CRAFTS < OMAN HERITAGE

 Traditional Crafts


 
Traditional crafts with utility value have always maintained the lead over modern equivalents as people's familiarity with them has run on for centuries. The practicality of traditional crafts also has bearing on the availability of raw material locally. Date palms which abound in almost all areas of the Sultanate not only have proved vital because of its luscious fruit but also because of the varied uses of almost all its parts including palm frond and trunk. In fact there is nothing from a date palm which does not serve some purpose. While palm fronds are extensively used for rural house construction, especially by Bedouins who migrate during summer to collect dates, date palm leaves are used for weaving baskets to store dates.

 

Basket weaving with date palm leaves has been practised in the Sultanate for long. Despite modern baskets being available for storage purposes, the traditional baskets have continued to hold sway as they enable dates to retain their taste and nutrients. Traditional basket weavers are professionals who do not engage in any other activity. Throughout the year they are busy working on the various stages of basket weaving. Most importantly, basket weaving from date palm leaves reflects the strong relationship between Omanis and date palms. It clearly reveals the optimum use of the palms.Most often basket weaving can be witnessed being practised by veterans from one generation and their children who get trained by their parents.

Very few traditional crafts are being pursued with such diligence, thereby ensuring the continuance of such precious skills.Most Omani villagers still use baskets made of date palm leaves to store dates as well as collect them. The type of basket used for storage purposes is called jrab while the one used for collection of dates is known as qufer. The one-metre tall jrab can hold 60 kg of dates and can be used for two years. However, some farmers prefer to use these baskets only for a year to retain the freshness of dates. Later, the same baskets may be used for storing dates for goats and cattle. The use of baskets made of date leaves is especially useful for collection of date honey. Dates packed in these baskets are stacked one over the other in clean storage rooms with channels.

After a few days, due to heat and pressure, honey starts dripping through these baskets and flow to the channels where it is collected.Qufer is mainly used for collection of dates. This type of basket is made of younger leaves and can be used for carrying 15 kg of dates. Qufer is priced at RO2.500 a piece and is often used by females who carry such baskets on their heads while returning from date palm plantations.Date leaf baskets can be seen in most of the traditional markets such as Nizwa, Samayil and Sinaw. Villagers continue to prefer these baskets as they are cheap as well as clean and safe. There are five stages for basket weaving from date palm leaves.

In the first stage dry leaves are cut and collected. In the next stage, leaves are removed from the stem. In the third stage leaves are put in water to make them more flexible and strong. In the fourth stage, the actual weaving process begins and hundreds of metres of bands are woven and stored at sableh or public majlis. Before the onset of summer these bands will be woven and kept ready for the final stage of weaving.In the last stage of weaving, the rolls of bands are again put in water for a couple of hours before being woven into baskets. Each of the basket weavers makes a few hundreds of baskets during a season according to the requirements of their villagers.

They also sell some of the baskets in the nearby markets. A piece of jrab can fetch them one riyal.The traditional basket weavers have no other job or source of income. These old men are very famous for their expertise in basket weaving which they have been continuing for a very long time. While professionals have great speed in basket weaving , the younger artisans who have been newly trained take more time to finish their job. A great deal of patience is required to do a fine job of basket weaving. Interestingly, some of the professional artisans who are engaged in basket weaving are blind and they have made a name for their weaving skills.

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