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Volume 34, Number 3May/June 1983

In This Issue

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The Terrain

Written by Tor Eigeland

Dominated by mountains, flanked by oceans and deserts, Oman is a tapestry of constantly changing terrain: from the sandy edge of the Rub'al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) to the lush Salalah plain; from the fertile terraces of Jabalal-Akhdar to the barren majesty of the mountainous Musandam Peninsula (See page 38).

Although Oman, in fact, is five-sixths desertsand dunes and stony plateausit is the mountains that strike you; they rise right out of the sea or straight up from the flat plains. These mountains, called simply al-Hajar, (the Rocks), form the backbone of northern Oman, running southeastwards from the tip of the Musandam Peninsula to Ra's al-Hadad, Oman's easternmost point, and include fascinating geological structures, called ophiolites— masses of volcanic rock, thrust up from an ancient ocean bed— that have recently been the subject of much research.

Frost, and even snow, is not unknown on the spiky peaks of the al-Hajar rangewhich rise in places to more than 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet). Occasional torrential rainswhich, over the years, have carved deep gorges through the mountainsproduce sporadic, but spectacular waterfalls, and tinge al-Hajar's slopes with vegetation. Some say that this is why the range's central massif is called Jabal al-Akhdar (Green Mountain) but others say the name is derived from its greenish-colored, copper-bearing rock.

Between the al-Hajar mountains and the sea lies the Batinaplain, a narrow, alluvial strip with towering date palms stretching to the shore. An arid, gravel plain dotted with stunted acacia trees lies beyond the mountains. Southwards there is a rocky plateau, flanked by sandy wastes, the type of terrain that covers most of central Oman and includes the Jiddat al-Harasis, where the Omani government recently reintroduced the once-almost-extinct Arabian oryx to the wild (See Aramco World, July-August 1982). The third-generation zoo-bred oryx have not only formed the world's only self-reliant herd and proved, beyond doubt, that their natural instincts are retained, but they have also produced three youngthe latest one in March, this year.

In contrast to the rest of Oman, the southern coastDhofarcatches the monsoon rains and is almost tropical; bananas, pineapples and papaya grow in profusion on the Salalah plain. But behind Salalah the mountains pile up again, sloping gradually northwards to a gravel plateauonce noted for its fragrant frankincensethat stretches to the edge of the empty quarter, with its shifting dunes, and neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Oman: Embassy Ahoy
Written by Joseph Fitchett

Formal U. S.-Omani relations go back a long way - to an 1833 treaty and to an 1840 episode that is among the more colorful of the 19th century.

At that time, Sultan Sayyid Sa'id, planning to capture Mozambique from Portugal, decided to establish diplomatic relations with the United States, sell Omani goods to the Americans and use the money to buy arms from the U. S. A. - thereby finding a loophole in a regional arms embargo imposed by Britain and France, superpowers of the day.

In the winter of 1840, therefore, the Sultanah, an 80-foot wooden sailing ship dropped anchor in New York and the sultan's envoy, Ahmad ibn Na'aman, clad in a bright turban and a long black kaftan trimmed in gold, raised the sultan's crimson ensign and announced that the ship was Oman's embassy in the United States.

Even for the boisterous Americans of the period, this created a stir. The Sultanah was a wreck - its sails torn, its lines frayed - and on board were two Englishwomen en route to England via New York. This instantly gave rise to amused rumors that the Sultan had sent "two or three Circassians of outstanding beauty" to the American President, Martin Van Buren, a sober-sided Victorian.

Ahmad ibn Na'aman was not slow to capitalize on New York's response. After presenting his credentials, he set about selling his cargo: Omani dates, cloves from Zanzibar, coffee from Mocha, Persian carpets and ivory tusks. As the goods were snapped up, he plowed the proceeds back into arms: 300 muskets and three tons of gunpowder. He also accepted, from President Van Buren, four revolvers and two repeating rifles boxed in mahogany, and five months later the Sultanah, completely overhauled at the President's order, weighed anchor, her mission completed. Sultan Sayyid never did invade Mozambique, but the Sultanah's voyage did establish links that, on April 11, Sultan Qaboos reaffirmed.

This article appeared on pages 10-11 of the May/June 1983 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

See Also: OMAN

Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for May/June 1983 images.