The Dhofar Governate offers us a glimpse into Oman's ancient past.
Though most maps don’t show it, the sultanate of Oman encompasses two culturally distinct areas: the North, considered Oman proper, and the South, known as Dhofar. Up until 1970, the Dhofar region had been considered a fiefdom, until then-newly-crowned Sultan Qaboos declared it Oman’s southern province. A governate today, it is one of the largest of Oman’s 11 governates and its history and culture is as big as its landmass.
Dhofar is a geographically diverse region, claiming deserts, lush hills, and dry, craggy mountains as its own. Salalah, its capital, lies on a fertile coastal plain. In Dhofar’s south lies the Indian Ocean and the Qara Mountains. The range also features alpine-like meadows, providing the semi-nomadic tribes of this region with the grazing land for their livestock (usually camels and cows), which they trade. What makes Dhofar unique to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula is its monsoon season, the Khareef. Thanks to the Khareef, cloud formation and rain create lush plains and hills in the coastal plains and surrounding foothills for at least three months of the year. Boswellia sacra, the tree commonly used to produce frankincense, the incense of ancient lore, is found in Dhofar’s drier regions. UNESCO site Land of Frankincense encompasses four sites vital to the ancient frankincense trade: the ports of Khor Rori and Al Baleed, the trading outpost of Shisr, and Wadi Dawka, a wadi (meaning desert in Arabic) where the aromatic trees’ resin is still harvested. Ancient artifacts from the Ming-dynasty and other civilizations found at these medieval fortresses and outposts indicates the area’s importance on the “Silk Road to the Sea.” Besides being home to enticing smells, Dhofar is also home to ancient tongues and tribes. The Shehri or Shahri language, also known as Jiballi or “mountainous,” is spoken by the Al-Hakli (Qara), Al-Shahri, Al-Barami, Al-Mashaiki, and Al-Bat’hari tribes. Mehri is another language commonly found in Dhofar; other Mehri speakers reside in eastern Yemen, showing the cultural closeness between these two regions. These languages are considered part of the South Semitic language family, which is also made up of Ethiopian Semitic languages, thus highlighting the ancient trade connections with the Horn of Africa. A traditional musical dance of the Dhofari mountains and valleys is called Al-Bar-ah. The dance features a half-circle of men and women chanting and clapping while two men preform with kahnjars (daggers), raising them up and down in a coordinated manner. This dance is usually done at weddings and religious feasts, and features the al-kasir, al-rahmani, and ad-daff (drums), and al-qassaba (flute).