What is some information about Swahili people in Oman?
- connieLv 74 years agoFavorite Answer
The Swahili-Arab people come from east coast of Africa, mainly Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, and Dar es Salaam, although there are families from the interior regions such as Mwanza. They are a mixture of Omani and some Yemeni Arabs who travelled to East Africa in the 1700s to establish trade with Europe, primarily in slaves. These Arabs had children with their African wives and slaves. In the mid-sixties an African revolution against Arabs in East Africa resulted in the killing of tens of thousands of Omani and Yemeni people. It was after this that the current ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said invited any Omanis living in East Africa back to Oman. Since these people and their families had traded with Britain they were educated and knew English. Qaboos gave them high paying jobs in oil and gas and the government.
Swahili-Arabs are Muslim and most follow the Ibadhi sect of Islam. According to locals, this sect is the most peaceful of the Islamic sects. Most Swahili-Arabs are located on the coast and largely in Muscat and the surrounding areas. On the surface Swahili-Arabs function just like regular Omanis. However, when one sits with them at a meal it is when the African roots come out. Much of the time Swahili is spoken instead of Arabic, which is considered the trade language, and the food is much more African. While in some homes men and women eating separately is the norm like other Omanis, some Swahili-Arabs will eat jointly.
In 1964, the revolution in Zanzibar put an end to the local al-Busa‘idi dynasty. The Omani Arabs were summoned by the newly independent state to ‘go back home’, because of their supposed foreignness. Yet no collective repatriation process was organized by the sultan of Muscat. It is alleged that around 17,000 Arabs died during the events. Oman received 3,700 refugees only and many other families were forced to settle in Dubai, Kuwait or Cairo.
A second wave of return followed the call launched in 1970 by Sultan Qaboos to the Omani elite abroad, inviting them to contribute to the ‘awakening’ of the country. Around 10,000 Omani from Zanzibar are thought to have moved back to Oman by 1975. Despite the fact that most of the expatriate Omani did not speak Arabic fluently, Qaboos had no option but to grant them Omani citizenship, as soon as they returned, without any consideration of the time their family had spent abroad. First, the Omani abroad were relatively more educated than those at home. Many of them spoke English fluently and had been trained in technical fields in Europe, East Africa or other Gulf countries, so they made a significant workforce for the ruler’s planned modernization. Besides, given his political isolation when he came to the throne, the Sultan understood that since the Omani abroad had neither been involved in the internal political and tribal issues in Oman nor on the best of terms with his father’s regime, they could be an asset to him.
All these factors account for the fact that the returnees soon filled many positions in key fields such as intelligence, police and security. Their Arabic language handicap was outweighed by their skills in administrative organization and political control. An example of the Sultan’s dependency on these Omani during the first years of his rule is given by the Interim Planning Council, established in March 1972 to shape development achievements. Of its 10 members, six had been educated in eastern European countries, while two had been born in Zanzibar and had never been in Oman prior to the 1970 coup.
Yet, in a society like Oman where personal relationships play such a role, the fact that marriage patterns of most Manga Arabs had been limited to their kin in Africa, and that they had been kept out of the political affairs of the sultanate in Zanzibar, dramatically narrowed the networks on which they could rely when they returned. The cumulative effect of this lack of social intermediation (wasta) with their lower level of education was a tremendous handicap. If the ‘back-from-Africa’ Omani in general were unquestionably advantaged compared with the nationals who had stayed at home, nobody was better positioned to benefit from the opportunities offered by the developing Oman than the descendents of the aristocracy of Zanzibar.
Today, the ‘back-from-Africa’ Omani population is thought to number about 100,000, out of a total of more than two million Omani citizens. Locally they are called ‘Swahili’ (referring to their vernacular language) or ‘Zanzibari’ (Zinjibâriyyin; ‘Umâniyyin min Zinjibâr). Most of the tribes and ethno-linguistic groups contain within them so-called ‘Swahili’ individuals or clans—including among the royal tribe, the Shia communities and the Omani groups native to Baluchistan—but in varying proportions. The greatest numbers are found within tribes from Inner Oman, like Habus, Hirth, Bani Kharus, Kinud, Mahariq, Masakira, Bani Riyam or Bani Ruwaha. Families, or even individuals, descended from the same clans can be considered ‘Swahili’ (or not) whether they are tied (or not) to Africa.
The Omani who came back from East Africa thus constitute a highly heterogeneous group, which cannot be defined solely on genealogical or geographical criteria. The most important dividing line is the one inherited from the hierarchization in East Africa. This combination of social, cultural and economic divides was a determining factor of the position these returnees found in Oman.
In addition, every member has remained closely linked to his native tribe. Sheikhs who had stayed in Oman played a key role in validating the genealogies of members who came back after three or four generations. The vivacity of the tribal affiliation is highlighted by the huge amounts of financial transfers made by expatriates both to their native villages in Oman before 1970 and to the poorest clans of the tribe in Africa itself.
Another major dividing line is the African place of settlement. Here, there is a division between the ‘anglophone Swahili-speaking Omani’ who had lived in Zanzibar, Kenya or former Tanganyika on the one hand, and the francophones who had travelled to Central Africa (Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo) on the other. The latter, who are estimated to be about 10 percent of the whole Swahili-speaking Omani population, were usually Manga Arabs. Most of them only came back to Oman at the beginning of the 1990s, when Rwanda and Burundi exploded into crisis.
Finally it is necessary to keep in mind that a strict and well-known distinction is established between the back-from-Africa Omani, who can lay claim to a patriarchal genealogy in southeast Arabia and are the proper subject of this paper, and the Omani citizens who are descended from slaves brought forcibly from Africa (khadim) and who are considered not to be of Arab blood. As Mandana Limbert has put it, ‘Through the paternalizing care of the Arab-Omanis, [they] could become brothers, however, who would never be allowed to forget that they had been slaves, that they had known nothing and that they had had to be cultured’. Hence, many families with noble (qabîli) Arab lineages, who lived in Africa and are nowadays viewed as ‘Swahili’ in Oman, have always taken care to keep their Arab lineage ‘pure’.
The harbor town of Sur, considered the heart of Swahili music in Oman. African instruments are handed down from generation to generation as family treasures, played by family members only at special occasions or weddings. Prominent among them is the tanbura, a string instrument played by beating the strings with the end of a bull's horn. Other African instruments are the misundu, a class of tall, cylindrical, single-headed drums characterized by a skin fitted by wooden wedges to the conical body. The misundu is beaten either with a stick or hands.
Sur was a major port in the 17th and 18th centuries, when traders exported dried fish, dates, mats, carpets woven from sheep wool and frankincense to East Africa and India. "These people, from the color, their features, they have clearly an African ethnicity. But they tell you no, we are actually Arab," said Majid al-Harthi, assistant professor of music and ethnomusicology at the Sultan Qaboos University.