Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Oman: A Vast Geography of Former Exclaves

The Sultanate of Oman's geography is unique. Many geography blogs have already blogged before about its exclaves on the Musandam Peninsula. This exclave branches off the United Arab Emirance and serves as the Arab side to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz. This exclave allowed Oman to monitor, and to a certain extent control, trade between Persian Gulf ports and the Indian Ocean port cities from the 1600s until European domination of Middle East trade in the 1800s.

Many people, however, do not know about the former exclaves of Oman which made the geography of the sultanate even more extended. The major one was Zanzibar, off the coast of present day Tanzania. In 1698 the Portuguese were forced off of Zanzibar by Oman. Oman used Zanzibar to act as its major spice, goods, and slave trade port for Africa. Sultan Said bin Sultan loved Zanzibar so much that in 1837 he made Zanzibar the capital of Oman! After his death his sons divided the empire with one brother getting Oman and a few other possessions while the other became the sultan of an independent Zanzibar.

Though the British made the sultanate a protector after the shortest war in the history of the world, the Arab descendants of Zanzibar ran the country until a revolution and ethnic cleansing led by Marxist Black Africans against the Arab rulers and Indian business class in 1964.

The other major exclave of Oman was Gwadar in present-day Pakistan. In the 1500s to 1800s Oman kept very close ties to the various Muslim states in the Indian subcontinent due to trade. This links survives with Oman's food being spicy like Indian food (unlike Arab food) and with many Indian/Pakistani Muslims and even some Hindus living in Oman today.

In 1783 the exiled former Sultan of Oman, Saiad Sultan, used his personal connections to become ruler of the small port city of Gwadar. He later retook control of Oman. Once Saiad moved back to Oman but he continued to rule Gwadar through a governor. Gwadar stayed under Oman's control until Pakistan bought the small port in 1958 for three million dollars.

Oman's African and subcontinent exclaves are no longer on the political map but their legacies still survives. As mentioned above there is a strong Indian presence in Oman and many shipping lanes and airplane routes continue to connect the subcontinent to Oman. The ties are even stronger between Oman and Zanzibar. Most Omani and Zanzibaris (and even some Pakistanis around Gwadar) are Ibadi Muslims, neither Sunni or Shia but a unique denomination which recognizes philosophy, use of a smaller and separate hadiths, and other beliefs. Oman is responsible for the survival of the Ibadi Muslim faith as the only Ibadi Muslims who cannot claim Omani descent or influence are a few remote Berber tribes in the Saharan Desert. These exclaves cannot be found on a map but their legacy lives on in the realm of human geography.

Geographic Travels

No comments: