The centrepiece of Oman's vibrant heritage*
Boswellia tree source of the much-prized frankincense
the Nejd region of Dhofar Governorate Picture by Khamis
centuries, frankincense, like its heady fragrance, held sway
over the fortunes of kingdoms and entrepots across ancient Arabia,
the Mediterranean and the Far East. It vied with gold and precious
stones for the hearts of many a king and queen of antiquity.
And held pride of place in ancient Greek and Roman religious
rituals. History abounds with accounts of this aromatic resin's
exalted status in times of yore. Roman fleets and Arabian dhows
called regularly at ancient ports in this region to lift huge
quantities of this gum resin.
was also shipped to distant China and India in a trade that
attracted fabulous wealth to countries that produced this much-coveted
resin. Today, two millennia later, this fragrance of royalty
continues to enchant the hearts and senses of people in this
country. Festive events like weddings, Eid celebrations, the
birth of a newborn, and so on, are incomplete without the burning
of frankincense. Moreover, in Omani homes across the Sultanate,
frankincense is indispensable to the ritual of demonstrating
one's hospitality to visiting guests.
burners are passed around so visitors can air themselves in
the heady scent of the burning frankincense. Truly, frankincense
remains the centrepiece of Oman's vibrant heritage, enriched
as it is by exotic versions of the fragrance, notably bokhur,
attar and other traditional perfumes. Such is the pivotal place
these prized fragrances have in the daily lives of Omanis that
it has spawned a flourishing cottage industry in the Dhofar
souqs in Salalah are now dedicated to the sale of these scents,
catering to an ever-increasing domestic and overseas demand.
Gulf nationals and foreign travellers who visit this southern
coastal retreat in their thousands every year cart away sizeable
quantities of these fragrances. Despite all the history and
romance surrounding the resin, its source the Boswellia
tree is less spectacular to behold. Bereft of leaves
in summer, each tree features a profusion of gnarled branches.
of such trees grow along the fringes of the arid Nejd desert
or the dry lower reaches of the jebels in the Dhofar region.
A fine collection of these trees can also be found in Wadi Qahshan
deep in the jebels beyond Mughsayl. The wadi runs through steep
mountains through which traverses the famous Mughsayl-Sarfait
road linking Salalah with the Yemen border. A turn-off mid-way
up the mountain brings you to a number of frankincense trees
growing amid large rocks. Incisions made on the trunk of these
trees yield a pearly white liquid that hardens into semi-opaque
are periodically scraped off by local villagers and sold in
40kg sacks to traders in Salalah. The freshly harvested gum
resin is sorted into four principal varieties of frankincense,
according to its shade. Light pastel shades of frankincense,
originating from the Nejd, sell for up to RO5 per kg, while
darker shades cost between RO2-3 per kg. Many travellers to
Salalah make it a point to visit famous Frankincense Souq, which
serves to showcase the region's great incense heritage.
by Dhofar Municipality four years ago, it features shops stocked
chockablock with incense, perfumes and traditional goods. Omanis
who have been at the forefront of Dhofar's frankincense trade
for generations run the stalls. Many among them are expert blenders
who produce a bewildering variety of bokhur fragrances, the
recipes of which are closely guarded secrets. Bokhur production
varies from one blender to another, but the most exotic types
include ingredients like oudh (scented wood from India and the
Far East), sandalwood, attar, rosewater, myrrh, raw perfume
oils and a variety of aromatic resins and extracts.
are blended in a certain proportion, cooked together and crushed
to form a richly fragranced powder.Fine bokhur varieties, coveted
by brides and young girls, cost as much as RO10 per jam-jar
size bottle. Other fragrances like Almass, Kothra or Cake, based
on different scents and ingredients, also sell at RO10 a container.
Adapted from Oman Observer. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for