Cute introduction, huh? Ha, well I thought I’d talk about tribes of the Khaleej with a specific emphasis on Oman. First off, the “Khaleej” is a term that refers the Gulf countries of the Arabian Peninsula: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar. Though you would think Yemen was included in this for what I gathered from my year in Oman/UAE many Khaleejis (natives of the Khaleej) find Yemen to be very different culturally, more tribal and a non-member of the important oil-based Gulf economy. Basically, they’re seen as a bit more extreme tribal and government wise and lacking the wealth of the other oil countries. Anyways, I’d imagine their tribal system is much different from the rest of the Khaleej. Now, the Arabic word for what we call “tribes” is قبيلة .
The tribal system in the Middle East and more specifically Oman is so complex I’d probably need years of research and the will to write a book to even scrape the surface of the history and culture of Omani tribal affiliations.
To simplify the different tribes, I encountered or learned about would include the Lawatis, the Balochis, the Zanzibaris (whom often had other Arab tribal affiliations too), a ton of different Bedouin tribes and then the I guess you could say “general” Arab-Omani tribe whose region origins varied from the interior to coasts to the capital to Dhofar (which is seen as a whole different ballpark). Dhofar is a very different region which borders Yemen and reflects much of that in it’s customs and strong tribal affiliations to. I won’t speak much on Dhofaris because though I visited Salalah, I really do not know enough on their tribes and customs to give accurate information.
The ruling qabeela of the Sultanate of Oman is the Sa’id family. Ahmad ibn Sa’id descendants became the present ruling family of Oman also known as the Al Bu Saʿid. The grandson of Ahmad, Sa’id bin Sultan built up his maritime power and expanded his authority over the Islamic coastal cities and regions of East Africa eventually moving his residence to Zanzibar and sending the first Arab envoy to the United States in 1840. Upon his death in 1856, his Arabian possessions, chiefly Oman, went to his eldest son, Thuwaini, and another son, Majid, received Zanzibar. The Al Bu Saʿid gradually evolved into separate ruling families: the Busaidis and the Sa’ids.
A prominent tribe I know the most about besides my host family’s tribe is the Al-Lawati tribe who mostly reside in the Muscat area. Most Lawati families are Shi’a Muslims and became prominent merchants on the coasts of Mutrah. If anyone ever gets the chance to visit Muttrah, there’s a gated section of Muttrah where only Lawatis are allowed to enter known as Sur al-Lawatia. Though, Arabic is Lawatis’ first language they do have their own language which I’ve only heard it referred to as “Lawati”; however, the language could carry a more official name. Ha, I’d have to ask friends about that. Most of the younger generations of Lawatis don’t seem to speak it though. Their parents and other elders speak the language and their children might be able to understand it but as far as speaking it fluently or being able to write in Lawati, it seems most of the young generation cannot. And of course like most of the tribes, they have their own stigmas within the Omani community and from what I gathered they’re characterized by wealth/upper-class society and are known to be quite the businessmen (and women!).
Another large group in Oman is the Baluchis. Due to some parts of Baluchistan having close trading ties to Oman or that the particular region was a part of the claimed territory of the Sultanate of Oman. When Sulaima, the son of Malik bin Fahm conquered regions of Persia, regions that were native to the Baluchi tribe were then fell under the governance of Oman. Southern regions of Baluchistan such as Gwadar were a part of Oman and ever ruled by a Busaidi governor until like 1958 (or 1959?) when Pakistan bought it from Oman for $3 million dollars.
If you trace back the qabeela of my host family which I’m not going to name but could be deduced if you know the history about the event I’m about to discuss So my host family qabeela descends all the way back to when nomadic Yemeni tribes settled into Oman about 2 AD; however, I’m sure it can be traced even farther than that. My host family’s tribe descends from a man named Muhammad who was a powerful ally of Sa’id bin Sultan. In Sa’id’s desire to bring the forts of Sumail and Bidbid under Albusaidi control, he summoned Muhammad to under the pretext he needed council on tribal affairs. Upon Muhammad’s arrival, he imprisoned him until Muhammad relinquished his possession of the forts in Sumail and Bidbid. Long story short, Muhammad got his revenge by allying with another powerful leader in central Oman which provided him with the means to take back the forts from Muscati garrisons. Yayyyyy! Go Muhammad! Okay, but seriously interesting stuff, right?
Previous to the 70′s, many Omanis were migrating to foreign territories under control of the Sultanate such as East Africa, Baluchistan and other regions- all of which Oman has established trading relations with. The fierce warring of tribes and the turnover of power to Sultan Qaboos from his father proved to be push into an era of rapid development and peace.
Now with all the constant migrating and conquering of territories and such, the migration of other tribes and ethnicities to that sponsoring country nearly always occurs. Which leads me to talk about the African diaspora in the Omani community. In the same way you can be an African-American you can also be an African-Omani. The terms, American and Omani are purely descriptions of a person’s national citizenship. However, I will say from the beginning Arabs and Africans mixed much more freely than said Europeans and Africans in colonized North America. East Africa was the most common region subjected to the Arab Slave Trade, but included anywhere from Mali to Morocco to Sudan to Mozambique. Muslim slave traders and merchants not only spread Islam to more regions of Africa but also facilitated a large African diaspora into the Middle East. Of course there were already Africans living in the Arabian Peninsula since the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but starting as early as the 7th century and not really ending till the 20th century, the Arab slave trade contributed the significantly large minority percentage of Arab citizens (particularly in the Khaleej) being of African descent. To be honest, I was extremely surprised to see and meet Omanis of my complexion or darker. In the American education system, we aren’t really educated on the African diaspora outside of the European enslavement of West Africans and their distribution to various regions of the Americas. So yeah I kind of got a lot of questions from people about African-Americans while in Oman because though some Omanis may mirror me in complexion and facial features we still come from completely different worlds. I must say it was quite an amazing thing though. As an entirety, my host family is pretty mixed ethnicity wise and complexion wise. Though, my host mom as far as I’m concerned isn’t of African descent, she did live in Tanzania for chunk of her childhood before moving to the UAE and then back to Oman. I find the history and culture of the Middle East and East Africa to be incredibly fascinating and close to me because of my personal ties in both regions! Plus I’m a pretty big socio-cultural history nerd. I honestly could go on and on and on but I think I’ll leave it there for today. I had fun procrastinating on my US history essays to write this post. I hope this was an interesting read or at least cohesive and informative!
As a side note, please take mercy on my very American lingo and idioms. I suppose you can take the girl out of America but you can’t take the America out of the girl.