Notes from Oman: Part 2

Posted: January 9, 2012 - 08:49 , by royal

Dr. Sarah Fee, Associate Curator, Eastern Hemisphere Textiles & Costumes, is the first-ever recipient of the YPC Research Fund. This November 2011, YPC supported Sarah’s trip to Oman to research ancient forms of pitloom weaving and the trade routes of the Muscat cloth, which will inform part of a future ROM exhibition.

Submitted by Sarah Fee, Associate Curator, Eastern Hemisphere Textiles & Costumes

November 18, 2011

I just got back a few hours ago from an absolutely amazing four hours in Quryat, a coastal town south of Muscat.

Upon arrival, we found ourselves in a dusty courtyard and there were four pitlooms. My very first! But, they were covered and filled with trash. The last weaver, aged about 70, stopped weaving last year.

Here I am, sitting on my very first pitloom.

I was surprised how large the pits are, and how big the loom apparatus is. It must have taken real strength to operate.

We talked for almost 90 minutes with the weaver and the men of his extended family. At one point he berated everyone for not knowing more about hand-woven cloth!

He described all the cloths he made in the past, which include the special silk turbans worn by the royal family, and forbidden to anyone else.

About 15 years ago, people stopped buying the coloured cloth made by this weaver and his brother and cousins, when women switched from wearing the locally made checked and plaied shawl to the black Iranian style cloak. So, the weavers of Quriyat switched to making men's white hip wrappers with coloured edges (kikoy).

An important discovery was that the weaver knew some of the types of cloth that were formerly exported to Zanzibar. He was able to show me several samples, and had woven some himself.  I was able to acquire several of these for the ROM.

Thank goodness we caught him when we did! Nobody is following in his footsteps — his two sons present seemed almost offended at the idea. Desk jobs are what everyone aspires to now.

After talking, I got to enjoy my first Omani dates, said to be the best in the world, and Oman’s biggest export until oil was discovered in the 1960s.

Sampling some Omani dates and fresh fruit.

When talking was done, out came the hospitality: a platter of fruit and coffee. The men cut and peel and hand you select pieces. I ate my first Omani dates. The best Arabian horses ate nothing but them. Then tiny cups of coffee, which to me was surprisingly weak (I'm an espresso fan).

That’s all for now. On Sunday I am off for a week to the true heartland of pitloom weaving in the Sharquiya district to the South.


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