tabseel is not just an annual farming practice. It is a time when
neighbours, friends and relatives join hands with the farmer in harvesting
his crop. They help him sort the dates, cart them to public hearths
and, after they are cooked, spread them out to dry all in a
single day's effort
dates spread out to dry in Ibra Picture by Khamis al
annual tabseel season begins in May
in various wilayats of the Interior and Sharqiya regions, as farmers
mark the harvest of their famous Mebselli date crop. During this two-month-long
season, massive quantities of Mebselli dates are cooked in traditional
hearths and then dried for export, in a colourful ritual that harks
back several centuries. However, the tabseel is not just an annual
farming practice. It is a time when neighbours, friends and relatives
join hands with the farmer in harvesting his crop.
help him sort the dates, cart them to public hearths and, after they
are cooked, spread them out to dry all in a single day's effort.
In times bygone, camel caravans used to go round these wilayats and
pick up the cooked dates for export abroad. Today, the processed Mebselli
crop (also called busur) is almost entirely bought up by the Ministry
of Commerce and Industry, for export to lucrative markets in the Indian
naturally dried dates, the busur has a much-longer shelf life and
is coveted as a delicacy at weddings and traditional receptions in
India and elsewhere. At roughly RO 280 per tonne of busur dates, farmers
are assured windfall margins, and hence look forward to the tabseel
season with great anticipation. Harvested just before they turn ripe,
they fetch a better price when sold as busur dates rather than if
allowed to ripen naturally. And unlike other varieties of dates, which
sell according to market demand, the busur crop usually guarantees
a healthy income because the Ministry of Commerce and Industry buys
up the entire lot
tabseel ritual from the harvest, to the cooking process and
the spreading of the cooked fruit to dry is usually accomplished
by noon the same day. The farmer begins the harvest at dawn. Using
a habool the traditional tree-climbing harness he scurries
up the tree and methodically hacks off each bunch, letting it slide
down a rope to a person who gathers it.Each date palm tree is stripped
bare of its entire yield of luscious, deep-yellow Mebselli dates in
less than two minutes.
exercise however unleashes a shower of loose dates, which is gathered
up by womenfolk and children. The ripe dates are then sorted from
the unripe ones, while those that are prematurely dry are collected
separately to be fed to goats. Children haul the date bunches one
by one to a corner of the date garden where a gaggle of women busy
themselves plucking the dates from the clusters, while engaging in
good-natured banter. Neighbours and relatives help out in the effort,
in line with the practice of sharing a neighbour's burden.
rendered by children is usually rewarded with basketfuls of ripe dates.
The most distinctive aspect of the tabseel, however, is the cooking
process, undertaken at traditional public hearths called the A'terkebah.
Each A'terkebah has two large copper pans set above a covered hearth.
The pans are filled with water from a nearby falaj, while someone
gets a fire started in the hearth using dried date branches. The firewood
is fed through an opening in the hearth, while the smoke is channelled
out through an orifice shaped like a conical chimney, which gives
the A'terkebah its very distinctive character.
dates are allowed to cook in the pans for about 30-45 minutes. Using
a large wooden ladle, the cooked dates are then scooped out of the
pan into an open enclosure to allow for excess water to drain away.
The steaming fruit is left to cool for a while before it is carted
by pick-up to an open field outside the village where it is spread
out to dry. On the fifth day, a small army of women and children arrives
to gather up the dried dates, which are bagged and stored until they
can be dropped off at collection points announced by the Ministry.
Adapted from Oman Observer