1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oman

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25801721911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 20 — OmanThomas Hungerford Holdich

OMAN, a kingdom occupying the south-eastern coast districts of Arabia, its southern limits being a little to the west of the meridian of 55° E. long., and the boundary on the north the southern borders of El Hasa. Oman and Hasa between them occupy the eastern coast districts of Arabia to the head of the Persian Gulf. The Oman-Hasa boundary has been usually drawn north of the promontory of El Katr. This is, however, incorrect. In 1870 Katr was under Wahhabi rule, but in the year 1871 Turkish assistance was requested to aid the settlement of a family quarrel between certain Wahhabi chiefs, and the Turks thus obtained a footing in Katr, which they have retained ever since. Turkish occupation (now firmly established throughout El Hasa) includes Katif (the ancient Gerrha), and El Bidia on the coast of Katr. But the pearl fisheries of Katr are still under the protection of the chiefs of Bahrein, who are themselves under British suzerainty. In 1895 the chief of Katr (Sheikh Jasim ben Thani), instigated by the Turks, attacked Sheikh Isa of Bahrein, but his fleet of dhows was destroyed by a British gunboat, and Bahrein (like Zanzibar) has since been detached from Oman and placed directly under British protection.

Oman is a mountainous district dominated by a range called Jebel Akhdar (or the Green Mountain), which is 10,000 ft. in altitude, and is flanked by minor ranges running approximately parallel to the coast, and shutting off the harbours from the interior. They enclose long lateral valleys, some of which are fertile and highly cultivated, and traversed by narrow precipitous gorges at intervals, which form the only means of access to the interior from the sea. Beyond the mountains which flank the cultivated valleys of Semail and Tyin, to the west, there stretches the great Ruba el Khali, or Dahna, the central desert of southern Arabia, which reaches across the continent to the borders of Yemen, isolating the province on the landward side just as the rugged mountain barriers shut it off from the sea. The wadis (or valleys) of Oman (like the wadis of Arabia generally) are merely torrential channels, dry for the greater part of the year. Water is obtained from wells and springs in sufficient quantity to supply an extensive system of irrigation.

The only good harbour on the coast is that of Muscat, the capital of the kingdom, which, however, is not directly connected with the interior by any mountain route. The little port of Matrah, immediately contiguous to Muscat, offers the only opportunity for penetrating into the interior by the wadi Kahza, a rough pass which is held for the sultan or imam of Muscat by the Rehbayin chief. In 1883, owing to the treachery of this chief, Muscat was besieged by a rebel army, and disaster was only averted by the guns of H.M.S. “Philomel.” About 50 m. south of Muscat the port of Kuryat is again connected with the inland valleys by the wadi Hail, leading to the gorges of the wadi Thaika or “Devil's Gap.” Both routes give access to the wadi Tyin, which, enclosed between the mountain of El Beideh and Hallowi (from 2000 to 3000 ft. high), is the garden of Oman. Fifty miles to the north-west of Muscat this interior region may again be reached by the transverse valley of Semail, leading into the wadi Munsab, and from thence to Tyin. This is generally reckoned the easiest line for travellers. But all routes are difficult, winding between granite and limestone rocks, and abounding in narrow defiles and rugged torrent beds. Vegetation is, however, tolerably abundant—tamarisks, oleanders, kafas, euphorbias, the milk bush, rhamnus and acacias being the most common and most characteristic forms of vegetable life, and pools of water are frequent. The rich oasis of Tyin contains many villages embosomed in palm groves and surrounded with orchards and fields.

In addition to cereals and vegetables, the cultivation of fruit is abundant throughout the valley. After the date, vines, peaches, apricots, oranges, mangoes, melons and mulberries find special favour with the Rehbayin, who exhibit all the skill and perseverance of the Arab agriculturist of Yemen, and cultivate everything that the soil is capable of producing.

The sultan, a descendant of those Yemenite imams who consolidated Arab power in Zanzibar and on the East African coast, and raised Oman to its position as the most powerful state in Arabia during the first half of the 19th century, resides at Muscat, where his palace directly faces the harbour, not far from the British residency. The little port of Gwadar, on the Makran coast of the Arabian Sea, a station of the Persian Gulf telegraph system, is still a dependency of Oman.

See Colonel Miles, Geographical Journal, vol. vii. (1896); Commander Stiffe, Geographical Journal (1899). (T. H. H.*)