Throughout the course of history, Oman has been traditionally looked upon as a strategically important part of the Arabian Peninsula. In its turn, this can be partially explained by the particulars of the country’s geographical location – while occupying the peninsula’s Southeast, Oman never ceased taking advantage of laying at the intersection of maritime trade routes. Apparently, it was not simply by accident that, throughout the course of centuries, Oman continued to enjoy the fame of being a ‘seafaring nation’. Given the country’s geopolitical positioning, it comes as not a particular surprise that, for the duration of thousands of years, the natives of Oman had acted as particularly effective merchants, while transporting Oriental goods to Western trade outposts, and vice versa, and also while maintaining maritime trade routes in Indian Ocean.
In its turn, this created a number of objective preconditions for ancient Omanis to be considered by their contemporaries as utterly sophisticated people – given the fact that bulk of trade activities, which used to take place on Oman’s territory, were concerned with transporting luxury items, it had naturally predisposed locals towards expanding their intellectual horizons. What also added to Omanis’ reputation as intellectually and culturally advanced individuals, at the time, is the fact that, while indulging in trade, they used to come in close contact with representatives of era’s greatest civilizations, such as Phoenicians.1
Most recent archeological discoveries, which had taken place on the territory of Oman, leave very little doubt as to Omanis’ possession of strongly defined historical identity, the origins of which can be traced back to around 3000 B.C. That is how old are estimated to be shell middens, found on the West coast of Ras al-Hamra. Other archaeological findings, such as stone tombs of Wadi al-Jizi, towers and pottery of Bat, reed boats of Harappan, etc., also illustrate the fact that Oman remained a habitable land over the course of millennia.2 Archaeological studies point out to the fact that, through 3rd-2nd centuries B.C., Oman was known as Magan – an empire that flourished along Batinah coast, and which exploited cooper mines of Sohar to ensure its economic sustainability. While hauling copper that Sumerians and Babylonians needed to adorn their temples, Magan’s boats used to anchor in Dilmun (the ancient name of Bahrain), and in harbours of Mesopotamia. These boats, laden with jewellery, copper tools, sesame oil, woven fabric, wood, and bronze statues, would often sail as far as to the Indus Valley.3
Nevertheless, it was namely Omanis’ introduction to Islam around 630 A.D., which endowed them with the strong sense of cultural and religious identity. The version of Islam, embraced by the natives of Oman, is now being referred to as Ibadism. Ibadies rejected the idea that country’s secular governing should be placed in the hands of people, whose ancestral lineage derived directly from the clan of Prophet Mohammed. Instead, they believed that the leaders of the community should be those best suited to this duty by the virtue of their religious knowledge and military skills, regardless of the particulars of these people’s tribal affiliation. Partially, this explains why Omanis were able to preserve their sovereignty, despite the continuous attempts of Caliphs of Bagdad to impose their authority upon Oman.4 Oman’s geopolitical might culminated throughout 19th century, when Omani Empire, headed by Sa’id ibn Sultan, incorporated parts of Persia, parts of Asia, the Eastern coast of Africa and some islands in the Red Sea.5
According to Samuel Miles, the first European to have set foot on Oman’s shores in 326 B.C. was Nearchus, the admiral in the fleet of Alexander the Great. Nearchus discovered ‘Cape Maceta’, which is now being referred to as Cape Musandum. Apparently, he told Alexander about the ‘Great Omani Emporium’, which in its turn has led Alexander to decide to circumnavigate Arabia. This, however, never came to being, due to Alexander’s death.6
The next European traveller who had visited Oman in 1272 was Marco Polo, as his travelling account includes description of such Oman’s towns as Hormuz, Dhufar and Qalhat. According to Polo, Hormuz was ‘very beautiful’ and ‘eminently commercial’, Dufar had a ‘good port’, where such commercial goods as Arabian horses and incense were traded, and Qalhat had a particularly convenient harbour, which allowed it to serve as stopover port for the West-bounded commercial ships from India. Nevertheless, even though Polo’s travelling account does contain valuable information about the specifics of trading activities in Oman and about country’s climate, in it, author refrained from describing Omanis’ cultural traditions and customs.7
Since the time of Marco Polo’s travel to the area and until the beginning of 16th century, Europeans learned very little about the country. Nevertheless, in 1507, Afonso Dalboquerque, known as ‘Portuguese Mars’, had succeeded in making a landfall on Oman’s shores, while capturing the strategic cities of Hormuz, Qalhat, and Muscat. In his Commentaries, Dalboquerque provided readers with information about the sheer wealth of Hormuz, while asserting that ‘the world is a ring, and the jewel in it is Ormuz’. Even though Dalboquerque’s Commentaries are being primarily concerned with describing his military exploits, in them, author nevertheless had proven himself a rather attentive observer – the bulk of what we know about 16th century’s Oman derives directly out of his book.8 For example, because of Dalboquerque’s travel, we now have a very good idea of how Oman’s capital looked like at the beginning of Exploration Era:
“Muscat is a large and very populous city… There are many pools of fresh water of which the inhabitants make use; and there are orchards, gardens, and palm groves, with pools for watering them by means of wooden engines. The harbour is small shaped like a horseshoe and sheltered from every wind… It is of old a market for carriage of horses and dates. This a very elegant town, with very fine houses, and supplied from the interior with much wheat, maize, barley and dates for loading as many vessels as come for them”.9
Portuguese remained in Oman for duration of hundred-fifty years, until they were expelled by Omanis in 1650.10 The decline of their dominance in the area has led other European powers, notably Britain, Netherlands and France, to extend their interests in this part of the world. In its turn, this created objective preconditions for the European knowledge of Oman to become significantly expanded.
Nevertheless, even though, throughout the course of 17th-20th centuries, Oman was effectively opened to the world, such country’s ‘opening’ came as the result of representatives of Europe’s major countries pursuing their colonial agenda. Therefore, it comes as not a particular surprise that there are clearly defined imperialistic overtones in how most British, French and Dutch travellers proceeded with describing Oman and its people. Yet, as we intend show in this paper, Germans also played an important role in exploring Oman. And, given the fact that Germany existed as colonial empire for comparatively brief period of time (1871 – 1918), there are good reasons to believe that the information about Oman, contained in German travelling accounts of this country, is being particularly objective. After all, unlike what it used to be the case with Brits, French and Dutch, Germans simply did not have enough time for the workings of their mentality to incorporate colonial outlook onto surrounding realities, as it is integral part.
In this paper, we will aim to provide readers with the insight on specifically German travelling accounts to Oman, as this subject matter has been relatively little studied. In its turn, this will allow us to fill gap in the history of Oman’s exploration. In addition, we will aim to emphasize what account for the specifics of how German travellers proceeded with conveying their experiences of staying in this country.
Analytical part (German Travelers in Oman)
The first German traveller to Oman is being assumed Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716)11 – a physician and naturalist, who arrived in Muscat on July 14, 1688. Even though he stayed for three days only, he nevertheless was able to find time to come up with detailed notes on Oman and to even produce few sketches. Kaempfer’s diary remained unknown to English readers until 1979, when it appeared in the Journal of Oman Studies, translated by Dr C. Weisberger. In his travelling account, Kaempfer provides us with keen descriptions of Muscat’s geography, architecture and people. He saw the bay of Muscat as ‘the most wonderful which, to [his] mind, nature and art could ever produce’. According to Kaempfer, it was bounded in a deep half circle by high rocks, surrounded with watchtowers and ornamented with white lime.12 The following is how author refers to Muscat:
“The town of Muscat, surrounded by cliffs and mountains in all four directions, is encircled by neat and pretty walls which on the east side—which is washed by the waves and has a water gate—run up the rocky hills and make these hill ridges more solid and resistant. Behind the north side of the town, the entry to it is also closed by a wall winding over the hill ridges”.13
While describing Muscat’s architecture, Kaempfer states that there were essentially two types of buildings in the city: peasant huts, made out of clay and covered with palm tree leaves, and houses made out of stone. German traveler pays a particular attention to the beauty of Sultan’s palace Masjid al-Luqt, which to Kaempfer’s surprise, featured irrigated gardens:
“The irrigated gardens that join the groves are a refreshing sight for travelers from the sandy wastes, which form the greater part of Oman, and for a time they are intoxicated with the fragrance of the fruits and flowers. The whole air is filled with the weird musical creakings that come from the wooden rollers at the well-heads, where water is raised in a skin and poured into the little channels that run around the gardens”.14
What had also impressed Kaempfer rather immensely is the fact that there were specially designed ‘rest towers’ in the palace, where people were able to cool off on particularly hot days:
“Along the terrace a series of masonry towers was constructed to take advantage of the sea breezes and the splendid views along the coastline. Only the southernmost dwelling is left with any freestanding walls”.15
Kaempfer’s overall impression of city’s architecture appears positive, as even peasant huts in his travelling account are being referred to as such that has been built in the manner observant of the natural environment. Author spends great of time, while reflecting upon the sheer beneficence of living a simple life of peasant. It is doubtful, however, whether Kaempfer really did subscribe to his own point of view, in this respect. In all probability, he was just trying to present himself to the readers as particularly open-minded individual.
In regards to Muscat’s population, Kaempfer notes that it consisted out of representatives of many different races and religions, including Arabs, Banyans, and Jews.16 Nevertheless, it were namely native Arabs, upon which Kaempfer focused the bulk of his explorer’s attention, while describing their manners, complexion and fashions. According to this particular German traveler: “Natives [were] polite, but not as modest as the Persians”, because in their conversations with each other they tended to raise voice. This Kaempfer’s observation, however, did not prevent him from noticing that natives’ overall manner of communication was ‘formal and civilized’.17 What appears particularly noteworthy in Kaempfer’s description of Omanis’ physiological constitution is the fact that this description implies their anthropological similarity with Indo-Europeans: “The natives of the country are brown and slender, they have long faces and thin cheeks, high, narrow and long noses, black hair, long pointed and thin beards and a medium stature”.18 Thus, as it appears from this anthropological remark, the economic well-being of today’s Omanis cannot be thought of as solely the consequence of Oman being oil-rich country. Apparently, even at the dawn of history, the native inhabitants of Oman had a plenty of existential idealism about them, reflected in their anthropological traits. And, it is namely people’s sense of idealism, out of which their ability to operate with abstract categories derives. Such ability, in its turn, is the driving force behind cultural and scientific progress.
As for Omanis’ preferences in fashion, Kaempfer comes up with the following detailed description:
“Their dress is a wide and long coat made of linen with a belt around the stomach and rather wide and long sleeves on their coat, but all loose and untidy. Above that they carry a wide unlined coat or skirt, again of linen. The shoes are just soles skillfully fastened by leather straps on the naked feet. Their heads are wrapped up with long and white towels, so as to let their ends hang down from the head. Their sword, very long and only seldom bent, is carried negligently over the shoulder or on the back. Often they put on their side a khandjar”.19
The semiotic analysis of how Kaempfer went about describing Omanis’ manner to dress reveals the fact that, it was specifically the functional practicality of Omani fashions, which attracted German traveler the most. Therefore, it will not be much of an exaggeration, on our part, to think of Kaempfer as one of the first Europeans who referred to the Oriental mode of living as being quite consistent with Western rationale-driven psyche.
Another notable German traveler, who visited Muscat on January 3, 1765, was Carsten Niebuhr (1733–1815). A substantial volume of his book Travels through Arabia, and other Countries in the East is being dedicated to the analysis of Oman’s ancient history, country’s cultural traditions and economy.20 According to Niebuhr:
“This country [Oman] affords plenty of cheese, barley, lentiles, with several different sorts of grapes. Of dates such abundance is here produced, as to yield an annual exportation of several ships lading; and there is variety of other fruits, and of pulse. Here are also lead and copper mines. Fishes are so plentiful upon the coast, and so easily caught, as to be used not only for feeding cows, asses, and other domestic animals, but even as manure to the fields”.21
Quite evidently, Niebuhrt considered Oman as perfectly civilized and culturally rich country, the inhabitants of which have been blessed with the abundance of natural resources. Niebuhrt’s following description of Muscat, leaves very little doubt as to the fact that he also thought of Omanis as intellectually advanced people, capable of taking practical advantage of the natural environment:
“The most important and best known city in the dominions of this Imam is Maskat; in consequence of which, he is, by many travellers, called King of Maskat. It stands at one end of a beautiful plain, beside a small gulph, encompassed with steep rocks, forming an excellent harbour, in which the largest vessels may find shelter. This harbour is likewise protected by forts; and the city thus fortified both by art and nature”.22
And, as history indicates, people’s intellectual advancement usually correlates with their ability to appreciate the virtue of tolerance. The realities of today’s living exemplify the soundness of this suggestion with perfect clarity – whereas; in countries where the average rate of citizens’ IQ falls below 70, it is being considered absolutely appropriate to settle arguments with machetes, in Western countries, psychologically adequate citizens settle arguments in court. Therefore, the fact that Niebuhrt describes Muscat’s residents as religiously tolerant people does not come as a particular surprise:
“Banians from India are settled in great numbers in the commercial cities. At Mokha they suffer many mortifications. But, at Maskat, among the tolerant sect of the Beiasi, they are permitted to observe the laws, and cultivate the worship of their own religion without disturbance. In Persia there are also some of these Indians; but the Turks, who are austere Sunnites, suffer none of them in their provinces. I never saw that the Arabs have any hatred for those of a different religion. They, however, regard them with much the same contempt with which Christians look upon the Jews in Europe. Among the Arabs this contempt is regulated. It falls heaviest upon the Banians; next after them, upon the Jews; and, least of all, upon the Christians, who, in return, express the least aversion for the Mussulmans. A Mahometan, who marries a Christian or Jewish woman, does not oblige her to apostatize from her religion; but the same man would not marry a Banian female, because this Indian sect are supposed to be strangers to the knowledge of God, having no book of divine authority”.23
As it appears from Niebuhrt’s travelling account, it was not only that Omanis tolerated those affiliated with different versions of Islam, but also ‘infidels’, such as Jews:
“The Jews dispersed through different cities have synagogues, and enjoy a great deal of freedom. They are fond of living together, and commonly form a village near every principal town. In Oman they are still better treated, and permitted to wear the dress of Mahometans”.24
According to the author, Europeans that lived in the area, were in position to benefit from native population’s sense of hospitality, as well:
“In Yemen, Oman, and Persia, an European is treated with as much civility as a Mahometan would find in Europe. Some travellers complain of the rude manners of the inhabitants of the East; but it must be allowed that the Europeans often involve themselves in embarrassments in these countries, by being the first to express contempt or aversion for the Mussulmans”.25
Thus, while being exposed to how Niebuhrt went about describing Oman’s realities, 18th century’s European readers have undeniably gotten the long-forgotten taste of true Orientalism, as something simultaneously exotic and progressive. Therefore, the fact that in his book, Niebuhrt spends a great deal of time, while expounding on the subject of sorcery, makes perfectly logical sense. Apparently, author wanted his readers to draw parallels between the inhabitants of Oman and Spanish Moors, who before having been expelled from Europe by Christian fanatics in 15th century, nevertheless succeeded with reintroducing Europeans to the notion of culture, and who have traditionally been considered great magicians:
“A science truly occult, and which every Arabian of worth must hold in abhorrence, is what they call Sihhr, or pure open sorcery. The end of this science is rather to do mischief to another person than to do good to the person who practises it. It is sometimes employed, however, to seduce a wife from the arms of her husband into those of a stranger. All that is requisite for this is to fix a certain billet on her door. The inhabitants of Oman are peculiarly skilled in this execrable science”.26
Therefore, there appears to be nothing incidental about the fact that Niebuhrt discusses Omanis’ magical practices in terms of ‘science’ – just as it is being the case with Faustian (German) soul, Oriental soul seeks self-actualization by converting magic into science, and vice versa.
An unmistakably German industriousness is being extrapolated in how Niebuhr proceeds with describing area’s richness in natural resources:
“In Oman are many very rich lead mines. As this metal is more easily fusible, the inhabitants of this province export great plenty of it. This trade is carried on from the harbour of Maskat. As the ancients honoured one part of Arabia with the title of Happy, it should seem that they must have ascribed to it all possible advantages. The Greeks and Latins accordingly make ample mention of the immense quantity of gold which this country produced. In remote times possibly, when the Arabians were the factors of the trade to India, much of this precious metal might pass through Arabia into Europe”.27
The earlier provided excerpts from Niebuhr’s book point out at the sheer strength of author’s analytical reasoning and also and the fact that, unlike what it used to the case with many of his travelling contemporaries from Europe’s other countries, Niebuhr’s account of Oman does not seem to contain any subtly defined colonial overtones.
Nevertheless, given the fact that Niebuhr did not stay in Oman for too long, his portrayal of Omanis cannot be considered as representing an undeniable truth-value. William Gifford Palgrave, a British missionary who visited Oman in 1863, criticized Niebuhr on the account of German traveler’s lack of discretion. According to him:
“[Niebuhr]fell into the error, not unnatural in so short a stay, of attributing the severity of Wahhabee manners, their abstinence from tobacco, their regular attendance at prayer, their simplicity of apparel, in a word all the distinctive features of their sect, to the native population of the land, and pronounces the Biadeeyah not only orthodox Muslims, but almost fervent ascetics”.28
The context of Palgrave’s remark implies that Niebuhr, in fact, confused visiting Wahhabis with Muscat’s natives. The truth, Plagrave claims, was different because, Muscat’s markets, as well as the markets in other Oman’s towns, were ‘full of tobacco-shops, and the mouths full of pipes’. For prayers, he argues, there were many mosques in Muscat, but ‘it would be very hard to find a single Biadee in those or in any other mosques’. In terms of fashion’s simplicity, Palgrave asserts that that Omanis had no better right to Niebuhr’s praise than ‘the inhabitants of Vienna or of Paris’. After having refuted Niebuhr’s claims, in this respect, Palgrave nevertheless comes up with essentially similar conclusion, regarding Omanis’ willingness to tolerate ethnic and religious differences:
“In disposition they are decidedly, so far as my experience goes, the best-tempered, the most hospitable, in a word the most amiable, of all the Arab race. Toleration to a degree not often attained even in Europe, exists here for all races, religions, and customs; Jews, Christians, Mahometans, Hindoos, all may freely worship God after their own several fashions, dress as they think best, marry and inherit without restriction, bury or burn their dead as fancy takes them; no one asks a question, no one molests, no one hinders”.29
Friedrich Rosen, a diplomat with doctorate in Persian and Hindustani, visited Muscat in 1887. Rosen’s account of this city is being featured in his book: Oriental Memoirs of a German Diplomatist, which was published in English in 1930. Just as it used to be the case with most European travelers to Oman at the time, the sight of Muscat, as seen from seaside, overwhelmed Rosen:
“As we passed the rocks that hide the cove of Muscat, very interesting scenery appeared before our eyes, the white line of the sea-front of Muscat, flanked by sunburnt and barren cliffs, presenting a quaint picturesque sight”.30
Nevertheless, even though Rosen never ceased admiring Muscat, he was not overly thrilled about persistently hot weather. Not only that Rosen claimed Muscat to be ‘the hottest spot on the globe’, but he also would often resort to utilization of emotionally charged allegorical language, in order to emphasize Oman climate’s actual subtleties:
“Persian envoys who had been sent there by shah Abbas in the beginning of the seventeen century had reported that, in Saadi’s words, their swords had melted in their scabbards, and that their marrow was being boiled in their bones”.31
And yet, despite the fact that Rosen could barely endure hot weather, it did not prevent him from exploring Oman’s countryside. While answering Sultan’s question as to what had motivated him to indulge in travelling throughout Oman’s countryside, Rosen would come up with rather witty reply:
“What have you come to see in this desolate place which consists of only two buildings and some miserable huts, of burnt rocks and waterless desert behind them? Happily I remembered an Arab proverb which says: ‘Sharaft al makan bil makin’—The excellence of the dwelling is in the dweller. This pleased the Sultan very much, and he asked me whether I had any wish that it was in his power to fulfill. [….] I had had enough Oriental training to reply: My wish is a long life and a happy reign for your Majesty”.32
It is quite clear, from how Rosen handled Sultan’s question, that he was avery skilled diplomat. At the same time, it also appears that Rosen thought of ‘Oriental training’ in terms of one’s ability to face life’s challenges as a stoic. Therefore, we can assume that Rosen thought of such training as not only being ‘necessary’ but ‘pleasing’ – after all, Germans have always been known for their talent in deriving pleasure out dealing with hardships. Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration to think of how Rosen referred to ‘Oriental training’ as yet additional proof of German diplomat’s psychological compatibility with Orientalism.
Unfortunately, it seems that Rosen’s attitudes towards the Orient were influenced by British travelers who visited Arabia at the beginning of nineteenth century, such as James Wellested and Samuel Miles. These individuals popularized the notion that Arabs were naturally inclined to become pirates. Rosen claimed that the word ‘Ichthyophagous’ or the Fish-Eaters, was initially applied to the coast of Oman by Greeks, but ‘later on the latter has been appropriately named the Pirates’ Coast’.33 Indeed, Rosen’s belief in the ‘otherness’ of Omanis is quiet overt in his writings. He never ceased thinking about world as such that features an irreconcilable gap between civilized West and uncivilized East. From Rosen’s accounts of Muscat, it appears that held Colonel Ross, known for his ruthlessness in endorsing British colonial agenda, in particularly high regard: “He [Ross] exercised his influence in those remote and, at that time, quite uncivilized regions, more through his personal authority and knowledge than by the limited naval and military forces that were in his disposal”.34 This is exactly the reason why Rosen tended to assess the extent of Omani tribes’ capacity to come to terms with Western civilization as being reflective of their lessened ability to wage wars:
“From Nakhl it is a long day’s journey to Lihiga at the foot of Jebel Achdar… Here, as well as on the mountains, dwells a tribe of hardy mountaineers, the Bni Ryam. In features and habits this tribe is quite distinct from the other Oman tribes. All over these mountains the people lead a peaceful life, and the absence of fire-arms was noticeable in comparison with the valley tribes, where each man carries his rifle… I have always felt at ease among them”.35
In its turn, this allows us to conclude that, even though Rosen was psychologically predisposed towards recognizing the validity of Oriental worldview, he nevertheless lacked intellectual honesty to admit it to himself – hence, imperialistic overtones in the writings of this German diplomat.
Max Baron von Oppenheim (1857-1909), a diplomat and archaeologist, had a stopover in Muscat in 1893, during his journey from Bandar Abbas to Zanzibar. Oppenheim provides us with an extensive description of how Sultan’s palace looked liked at the turn of 20th century:
“The entrance to the palace was in a rather narrow street, running parallel with the sea. The building used for receiving gusts was separate from the harem, close by. There were many soldiers; Bedouins and Muscatis on duty at the gate, which was quite simple in style. A staircase in the left led to the staterooms, arranged on all sides of a courtyard and overlooking the sea. The Sultans greeted us at the top of this staircase and led us into the audience chamber. It was a long room, narrow and dark, with many windows and walls flanked by a long row of bamboo armchairs in the Viennese style”.36
Oppenheim’s travelling account also allows us to gain an insight on what defined the essence of country’s socio-historic dynamics in second half of 19th century. According to him, in 1861, Omani Empire has been divided between two brothers of Sultan Seyyid Sa’id. This was followed by drastic decline of Oman’s geopolitical power, which in its turn, created a situation when in 1870, Britain considered turning this country into its depended territory. Nevertheless, Britain’s colonial plans, in regards to Oman, had never been materialized.
Given his training in archeology, Oppenheim was also able to come up with clearly anthropological description of Sultan Faisal bin Turki:
“The Sultan was above average height, his face was handsome and expressive, his nose typically Arab, thin and distinctly hooked, his lips were thick. He had beautiful eyes and good teeth, dark-colored skin and wore his beard trimmed to a point”. 37
Oppenheim’s portrayal of Sultan is being suggestive of the fact that, throughout the course of 19th century, Oman’s demographic fabric underwent a considerable transformation.
Hermann Burchardt was a German photographer, who traveled extensively not only in the Arabic Middle East and North Africa, but also in Turkey and Persia. The part of Burchardt’s collection was published in Berlin, 2006, in a volume with texts in both, English and German: Along The Gulf From Basra to Muscat. It includes a pictorial of his 1903-1904 journey from Basra to Oman. The first Omani place, visited by Burchardt, was Musandum. After having arrived there on February 27, 1904, he ended up being treated ‘with great friendliness’ by locals. Because of the steep cliffs, surrounding Musanadum, Burchardt called the area ‘Arabian Norway’. 38 On March 7, he came to the main town on al-Batinah coast, Suhar. Burchardt described it as follows: ‘a large settlement with several citadels; the very significant market even boasted a few coffeehouses’. He also called al-Batinah coast ‘the Riviera of Eastern Arabia’, as the scenery, surrounding this place, reminded him that of Southern France. Due to coast’s fertile soil, it had proven possible for the locals to grow a variety of tropical fruits on it, such as lemons, bananas, and apricots.39 Finally, on March 12, Burchardt arrived to Muscat. He provides us with the following description of Oman’s capital:
“Muscat lies between black cliffs and is regarded as one of the hottest places on Earth. In the summer, even the Indian officials at the Residency suffer, and the Indian sepoys stationed here are relieved every year. […] Muscat is sealed off on the land side by a wall; outside the wall is the shockingly filthy fish market. The surrounding valleys are well cultivated and offer lovely strolls”.40
Just as it was the case with Niebuhr, Burchardt ended up being deeply impressed with the sheer extent of Omanis’ open-mindedness. Throughout his book’s entirety, German photographer never ceases to express his admiration with the way foreigners in this country are being treated by natives. He also points out to the fact that was surprised to find out that, unlike what it usually used to be the case in other Muslim counties he had visited, Omanis’ did not think of their actual identify along solely religious lines. According to Burchardt, this partially explains the roots of Omanis’ religious tolerance.
At the same time, it would be quite inappropriate to refer to Burchardt as particularly progressive individual – after all, there are still some poorly concealed racialist sentiments can be found in how he discusses Oman’s natives: “The people [Omanis] are more primitive than Arabs in general. Only Maskat has its eyes open to the wide world; that is the only port in all Oman where steamers call”.41 What appears particularly ironic, in this respect, is that Burchardt’s racist attitudes, extrapolated in earlier provided quotation, somehow did not prevent him from admiring Omanis as people who would do their utmost to help German traveler, throughout the course of his journey. As Burchardt would often point out – while travelling through Oman, he was solely depended upon locals’ assistance, who would often go as far as sacrificing their food and water, so that members of his expedition would not suffer too much of discomfort. He also noted Omani companions’ willingness to help his people with carrying heavy loads.
During the course of 20th century’s latter stages, many more Germans had succeeded with making a trip to Oman, even though that, up until the end of WW2, it was becoming increasingly harder for them to do, due to specifics of a political situation in the world. For example, in 1912, German telegraphist Horst Teshke, who was representing the interests of Siemens GmbH, came to Muscat in order to explore the possibility of laying a telephone cable on the bottom of Persian Gulf, which would connect Oman with Persia.42 There are also accounts of Lufthansa’s officials having visited Muscat in 1932, as at the time, this German airline company was applying a considerable effort into trying to establish a dependable flight route from Germany to Persia. The negotiations with Sultan, however, did not bring about any positive results. As Burchall had put it: “To use this [air] route, it was necessary to make arrangements with the Sheikhs of Koweit, Bahrein and Trucial Oman, who are independent rulers of their own territories, but they are so closely tied to Great Britain by treaty and custom that the air route is in effect under British protection”.43 During the time of WW2, Germans were forbidden an entrance to Oman.
One of the most notable German travelers, who came to Oman after the end of WW2, was Fred Scholz – a prominent German geographer that was given the task to map previously uncharted Oman’s interior. After having traveled through the area, Scholz concluded that, ever since oil deposits have been discovered in that part of Oman, maintaining country’s oasis-based agricultural sector had ceased making any rational sense. He also noted that, in Oman’s interior, during the course of pre-harvest, farmers experience an acute shortage of cash and food. In its turn, this causes these farmers to become increasingly dependent on bank loans. After the harvest, however, prices for agricultural products go down, which again leaves farmers in rather financially disadvantageous position. This cycle continues on and on, many of region’s agricultural enterprises realize themselves standing on the threshold of bankruptc4.44
Even though, on many occasions, Scholz would admit that the discovery of oil in Oman did result in the drastic improvement of living standards in this country, he nevertheless, never ceased regarding the process of Oman’s industrialization with skepticism, which can be partially explained by his affiliation with German leftists, known for their strongly negative attitude towards just about any type of industrial activities, as ‘polluting’, ‘greed-driven’ and ‘evil’.
Yet, it was namely throughout the course of 20th century’s eighties, that the number of German visitors to Oman had increased rather dramatically. The reason for this is simple – during that time, Oman’s government had applied a considerable effort into revitalizing the tourism-oriented sector of national economy. Given the fact that Oman has always been considered a culturally rich country, it is specifically Oman’s historical sites that seem to attract international tourists the most. According to Waleed: “Oman, slower to enter the international tourism economy, has liberalized its visa policies, upgraded its airport, and developed a master plan and marketing strategy. In contrast to most Gulf states, Oman is focusing on nature-and culture-based tourism, usually organized through small group tours.45 As of nineties, the average number of Germans that visit Oman on annual basis has been estimated to amount for 2300.46 And, there is a number of reasons to believe that, in the future, more and more Germans will be willing to travel to Oman, as simultaneously ancient and modern country.
The earlier conducted analysis of travelling accounts to Oman, on the part of German explorers, scientists and diplomats, allows us to outline the specifics of how these individuals have been reflecting upon their impressions of the country, and also to define the foremost characteristics of how the particulars of these people’s cognitive perception affected their travelling experiences:
- The main feature of earlier analyzed travelling accounts is the fact that their authors appear to pay a particular attention to the qualitative essence of socio-political and religious dynamics within Omani society – hence, their admiration of Omanis’ religious tolerance. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that Germans themselves had chosen in favor of becoming open-minded people, in religious sense of this word, as far back as at the beginning 16th century, during the time of Protestant Reformation, which is best referred to as the intellectual byproduct of German psyche. As it was rightly noted by Chaves and Gorski: “The Protestant Reformation brought substantial increases in religious pluralism and religious competition”.47 Therefore, by being exposed to the ethnic and religious tolerance of Omanis, German travelers could not help but to think of it as the foremost indication of these people’s civilizational advancement.
- With possible exception of Rosen’s (and Scholz’s, of course), neither of earlier mentioned German visitors’ travelling accounts contains strongly defined imperialistic overtones. What it means is that, while traveling through Oman, Kaempfer, Niebuhr, Oppenheim and Burchardt were the least concerned with rationalizing in what way native populations could have been ‘put to use’. And, as we have pointed out in Introduction, there was an objective precondition for these individuals to act in that manner – the fact that Germans had never embraced perceptional imperialism, as the part of their national identity, in full sense of this word. According to Stone: “British imperialism in Africa is characterized by collaborative internationalism and historical continuity, whereas colonialism was a relatively brief assertion of competitive German nationalism”.48 This appears to be the foremost reason why, while in Oman, German travelers remained rather observant than pragmatic. This, however, did not cause them to think of Oman’s newly encountered realities from locals’ perspective. Apparently, just as it was the case with French, British and Dutch travelers to the area, Germans had proven themselves just as susceptible to rationalization of even those aspects of Omani living that they could not possibly comprehend. This proves the validity of Rentz’s suggestion that the functioning of Western rationale-driven psyche is being quite inconsistent with highly spiritual (traditional) workings of Oriental mentality: “Westerners… are apt to suffer too much from a tendency to schematize, fitting the facts at hand into neat patterns which, though convenient, often fall short of reflecting reality”.49 Therefore, the moral characterization of Omanis’, provided by these German travelers, cannot be considered fully objective.
- The writings of German travelers emanate authors’ fascination with Orientalism, which they seem to associate with the concept of magic and with luxurious lifestyles of Oman’s rulers. However, it would be wrong to suggest that such their tendency is being reflective of their willingness to think of Orientalism as ‘thing in itself’. By being exposed to the Oriental system of values in Oman, German travelers were gradually expanding their intellectual horizons. At the same time, the very same process prevented them from considering this system of values as thoroughly tangible. As Brennan had put it: “One can only be ‘Oriental’ in the West, but never in the Orient itself”.50 This raises certain doubts as to whether the existential emanations of Orientalism, as perceived by foreign travelers, should be thought of as fully objective.
- Even though the earlier analyzed travelling accounts are being the least characterized by their authors’ tendency to assess surrounding reality through the lenses of perceptional imperialism, they nevertheless feature a number of clearly defined racialist sentiments. It appears that, Kaempfer, Niebuhr, Rosen, Oppenheim and Burchardt really did believe that the specifics of one’s anthropological constitution provide researchers with the valuable insight into the workings of his or her mentality. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that, while providing a qualitative assessment to Omanis’ anthropological makeup; German travelers were being driven by some malicious intention. After all, before the rise of political correctness, as the only governmentally endorsed worldview in Western countries, drawing correlative parallels between people’s physical appearance and the qualitative properties of their existential mode, used to be considered scientifically legitimate.
- Even though, in their travelling accounts, Kaempfer, Niebuhr, Rosen, Oppenheim and Burchardt do discuss Omanis’ physiological and psychological characteristics at length, they seem to be particularly interested in observing Oman’s architecture. Given the fact that Germans contributed rather substantially towards establishing Europe’s architectural legacy, as we know it, such their tendency appears fully explainable, at least in psychological context of this word.
- As the example of Scholz indicates, after the end of WW2, the socio-political attitudes of German travelers in Oman had undergone a drastic transformation. Whereas; Kaempfer, Niebuhr, Rosen, Oppenheim and Burchardt did not think that there was anything wrong about them referring to the native Omanis as ‘primitive’, it is not only that such thought had never occurred to Scholz, but while in Oman, he even made a point in referring to Western (German) style of living as environmentally unfriendly, and therefore ‘evil’.
We believe that our paper’s conclusions fully correlate with its initial hypothesis as to the fact that, given the subtleties German travelers’ psychological and intellectual constitution, it should have proven possible to define the distinctiveness of these individuals’ reflection upon their travelling experiences in Oman. As we had shown, most German travelers to Oman, mentioned in this study, did assess the significance of what they had learned about this Arabian country in politically disengaged manner. In its turn this proves that, the qualitative essence of people’s traveling experiences should not be discussed outside of what represents their ethno-cultural affiliation.
- Samuel B. Miles, The Countries and Tribes of the Persian Gulf (London: Garnet Publishing, 1994), 11–13.
- Silvio Durante and Maurizio Tosi, ‘The Aceramic Shell Middens of Ra’s al-Hamra: a Preliminary Note’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 3, part. 2 (1977), 137–162. Karen Frifelt, ‘Further Evidence of the Third Millennium bc Town at Bat in Oman’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 7 (1985), 89–104. Serge Cleuziou and Maurizio Tosi, ‘Ra’s al-Jinz and the Prehistoric Coastal Cultures of the Ja’alan’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 11 (2000), 19–73. Tome Vosmer, ‘Model of a Third Millennium bc Reed Boat Based on Evidence from Ra’s al-Jinz’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 11 (2000), 149–152.
- John Hansman, ‘A ‘Periplus’ of Magan and Meluhha’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 36, no. 3 (1973), 554–587. Thierry Berthoud and Serge Cleuziou, ‘Framing Communities of the Oman Peninsula and the Copper of Makkan’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 6, part. 2 (1983), 239–246. Gerd Weisgerber, ‘Copper Production during the Third Millennium bc in Oman and the Question of Makkan’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 6, part. 2 (1983), 269–276. Daniel T. Potts, The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 93–150.
- Wilkinson, John C. The Imamate Tradition of Oman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 95.
- Xavier Billecocq, Oman: Twenty-Five Centuries of Travel Writing (Relations Internationals, 1994), 17.
- William Vincent. The Voyage of Nearchus from the Indus to the Euphrates (London: [no.pub], 1797), 8.
- The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. by William Marsden (London: J. M. Dent, 1946), 63–69, 404–407.
- C. F. Beckingham, ‘Some Notes on the Portuguese in Oman’, The Journal of Oman Studies, 6, part 1 (1983), 13–19.
- The Commentaries of the Great Afonso Dalboquerque, trans. by Walter De Gray Birch, 4 vols (London: Hakluyt Society, 1884), 80.
- Ahmed Hamoud al-Maamiry, Omani-Portuguese History (New Delhi: Lancers, 1982).
- G. Weisgerber “Muscat in 1688: Engelbert Kaempfer’s Report and Engravings”, The Journal of Oman Studies, 5 (1979), 95-101.
- Ibid., 96.
- Ibid., 97.
- Ibid., 103.
- The multiculturalism of Muscat’s society, noticed by Kaempfer, was asserted by British traveller, James Wellsted, See: James Wellsted, Travels in Arabia, I (Austria: Graz, 1978), 14-19.
- Ibid., 98.
- Ibid., 99.
- Ibid., 99.
- Carsten Niebuhr, Travels through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, II (Edinburgh: Printed for R. Morison and Son, 1792).
- Ibid., 114.
- Ibid., 115.
- Ibid., 191.
- Ibid., 192.
- Ibid., 240-241.
- Ibid., 284-285.
- William Palgrave, Narrative of a Year’s Journey Through Central and Eastern Arabia, 1862–1863, II (London: Macmillan, 1865), 265.
- Ibid., 266.
- Friedrich Rosen, Oriental Memories of A German Diplomatist (London: Methuen, 1930), 30.
- Ibid., 44.
- Ibid., 47.
- Ibid., 50.
- Ibid., 52.
- Xavier Beguin Billecoq, Oman : twenty-five centuries of travel writing (Paris: Relations Internationals & Culture, 1994), 230.
- Ibid., 230.
- Annegret Nippa and Peter Herbstreuth, Along The Gulf From Basra to Muscat: Photographs by Hermann Burchardt (Berlin: Schiler, 2006), 225.
- Ibid., 227.
- Ibid., 230.
- Ibid, 236.
- D. G. Hogarth “Some Recent Arabian Explorations.” Geographical Review 11, no. 3 (1921), 331.
- H.Burchall “The Politics of International Air Routes.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1931-1939) 14, no. 1 (1935), 96.
- Fred Scholz “Informelle Institutionen versus Eniwicklung.” Die Erde, 117, 3-4 (1986), 290.
- Waleed Hazbun. Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: the Politics of Tourism in the Arab World. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 203.
- Alexander Melamid “Batinah Coast of Oman.” Geographical Review 80, no. 4 (1990), 433.
- Mark Chaves & Philip S. Gorski Religious Pluralism and Religious Participation.” Annual Review of Sociology 27 (2001), 272.
- Jeffrey Stone “Imperialism, Colonialism and Cartography.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series 13, no. 1 (1988), 58.
- George Rentz “Notes on Oppenheim’s ‘Die Beduinen’.” Oriens 10, no. 1 (1957), 78.
- Timothy Brennan “The Illusion of a Future: ‘Orientalism’ as Traveling Theory.” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 3 (2000), 582.