative motifs of animals. But what stayed on is the trend for clay incense burners. There are three places that have historically specialized in pottery and they are Salalah, Mirbat and Taqah. And this is where the majmars came too. The pottery varies in style, decoration as well as in the type of clay that is used. While today the clay is mainly used for the ‘majmars’ there was a time when most of the production of household items depended on the pottery industry.

The pottery craft in Dhofar was historically linked to women and some of the utility products include water storage bowls ‘Qadah’ that were positioned on stands placed on a mat and the cover was made of plaited palm fibre. The smaller water jars were called ‘Jahlah’ which also had lids, milk pots were called ‘Muquli’, ghee pots were ‘Maghar’, funnels ‘Madhkanah’, feeding cups ‘Mujru’ and coffee cups ‘Finjan’. Today at the Salalah Tourism Festival ground at Itin there is a square dedicated to handicrafts of Oman and this is where visitors get to watch live demonstration of weaving of rugs representing the desert culture as well as other popular crafts of Oman promoted by Public Authority for Crafts Industries. On show is also the collection of incense burners.

The style and designs have evolved although the structure remains square or cylindrical shaped. The traditional striped burners face competition from glazed ones with different colours and floral designs. After all the collectors await for something new for each festival season.