When mountains connect cultures

The mountainous topography of the Sultanate, which has been featured in international travelogues and pulled orophile from across the planet is truly a strong connector of cultures of nations that share similar landscape.
Be it snowy mammoths of the west or the rocky wilderness of the Middle East or the greeny heights of Asia, there are some common features and sharp resemblances of cultures of people living on the heights or at the foothills that bind them together.
Taking a classic example of Switzerland which has huge mountainous terrain vis-à-vis the Sultanate, not only the beauty of their mountains has been a main attraction for tourists, but the characteristic landmark shaping the topography of both countries has helped form the farming culture in a significant way.
“Mountains are not just a décor, their powerful presence shapes the minds and aspirations of the people living there. And their sometimes harsh environment requires, as nature in general, due respect,” avers Ambassador Balz Abplanalp, the Swiss diplomatic representative to the Sultanate.
To celebrate and to pay due respects to the key role played by mountains in shaping the cultures and providing livelihood of a populace on the occasion of the International Mountain Day on December 11, the Embassy of Switzerland in Oman has prepared two projects.
“We have produced a short film, presenting a mountain farmer in Oman and a family farming in Switzerland. We asked them both the same questions.”
The film shows Al Azhari Zaif Mohammed al Zakwani from Jebel Akhdhar as well as Ueli and Christine Erb from Switzerland, mountain farmers who have shared their experience on living and making a living in the mountains. While they have a different cultural background, their experiences and their views on farming in the mountains are surprisingly similar.
They were asked what the mountains do mean to them, how they did shape their identity, how farming in the mountains is different from farming in the plains, and how they see the future of mountain farming.
“Their answers were surprisingly similar. They both have a strong attachment to the mountain environment that has been passed along through generations. Their surroundings pose additional challenges to their work,” adds Balz Abplanalp.
According to Ueli, the Swiss who was interviewed, to farm successfully in the mountains, one needs to have a deep understanding of the environment.
“You need to listen to what the mountains tell you and can’t just get going with your work without taking into consideration the constantly changing requirements of the setting.”
Both farmers see it as an important task to cultivate and maintain an intact environment. With their work, they make an invaluable contribution to the biodiversity of the mountains. Biodiversity is the topic the United Nations have selected for this year’s celebration of the International Mountain Day.
“The second project is a regional art installation of the artwork “Constructed Yearning” by Swiss Artist Aline Stalder. When she moved from the mountains to the plains in 2017, she painted a 16 metre long mountain panorama to bring the beloved mountains with her.”
This panorama has now been cut into seven fragments and sent to different countries throughout the region besides Oman. They are Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Switzerland where mountains are a characteristic feature. One of them has arrived in Oman and is thus creating a link between this country, Switzerland and the wider region.
The short film that the embassy has produced on the occasion of the International Mountain Day aims to show this common influence on the identity of people living in the mountains. Pomegranate and Cheese – Farming in the mountains of Oman and Switzerland.
Also, both Switzerland and Oman have a vast net of hiking trails that could connect in a way or another. “And we can try to learn from each other on how to encourage a sustainable use of the mountains that helps to protect their unique biodiversity and includes the people living in the mountains,” Abplanalp hopes.

 

KABEER YOUSUF
@kabeeryousef