On the Sultanate of Muscat & Oman during the early 1960s

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Yesterday I visited a second-hand bookstore and lucked out by stumbling across an old guidebook from the early 1960s on the Sultanate of Muscat & Oman, a country that doesn't exist anymore - after 1970 a part of the country joined the United Arab Emirates and Oman became its own country. The guidebook was printed by the Sultanate Printing Press in Muscat, and though it doesn't have a date it is somewhere between 1964 and 1966, as it mentions trade figures from 1962 to 1963, as well as the fact that oil production (which didn't exist in the country at the time) was slated to begin around 1967. It's an interesting view of a Gulf state just a few years before becoming an oil producing nation, and the booklet itself is about 12 pages in total, taking about two hours to type.

(Image: Above - A view from Mirani Fort, Muscat. Below - For many years ships of all nations have inscribed their names on this "Visitors Book"  surrounding Muscat harbour.)

(Image: Above - A view of Muscat showing a Sports Club, the Ali Khan Mosque, Saidiya School and Boarding House. Below - A view of Muscat town.)

Sultanate of Muscat & Oman


The Sultanate of Muscat & Oman is situated on the South Eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula between 53° and 60° E., and between 16° and 25° N. It is bordered on the North by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, on the East by the Arabian Sea, on the South-West by the Aden Federation and on the West by the Trucial States and Rub-al-Khali (or Empty Quarter). Its area, estimated about 130,000 sq. miles, includes the town of Muscat, and the districts known as the Ruus-al-Jebal, Batinah, Dhahirah, Central Oman, Sharqiyah, Ja'alan and the Dependency of Dhofar. Except for small stretches between Dibba and Khatmat Milahah in the Shumailiyah in the North East, the coast line extends nearly one thousand miles from Ras-al-Keer near Shaam on the West side of the Musandum Peninsula in the North to Ras Darbat Ali to the West of Dhofar in the South.


Physically, the Sultanate of Muscat & Oman, except for the dependency of Dhofar, consists of three Divisions; a coastal plain, a mountain range and a plateau. The coastal plain varies in width from ten miles in the neighbourhood of Suwaiq to practically nothing near Muscat town where the hills descend abruptly to the sea. The mountain range runs generally from North West to South East and reaches its greatest height in the Jebal Akhdar (or green mountain) whose summit is about 9,900 feet. The mountains are mostly barren igneous rock but there are numerous cultivated areas or oases where water is plentiful. The plateau has an average height of about a thousand feet and is mostly stony and waterless and extends to the sands of the desert area known as the Rub-al-Khali. The coastline southward to Dhofar is barren and forbidding. The principal town of Dhofar is Salalah on the coast from which a semi-circular fertile plain extends to the foot of a steep line of hills, some two to three thousand feet high, which are grassy and wooded, and which form the edge of a stony plateau also extending to the sands of the Rub-al-Khali. The cultivated areas are rich in good quality dates and other fruit including sweet limes, pomegranates, bananas and grapes. Wheat and vegetables are grown to some extent, whilst coconuts are prolific in Dhofar, and frankincense also grows there. In fact Dhofar was once the principal source of supply for Egypt and elsewhere.


Desert shrub, trees and grass common to Southern Arabia are generally found but vegetation is sparse in the interior plateau, and elsewhere except in the areas already mentioned where dates, vegetables and fruit are cultivated. In Dhofar, by the sea, coconut palms grow plentifully and well, and frankincense in the hills. Oleander grows wild in most places and many varieties of accacia abound. Animals include the cheetah, hyena, gazelle, oryx, fox, wolf, and hare. Birds include the Arabian sisi partridge, red leg chakoor partridge, bee eater and many other varieties. Camels and Donkeps are reared for domestic use and in Dhofar there is a fine species of small hill cattle, whilst goats thrive everywhere.


Annual rainfall is about four inches in Muscat, though it has varied from less than two inches in bad years to over twelve inches in good years. The fall is mostly in January though there are records of rain in any month. Dhofar is subject to the South West Monsoon and falls up to twenty five inches have been recorded in the rainy season which starts in late June and lasts till October. Whilst the mountain areas enjoy more plentiful rain, some parts of the coast, particularly near Masirah Island, sometimes receive no rain at all. The climate, generally, is very hot, with maximum temperatures averaging 115° Fahrenheit in the hot season which is from May to October. Temperatures seldom drop below 54° in the cold season.


The population and fortunes of Oman can be traced back to the very earliest times. The Cushites came probably from Egypt in 3000 or 4000 B.C.; the descendants of Joktan mentioned in the 10th chapter of Genesis migrated as far as Dhofar (Sephar); the Phoenicians perhaps; the long extinct Semitic tribes known as "Baida" and "Ariba" from Northern Arabia; the first Himyar dynasty from the Yemen, which fell to the Persians in the time of Cyrus about 550 B.C.; the occupation of the Parthians (174 - 136 B.C.) and the second Himyar dynasty from the Yemen (whose power extended to India and whose rulers held the title "Toba"); refugees after the bursting of the Mareb dam about 130 A.D.; the spread of Islam; the "Jalunda" dynasty with their capital at Nizwa; the rule of the Khalifs of Baghdad; the Camarthian occupation from Bahrain; the Turkish invasions; further Persian invasions and rule of the Kings of Hormuz; Portuguese occupation; the Nabhahina dynasty (capital Bhahlah); the Yaarabah dynasty which expelled the Portuguese and extended Oman's influence to all parts of the Persian Gulf and to East Africa, and had its capital at Rostaq, and finally, the present al-bu-Said dynasty, which has seen the last eviction of the Persians (1744) and the transfer of the capital to Muscat at the end of the eighteenth century.


The population of the Sultanate is estimated at five to six hundred thousand. A general estimate would be a total of one hundred thousand for the principal towns (Matrah 14000, Sur 8000, Nizwa 8000 and Muscat 5000); three hundred and fifty thousand for the smaller towns and villages and one hundred thousand nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes.


The population is predominantly Arab except on the Batinah Coast where there are many Baluch and Negro elements. In Muscat and Matrah, Khojas, Hyderabadis, Hindus, and Baluch predominate.


The Language is Arabic but in Muscat and Matrah Indian and Pakistani languages, Urdu, Hindi, Gujrati, Sindhi, and Baluchi are freely spoken.


The religion of the country and many of the tribes is the Ibadhi branch of the Muslim faith, but other tribes are Sunnis and Shias.

CAPITAL: Muscat.
FLAG: Red.
CREST: The crest as printed on the title of this booklet is the emblem of the Sultanate.


The Sultan, Said bin Taimur, born on the 7th Shaban 1328 (13th August 1910), succeeded his father as thirteenth ruler of the present al-bu-Said dynasty on the 2nd SHAWAL 1350 (10th February 1932). He has one son, Qaboos bin Said, who was born on the 17th SHAWAL 1359 (18th November 1940).


Oman is an independent monarchy and the Sultan exercises absolute power. The succession has been hereditary since the beginning of the present dynasty. The Sultan is assisted in the capital by a Minister of the Interior, a Personal Adviser and a number of Secretaries of Departments including External Affairs, Defence and Development. Walis (or Governors) are appointed by the Sultan for all the chief towns and districts throughout the Sultanate and the tribes supply guards or askars though not necessarily from the same district. A list of these is supplied at the end of this booklet, some of which will be found on the Map at the beginning.


Great Britain and India, which have treaties with the Sultan, are the only two countries at present maintaining representation in Muscat. This they do through Consulates General. There is also a treaty recently renewed with the United States of America, but no representation in the country at present, whilst treaties were also concluded with France and Hollantd many years ago.


There is a joint Municipality of Matrah and Muscat towns managed by an Executive Officer advised by a Commitee of leading business-men, under the general control of an official appointed by the Sultan.

(Image: Above - Nizwa Fort - The Big Tower. Below - Nakhal Fort.)

(Image: Above - Darbat near Salalah - Dhofar. Below - Muscat Distant View)


The law of the country is administered through Sha'a courts according to the Qoranic law. Qadis (Judges) are appointed at all places where there are Walis (Governors) and there is a court and a foreigners' court at Muscat. As sovereign, the Sultan hears appeals and exercises powers of clemency.


There is a small police force in Muscat under a Superintendent of Police and a detachment for the neighbouring town of Matrah. Elsewhere, the Walis' askars perform the functions of village police.


The Sultan's Armed Forces consist of two regiments: a small air force, some artillery; some garrison troops in the capital; and a regiment of Gendarmerie whose role is to watch the coast and support the Walis and posts at the frontiers and ports. There is also a small independent force at Salalah in Dhofar, and a recruits' training centre near Ghala outside Muscat.


The economy is almost entirely dependent upon the cultivation and export of dates, but dried fish, limes, pomegranates and firewood represent other exports. Imports are mainly of wheat, rice and textiles, but with increasing wealth of the population, more so-called luxury goods are finding their way into the markets.


Though the Sultanate is planning development of the country over a term of years, revenues were heretofore too small for any great impact, and hopes were chiefly vested in the discovery of oil, which is now expected to be produced in commercial quantities by the year 1967. In addition, something can certainly be made of the Agricultural and Fisheries potential and a start has been made with two Experimental Farms in Nizwa and Sohar.


There is no income tax, nor any Sultanate taxation other than the Customs import duty and zakat (religious tax on produce) which, in the Sultanate, is collected at 5% where irrigation is carried on through wells, and at 10% where it is by "falaj". A small Municipal Tax is also levied on the value of imports and exports through the Ports of Muscat and Matrah, which provides the chief source of income for the joint Municipality of those two towns.


The revenue of the Sultanate is almost entirely derived from customs levies, which vary from 7 1/2% on essentials such as wheat, rice, sugar, coffe and cotton piece goods, to 75% on drugs such as opium. There is also a levy upon exports of locally produced commodities limited to 5%. There are no restrictios on export.


The Official currency is the Indian Rupee in notes of 1, 5, 10, and 100 Rupees of the Persian Gulf issue; the Indian Naya Paisa and Baizas in units of 3, 5, and 20. The Indian one Rupee coin is not used. The silver Maria Theresa Thaler or dollar is also still used in the Interior and Dhofar.


13.33 Rupees = L1 sterling or 2.80 dollars U.S.A.; 1 Rupee = 64 baizas.


At present the British Bank of the Middle East has a branch in Muscat and Matrah.

There is no stock exchange and no system of government loans.


The Oil Companies mentioned under the caption "Mining" are at present the only foreign investors in the Sultanate.


Motorable roads and tracks run from Muscat along the Batinah Coast to Sohar and thence to the Trucial Coast. There are motorable roads to Nizwa and Sur, whilst a number of feeder roads have been constructed and are still being developed. Dhofar can also be reached by a motorable land route. There is a landing ground for smaller aircraft near Muscat and a number of emergency strips elsewhere in the country. Larger aircraft can land at Adhaiba, Masirah and Salalah but the normal method of entry into the Sultanate is by sea or air via Muscat and permission is required for the use of other air fields or ports or to travel on roads beyond a certain distance of Muscat. Messrs. Cable & Wireless operate both a public telegraph and telephone service at Muscat, and there is also a Post Office with normal air and surface letter and parcel services to any part of the world.

At present a bi-weekly passenger air-service connects Muscat with the International Air-port of Bahrain and with all the Shaikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. British India Steam Navigation mail and passenger Steamers also call regularly entering and leaving the Gulf, whilst Strick Line and other cargo ships from Europe, Australia and the Far-East call at approximately monthly intervals. Provided Steamers stay long enough landing passes can usually be arranged for passengers during day light hours through ships's agents.


Land is extensively cultivated along the Batinah ad Shumailiyah where wells are plentiful ad water is found at only some fifteen feet. In the Interior, cultivation is confined to areas near Wadis where water from the mountain passes is taken off by a system of "falajs", or underground or open channels. An increasing number of motor pumps is being imported and wells are supplied with them all over the country. The Sultanate waives Custom duty on these imports and already some 5000 are believed to have been installed. The Sultanate has now established two experimental farms at Nizwa and Sohar which are proving popular among the local farmers, who obtain every kind of advice needed for their cultivation, as well as tried varieties of seeds. Annual shows are also held and are popular. Almost anything will grow, but dates form by far the greatest export, and, with fish (even up country), provide the staple diet of the people.


There are two boys' day schools, one at Matrah and one at Muscat with nearly 400 pupils each. A small boarding extension has been added to the latter, so that students from other parts can attend. Throughout the country there are Mullah Schools where the Qoran, Arabic grammar and arithmetic are taught.


As part of their development programme the Sultanate now have nine health centres (with doctors) and one maternity centre and ten dispensaries spread throughout the country. There is a charitable hospital in Muscat financed by official and voluntary public contributions. An American Mission hospital is in Matrah. Treatment at the charitable hospital and at all the Sultanate health centres and dispensaries is free. The sanitation of Muscat and Matrah towns is cared for by the Municipality. Spraying units tour all over the country and encourage people to have their houses sprayed against mosquitoes and flies with increasing success.


Labour is fairly plentiful except in the skilled trades owing to migration to the oil fields. Rates at present are Rs. 5/- daily for coolies and from Rs. 10/- to Rs. 20/- for masons or carpenters according to their quality. Domestic servants are often imported from India. Local servants are also available, salaries varying from Rs. 150 for house boys to Rs. 250 for cooks per mensem.


Fishing is mostly for Sardines, which are used fresh and for oil, or dried and used locally, or exported to Europe for cattle food and manures; and of Tunnies and Sharks for local use fresh and also for drying and salting for local use or for export to India, Ceylon and Africa. Shark fins are sent to China. Cockles are also used in very large quantities for local consumption and cray fish abound in several rocky regions. A survey (by G.C.L. Bertram M.A. Ph. D.) was carried out in 1948 and copies of the report are available on application.

(Image: Above - Visitors going round the exhibits on Farmers' Day at Nizwa. Below - A group of children at the Farmers' Day show at Nizwa.)

(Image: Above - Covering wheat seed in a plot at the Sultanate Experimental Farm at Sohar, Batinah. Below - The Dispensary at Birkah, another town on the Batinah Coast.)


The Interior of the Country is fairly well wooded, and considerable quantities of firewood are exported to the Persian Gulf. No suitable timber is, however, available for building or furniture, though palm tree trunks are frequently used for the former.


Goats, sheep, donkeys, and camels are widely raised, and the camels of Oman are famous ad prized all over Arabia. There are also sturdy breeds of Camels, hill cattle and goats in Dhofar.


Exploratory concessions have been given to an American in Dhofar, and to the Shell and Partex Interests of the Iraq Petroleum Company for the rest of the Sultanate.


Only small Power stations for domestic electricity exist in Muscat and Matrah.


The only industries are the production of ghee (Dhofar) and the drying of fish, dates and limes. There are no heavy industries at present.


1 Kiyas = the weight of 6 Maria Theresa dollars or 5.9375 oz.
24 Kiyas = 1 Muscat Maund (9 lbs: Troy weight approximately).
10 Muscat Maunds = 1 Farasalah (90 lbs. approximately).
200 Muscat Maunds = 1 Bahar (4/5 ton).


Rajabah = 1st joint of finger to tip.
Fatar = Span from 1st finger to thumb.
Shibr = Span of hand.
Dhara = eighteen inches.
Ba'a = Span of outstretched arms.
Farsakh = Nearly three miles.


In Muscat and Matrah almost all the business is carried on by settled and long established Khoja and Hindu merchants who trade with the Arab merchants all over the country, acting as their agents for teh import of foreign goods and the export of local products.


Trade is mainly with India, the United Kingdom, Australia, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf States. Imports amounted to some Rs. 39,191,000 and exports to Rs. 4,353,000, for the year 1962-63

Chief imports were:

Rice --- Rs. 7,462,000
Wheat and flour --- Rs. 3,238,000
Coffee --- Rs 3,096,000
Sugar --- Rs. 1,048,000
Cotton piece goods --- 3,444,000
Cement --- Rs. 1,867,000
Motorcars and accessories --- Rs. 952,000

Chief exports were:

Dates --- Rs. 1,436,000
Fish & fish products --- Rs. 626,000
Limes and fruits --- Rs. 1,131,000


As there has hitherto been no oil production in the Sultanate, large numbers of Omanis have been going abroad to work in the oil fields of near-by States. However, they invariably return and are particular in keeping their Omani Passports. They make generous remittances to their families, thereby much assisting the purchasing power of the population.


Tourists are not at present encouraged owing to the absence of hotels and other suitable accommodation and means of transport. All persons who require to visit the Sultanate on business have to apply for visas stating the nature of their business and with whom they propose to stay in Muscat. The normal places of arrival and departure are Muscat by sea and Bait-al-Falaj (near Muscat) by air.


Being an orthodox Muslim country the following thigs may give offence to many of its inhabitants:

(a) smoking,
(b) drinking alcohol,
(c) serving any form of pig meat for food and
(d) failure to keeping pet dogs under proper restraint.

Foreigners should, therefore, exercise discretion and tact in these matters especially when moving about the towns or in the country upon picnics and in camp. They should also pay due consideration to these matters either as guists or hosts of Muslims.

It is, in fact, an offence punishable by Shar'a law throughout the country to smoke in any public place even though enclosed.

In Ramadhan it is also a punishable offence to eat or drink in public during the fasting hours, nor may music be played in any form (e.g. radios) at any time during this month. News talks ad similar programmes are however unobjectionable.

It is impolite in Muslim circles to turn the soles of ones feet towards one's host or neighbors when sitting down, either on the ground or, for example, by crossing one's legs when sitting in a chair.

A lighted hurricane lantern must be carried by individuals or small groups from three hours after sunset to dawn within the walled town of Muscat. Lighted lanterns must not, however, be carried on the Khor Jetty and should be left near the Military guard.

The general public may not drive motor vehicles past the bridge leading to the Khor Jetty or down the road leading to the palace. Persons with permission to drive or park in the Palace road may not do either unless visiting the Sultan between sunset and sunrise. Special permission is required to have the Bab-al-Kabir opened for passage of a motor vehicle between three hours after sunset and dawn. Such permission may not be used to carry other persons without a pass through the gate in the same vehicle. However, wives and their children are covered by their husbands' passes even though the husband may not be present. A person with a permanent pass may take others with him provided they are bonafide of his party.

Permission from the Sultan is required to import into the Sultanate any vehicle other than saloons or short wheel-base Land Rovers. Long wheel-base Land Rovers and similar vehicles which can be used as, or converted into passenger buses or freight vehicles for hire, when allowed, may not be disposed of to anyone else without permission.

Permission is also required from the Sultan for the importation of arms or ammunition into the Sultanate.

European ladies are expected to conform to local etiquette by wearing clothing which does not unduly expose or define the body. In particular shorts ad sleeveless or backless dresses should be avoided in public places. For tennis some jacket and longer over-skirt or the equivalent should be worn is walking to and from the courts through the town.

If permitted to visit the Interior, ladies are expected to pay special consideration to this matter, and in addition to the foregoing should not wear "slacks" without some overcoat or skirt, or less than three quarters length sleeves and some suitable head-covering in public places or when meeting Shaikhs. Advice will readily be supplied if required. Men are also expected to wear suitable and adequate clothing in public places both in towns and in the country. Similar consideratios apply to parties in camp or on picnics, or bathing, and ladies should not bathe at all in public places. Local people will usually withdraw if tactfully asked to do so.

It is essential that all parties permitted to proceed outside Muscat, Matrah and Bait-al-Falaj should have at least one member able to speak Arabic who is familiar with the country and its customs. It should be remembered that it is the people themselves, though naturally hospitable and possessing delightful manners, who are suspicious and sometimes resentful of the intrusion of foreigners, and this is why the Sultanate out of respect for their feeling is so careful about introducing strangers. It is for the latter when privileged to visit the Sultanate to justify the confidence placed upon them, so that it may be extended to others.

(Image: Above - The Maternity Centre at Samail with part of the Fort in the background. Below - The Health Centre, Customs post and Fort at Masna'ah, a coastal town on the Batinah Coast.)

A List of the more Important Towns and Districts in which the Sultan has Walis (Governors) or Representatives.



Anonymous said...

Amazing. Thank you for sharing. Will pass it to my husband who loves collecting old stuff.

We haven't even arrived yet!


Anonymous said...

Amazing. Thank you for sharing. Will pass it to my husband who loves collecting old stuff.

We haven't even arrived yet!


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