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close this bookBedouins, Wealth, and Change: A Study of Rural Development in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman (UNU, 1980, 63 pages)
close this folderPART III. Case study: The sultanate of Oman
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document1. An introduction to the new developments in the sultanate of Oman with reference to mobile population groups
View the document2. Changes in the nomad region of Oman
View the document3. Settlement projects in inner Oman, and other measures to develop the rural/nomad region
View the document4. Summary and evaluation of results in the rural/nomad region

2. Changes in the nomad region of Oman

The development measures introduced by the government and the opportunities they offered to the nomadic population led to quite different reactions and social changes. A number of consequences, for instance, arose from the favourable working and earning opportunities. The earnings from the new jobs need not be used for buying necessities since the family remains self-subsistent at present. Earnings, therefore, are invested-in gold, jewelry, motor vehicles, radios, household goods, clothing, expensive toys, and other imported luxury items, and in part also in special foods such as dried milk, conserves, and sweets. In addition some have acquired date groves, constructed permanent housing, or started business operations such as shops or taxi firms.

Alongside these changes, noticeable in the urban areas, there have been changes in the bedouin areas. For example, the newly available money has been used to buy motorized pumps. This fact has various negative consequences, however generally desirable it may be. Thus, in many oases as a result of the large capacity of modern motorized pumps the ground-water table has subsided rapidly, endangering the existence of the oasis itself. This has occurred in all the oases in the coastal area of the Batinah where sea water has been able to infiltrate irrigation water and thus has raised its mineral content. The water can no longer be fully used for agriculture, and date groves and other vegetation have been destroyed.

The use of the motorized pump also means that the farmer is more directly tied to the market. In order to acquire the means to run the pump, he must plant his fields to cash crops. This is probably a welcome change on the whole, but it means that the previously grown crops, such as dates, no longer receive careful attention since their market value has declined. Numerous date groves have gone to ruin or are only partially cultivated.

In addition, numerous agricultural workers, some the descendants of slaves, have left the agricultural areas for towns or have sought work in the oil-producing areas or in the United Arab Emirates Omani agriculture has begun to depend on workers from abroad, especially from India and Pakistan. In numerous administrative areas this emigration of Omani male workers is so advanced that the cultivation of grain has decreased and intensive care for the date culture is lacking. In 1972 it was reported that in many parts of the country between 20 and 80 per cent of the men had taken jobs outside the area in which they had previously lived and that in some of the hill villages only two or three males were left so that when a death occurs the women have to help with the burial. Other areas in the Oman Mountains ret ported that no wheat was being grown due to lack of manpower.

These changes, which are occurring in the oases, indicate a development that is also found in the nomad area and which will be described on the basis of settlement and nomad habits and economic activities.

Settlement and Nomad Habits

The growing diversification of the Omani economy was coupled with a decrease in animal breeding throughout the country and especially in camel breeding. The reduction of animal breeding was accompanied by a reduction of vegetal growth and the need for water which in turn led to a limitation of the traditional nomad movement in terms of frequency and distance. A lengthier stay in one location, the construction of semi-permanent or permanent housing and the movement from one location to another by Landrover are common today. Camps are established near surfaced and unsurfaced roads and where they are accessible by vehicle.

1. The Bedouins of Inner Oman

The bedouins used to stay in the southern wadi region and at the edge of the Rub al-Khali and the Wahibah sands during the winter (fig. 18) and their camps were located near small wells sunk into the wadibed. They spent the summer months near the oases at the foot of the Oman Mountains. In years of extreme need, it was possible to follow a path through the mountains to the coastal plain of the Batinah (i.e., the northern wadi region). These bedouins now spend the whole year near the oases or by the modern, well-built roads that connect them and they rarely move their camps. They prefer to settle within an hour's drive by Landrover from the newly established schools and hospitals. The shelters that are built in these new settlements are constructed of cement block, and are supplied with electricity and have air conditioning, refrigerators, televisions and deep freezers.

Some of these bedouins have settled in the middle of the broad wadis near the edge of the mountains and have planted date groves. These are primarily members of the Dura tribe in whose territory the oil deposits have been found. This tribe profits from the oil economy and is able to finance the costly lay-out of gardens (table 23) and the maintenance of wells. Agriculture on this basis is not yet profitable. In some areas heavy irrigation,increasing salinity, and the poor quality of the soil have made cultivation impossible and new groves and wells must be established. In some wadis (e.g., Wadi al-Ain, Wadi Aswad, Wadi Tanam, and in the Hamirat al-Duru) groves have been abandoned and small, newly laid-out gardens established (fig. 19).

The Duru tribe, in whose territory oil was discovered, exemplifies recent changes. The usual migration to distant wadis now occurs only occasionally and is by truck or by

Landrover. Small animals and the family are transported in modern vehicles and the few camels that are still raised are turned out to free pasture. In the last 10 to 15 years, however, most of the tribe has settled near the oasis of Tanam, in Wadi Aswad, and near Awaifi (fig. 18). The style of housing has been adapted to this new mode of life, the old huts of palm-branch mats having given way to block style huts of clay, plywood, and cement blocks. In some settlements all the new housing is constructed of these modern building materials.

TABLE 23. Cost of Laying Out a Garden near Tanam (Duru Tribe)

  Cost (US$)
Land Free from the government
Fencing 800
Motorized pump with pipes 4,000
Well shaft 1,600 - 3,000
Other (e.g., plants, fertilizer, 500
seed, tools)  
Total 6,900 - 8,900

Source: Information gathered by the author, Feb. 1977.

The monthly income of a labourer working for the oil company is US$300-800.



FIG. 18. Inner Oman: Survey Map. Tribal and New Settlement Areas



FIG. 19. Wadi Tanam Free Bedouin Settlement

In inner Oman (Jenabah, Wahibah) there is also less migration and bedouins have settled near the oases close to the mountains, e.g., Sanaw, Adam (see fig. 18). Fewer animals are kept, but the widespread laying out of gardens found among the Duru is missing here.

One reason for the reduced migration is that bedouins prefer to be near the new schools and hospitals. Also, the land surrounding the oases is claimed by the oasis inhabitants and the bedouins are denied any claim to ownership. In order to preserve their right to the huts which they have built around the oases, and in which they have lived for generations, the bedouins must now remain year round to prevent the oasis inhabitants from tearing down the huts during their absence and replacing them with stone huts. Since there are very few permanent job opportunities in the oases, the economic situation of some bedouin families is extremely precarious; in fact, many women have sold their silver jewelry and have turned to weaving simple, primitive carpets (unpatterned kelims) for a living.

2. The Bedouins of the Coastal Plain of the Batinah

Formerly the bedouins of the coastal plain moved back and forth between the foothill region of the Oman Mountains and the oasis strip on the coast. There they supervised the date harvest in the summer or had some other employment in the oasis. In the last few years they have built permanent housing on the landward side of the oasis strip where they used to have their summer camps and near the road from Muscat to Sohar which was completed in 1974. These settlements are loosely scattered along the road and in some parts of the coastal plain they are beside large cultivated plots granted them by the government. Recently some of this cultivated area has been acquired by rich merchants and government officials. The newly built houses along the road are constructed almost without exception of modern building materials and are either connected to the local electrical supply or have their own generators. The majority of the male members of the tribal population living here are employed in non-agricultural work. It is estimated that up to 30 per cent of the male population is employed in the United Arab Emirates; the rest are employed in transportation, as drivers or workers for Omani and foreign firms, or are employed by the government in the capital area.

3. The Bedouins of Dhofar

Little has changed in the migratory habits and settlement customs of the bedouins in Dhofar. Their movements continue to be between the area near the mountains and the country's interior. Motorized vehicles are also used here and and serve as transport from one seasonal location to another. The government has attempted to set up permanent settlements with medical stations, government and administrative offices, police station, military post, wells, and government-run markets. Up to now, however, there has been no marked settlement of bedouins in these locations.

Thamarit and Mudhay in the interior (nerd) are exceptions. There is a military airport near Thamarit and a military base in Mudhay, and bedouin families from different tribes, notably the Bayt Kathir, have settled in both locations. They have built their own houses, some permanently occupied, some used only seasonally or periodically.

On the periphery of Salalah in Taqah and Mirbat between 6,000 and 7,000 plots (60x60 ft) have been distributed to Dhofaris in the past few years. Not only Hadar but also many bedouins and jebalis (mountain nomads) have acquired land in Salalah in this way. At first, the inhabitants of each sector came from the same tribe, but recently the government has been trying, for political reasons, to encourage quarters with mixed tribal populations.

All construction on these sites must be of natural stone and/ or cement blocks. In an effort to check land speculation there is a law that a piece of property can be sold only when at least one stone building has been constructed on it. The plots of the bedouins and jebalis can be recognized by the fact that they are undeveloped or only partially developed because either money or interest is lacking. Many families that still engage in animal husbandry in the desert or the jebel use their urban dwellings only irregularly. In part they serve as shelters during the work week for those members of the family who have found work in town. During the Dhofar conflict and before the large-scale land distribution, two low-cost housing areas were built by the government, one in east Salalah and one in Taqah. Refugees from the Dhofar Mountains (jebalis) were provided with free houses. There were 54 houses in Salalah and nine houses of five units each in Taqah.

The Salalah complex, which was called Sha'biyat (fig. 20), and in which about 3,000 jebalis were living in 1977, was torn down in that year to make way for the construction of a stadium. Although most of the families living in Sha'biyat had acquired land on the periphery of Salalah under the land distribution programme, they demanded that the government build a new settlement for 3,000 jebalis in Awpad al-Gharbiyah since their land was being used for speculation and for rentals. The government reacted by creating a settlement of tents on cement slabs, with permanent buildings housing sanitary facilities. The jebalis, however, demanded a permanent settlement comparable to the one which had been torn down. As this demand was not met, they destroyed all the permanent sanitation buildings on the day of their resettlement, took down the tents, and moved to the Jebel or onto their own lots in Salalah. The government had anticipated this behaviour, but so soon after the Dhofar conflict for political reasons had sought to avoid the charge that it had not provided new dwelIings.

4. Mountain Nomads (Shawawi)

The consequences of modern change in the mountains differ according to regions. In the northern area (Musandam), permanent settlement of mountain nomads, with government assistance, is the goal, but success has been extremely limited thus far.

In the central mountain area the emigration of the male population in search of employment has led to a decrease in the number of animals kept and to changes in migratory and settlement habits. As a rule the mountain nomads select locations within the wadis from which they can reach the new transportation arteries and urban centres. Shelters are now built of clay, boards, and cement. In many areas of this central mountain region a transition to agriculture is taking place. This is happening with indirect government support such as provision of the means for digging wells, purchasing motorized pumps or buying seed.

5. The Bedouin Groups of the Central Wadi Region

These bedouins-the tribe of the Harasis (sg., Harsusi) are still almost completely untouched by modern developments. Changes in their way of life are almost non-existent, and the fact that individual families have motor vehicles is no testimony to processes of change. That the government wants to carry out a settlement project here indicates the necessity of integrating this Omani population group into the main current. (The settlement project will be described in greater detail below.)



FIG. 20. Sha'biyat-Low-Cost Housing Complex for Jebali Families in Salalah

Economic Habits

Following the pacification of the country after internal conflicts between the tribes and between the sultan and the Imam (1959), the practice of nomadic animal husbandry among bedouins and mountain nomads gave many of the male workers the opportunity to seek other work; for, from that time on, the animals could be cared for by women and children and the camels could be turned out to free pasture. The money earned by this wage labour was for the most part spent on consumer goods. The new wealth was also used for motor vehicles and motorized pumps; for permanent storage facilities; for the development of new date groves; and new construction appeared in the urban area of Muscat, Matrah, and in the newly established town of Ruwi.

We must, however, be clear about the major differences which exist between the economic development of the bedouins of the interior, namely the Duru tribe, whose territory is rich in oil, and the other tribes, the Janabah, Wahibah, Harasis, who have no mineral assets.

1. The Duru Tribe

A major part of the income of the Duru sheikhs is used to purchase Landrovers and trucks. They thus maintain an extensive system of transportation of people and goods within Oman and especially within the oil-producing area where they have transport licenses. They have also acquired motorized pumps which are used in the new date groves and vegetable gardens in Wadi Aswad, Wadi al-Ain, Wadi Tanam, and near Awaifi (fig. 18). Until a few years ago there were no permanent settlements in Wadi Aswad, only a few water holes, but now there are oases cultivated by bedouins in the middle of a completely desert-like region at the foot of Jebel Aswad escarpment. These bedouins were previously famous for breeding strong, fast camels and this was formerly the main source of income of the Duru tribe. Since the middle of the 1950s camel breeding has declined and many men have emigrated to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries or have found work with the PDO, the Omani oil company. In the past few years only about 100 camels at a price of 300 to 500 Omani rials have been sold in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Bahrain. The animals that are raised run free but are marked for ownership by brands and shearing signs. Herders are no longer employed; rather a new "use" for the camels has developed: the old animals are driven to the neighbourhood of the oil settlements of Fahud, Nathi, and Jibal where they wander into one of the oil or mud ponds, sink in the mire, and die. The Omani oil company then is legally required to pay damages of 50 Omani rials for a male animal, 80 rials for a female animal and 150 rials for a pregnant animal.

The main source of income of the Duru tribe for the past 20 years, however, has been the oil industry. The sheikhs receive a monthly payment from the government for the concessions granted by the sultan and also a payment for securing the pipelines across the territory and for providing posts for guarding oil installations. These favours have been reduced in the last few years, however, as the position of the Duru tribal heads has weakened, and the power of the sultan and the Omani government has become more secure.

The members of the Duru tribe are economically dependent on the oil company: the men are employed as heavy-truck drivers, Bedford drivers, line coolies, rig coolies, rig drivers, kitchen boys, room boys, cooks, well watchmen, light drivers, driver's mates, or on bull gangs. Forty per cent of the labourers employed by the oil company belong to the Duru tribe. In addition, there are several hundred Duru employed as occasional labourers. An unskilled worker receives a wage of 60 Omani rials for 21 working days plus 6 days off; a specialized, skilled worker earns 80 to 100 rials, a driver 100, and a foreman 150 rials. The casual labourer receives 1,800 rupees per day. It is therefore not surprising that the breeding of small animals plays a subordinate role and that no attempt is made to cultivate the newly laid-out fields as a basic source of income; the oasis gardens are owned at present as symbols of prestige.

2. The Jenabah and Wahibah Tribes

The "modern" economic development that has occurred in Duru territory is not taking place among the Wahibah and Jenabah. The members of these tribes still engage in the traditional migration between summer and winter pasture areas and in fishing to an even greater extent than before. The use of motorized vehicles makes possible the rapid transport of fresh fish to the most distant markets on the coast of Oman and in the UAE. Land grants and the newly constructed wells are only available for the leading members of the Jenabah and Wahibah tribes. Other tribal members are trying to acquire land at traditional summer camps, but here they meet resistance from settled oasis inhabitants who sometimes contest the bedouins'claims with armed force. The government is aware of the problem but no solution has been found.

The main source of income for male members of the Wahibah and Jenabah tribes, in addition to fishing, is employment in the Emirates, in Qatar, and in Bahrain. A large portion of the male population may stay for several months or even years outside Oman; of 30 Wahibah families polled in the area of Sanaw, 24 had their men of working age employed outside Oman. The remaining family members no longer undertake extensive migrations but stay near the settlements, often to be near the schools.

3. The Bedouins and Jebalis of Dhofar.

Changes in the economic habits and migratory practices of the bedouins in Oman's southern province, Dhofar, are less evident. While the government is trying to win the loyalty of these tribes with financial concessions, these are limited. Isolated cases occur of men emigrating to the oil-producing regions of Oman, and emigration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE has increased, but data about these movements are very scanty

Some Dhofar bedouins are today soldiers (Firqah militia, Mudhani-Askars) and thus draw regular monthly salaries. These bedouin soldiers have built numerous houses near their camps, especially at Thamarit and Mudhay, and these are occupied permanently or semi-permanently. It is noteworthy that some of these soldiers have laid out small irrigated gardens by their houses.

One group of bedouins in Thamarit operates as merchants and cartage contractors. Some bedouin families have prospered as result of the construction of the military airfield in Thamarit and the uncontrolled, duty-free import of inexpensive items from Dubai. They have invested their money chiefly in property and houses in the provincial capital of Salalah.

More extensive changes have taken place among the jebalis (mountain nomads) than among the bedouins. Many young jebalis belong to the Firqah, the sultan's native militia, and the relatively high monthly pay (80 Omani rials minimum in 1978) enables them to buy almost any of the products offered for sale in Salalah. They therefore obtain their groceries, largely provided free of charge by the government anyway, in town and, as a consequence, monsoon agriculture has been almost completely abandoned in the mountains. Since the end of the Dhofar conflict however, there has been a steady increase in the number of cattle, and in some cases of camels and goats as well. This increase in livestock has been favoured by the sinking of numerous deep wells on the plateaus which reduce the distances covered during migration by eliminating the laborious descent to the traditional watering places in the wadis. Recently new studies have been made in this area and when the results are published there should be more information available about the changes which have taken place.

4. The Shawawi

Changes in the way of life of the mountain nomads (shawawi) are less spectacular. Most of the males are ready to accept work outside the area of animal husbandry and they migrate from their mountain homeland to the UAE and, in increasing numbers, to jobs with new companies in the capital area of Oman. Their earnings are frequently invested in the purchase of date trees.

The mountain nomads in the central Oman Mountains have frequently become taxi drivers or treight transporters between Muscat and the hinterlands, but a public bus and transport system has been introduced and its competition has lessened the income of the nomads and led to their partial abandonment of some taxi and transport services. Other jobs in the transportation services or in related fields are not easy to come by in Oman and there has been some migration of these displaced workers to the Emirates. The inhabitants of the Musandam peninsula have experienced fewer changes than those of the central mountains.

Conclusion

A tendency toward permanent settlement, toward the reduction of migratory activity, and thus to the acceptance of non-agricultural employment can be noted among the nomads and bedouins of Oman. Despite the freedom of choice and opportunity offered to the individual the condition of numerous settlements, the abandonment of oasis gardens and wells, the failure of many transportation enterprises, and the emigration of a large portion of the male working force to neighbouring countries, testify that on the whole development has not had positive results. The government is aware of this but for political reasons cannot discuss openly the results of the development programme; it has, however, recently formulated a settlement project in Tanam and a water supply and settlement project in Haima which are aimed particularly at the mobile population of the country.