By RUQAYA AL KINDI
Muscat: In the olden times, the beginning of June until the early days of July was celebrated by many of Oman’s farmers. Across the different wilayats all over the country, this period is a busy time when families would gather in their farms for the yearly Al Tabseel season — the annual harvest and processing of the much-awaited ripened dates.
The practice has been passed from one generation to the next and while many of the traditional practices in the past has waned, there are still wilayats that honour this tradition and carried on an important social and economic practice.
[Photos by Hani al Sulaimani]
“The period between late June and early July are specifically referred to as “Al Qiyd” or the period of harvesting the “Al Mabsali” palm tree,” shared Yaqdhan al Masroori, an Omani who manages his own dates factory located in the Wilayat of Manah for four years now.
Farmers can tell the start of al Tabseel period through the signs appearing in the palm trees. The most important of these signs, as al-Masroori shared, is the change of colour of the Al Basr (fresh dates). The fruits change from light yellow to dark yellow.
“Farmers collect their harvest (Al Mabsali dates) and put them in huge pots called ‘Marajel’. These fresh dates are boiled in these pots for about half an hour. Then the boiled dates are taken to an open space called Al Mestah. Farmers dry these dates under the sun for four days,” Al Masroori said.
“Fagurs, the dates after cooking, are left in Al-Mestah for 7 days until they dry completely and then they are transferred to the place of storage for several months. Then, it is sold in the markets or exported abroad,” Al Masroori added.
Usually cooking is done by the most experienced and skilled men. In the past, during the season, men, women, and children from families or even neighbours gather to help and each has a specific duty to accomplish. This ritual is accompanied by traditional songs to entertain them and encourage them to exert more efforts. But nowadays, these rituals began to disappear.
For commercially processed dates, Al Masroori said that the “The sales and marketing outlets were limited to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as it is the one that buys the product from the citizens, and it imposes prices according to the quality levels. The prices often range from 400 Bz to 600 Bz per kilo.”
Al Masroori said that low price is one of the factors why many people have stopped processing and selling their dates.
“For us, we managed to survive in this field because we do the marketing ourselves and we also included the product with other industries to increase its economic return. We convert the dates into powder and use it as “dates sugar”. Perhaps in the coming years, it will be used in other things,” he said.
In the future, “I plan to use this product in the manufacturing industries instead of exporting it as raw material. For example, we can use the dates sugar to substitute for white sugar and to include it into the bread and biscuit industry,” he shared.