Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1837 Omani slaver

Subject: slave raider/trader
Culture: Omani Arab 
Setting: Al Bu Saidi sultanate, Oman/Zanzibar 19th-early 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Bird 2010 p143
"Initially, most of the slaves captured by the Zanzibari caravans were taken from what is now Tanzania.  But as the demand for slaves grew, the coastal areas became depopulated and the traders were forced to move inland.  Traveling along well-established trade routes forged by the Africans a century earlier, they began decimating the region around Lake Nyasa and then Lake Tanganyika.
    "Initially, too, most Zanzibari slavers obtained their captives through traditional means, by buying them off African traders such as the Yao, a people who had long been known for transporting and selling prisoners of war captured during legitimate tribal conflicts.  But as the demand for slaves grew and grew, a new sort of slave trade developed.  Greatly aided by the introduction of firearms -- most provided by the fledgling United States, then one of Zanzibar's primary trading partners -- the Arab traders would promise the African chieftains a certain number of muskets in return for slaves, and then encourage them to attack their neighbors, with whom they had hitherto been living in peace.  One common tactic was for a trader to go into an area, stir up trouble, and then wait for the victor to come to him with the spoils -- i.e., prisoners of war.
    "Not surprisingly, the practice led to a huge increase in tribal warfare, until it seemed as if the whole country was being destroyed.  After attacking a village and rounding up all who had not escaped or been killed, the marauders would burn the place to the ground.  Cattle and other livestock were confiscated or driven off, and crops were cut down, burned, or left to rot.  Any villager who managed to survive and creep back found only smoldering, blackened ground strewn with a pitiful collection of broken belongings and the bodies of loved ones."

* Stanley 1895 p381
"Into what country soever the Arabs enter, they contrive to render their name and race abominated.  But the mainspring of it all is not the Arab's nature, color, or name, but simply the slave-trade.  So long as the slave-trade is permitted to be kept up in Zanzibar, so long will these otherwise enterprising people, the Arabs, kindle against them the hatred of the natives throughout Africa."   


* Bird 2010 p15 (describing the Sultan of Oman, 1800s)
"Seyyid Said dressed simply and elegantly, in a white cotton, ankle-length dishdasha.  A furakha, or short tassel, scented with perfume -- an Omani trademark -- dangled at the right side of his robe's neckline, while on his head perched a fine blue-checked turban framed by red, green, and yellow threads.  At his waist was a cloth belt, into which he tucked a curved dagger, or khanjar, which was carried by all Omani men at all times.  Sometimes, too, Seyyid Said wore a ruby ring, but otherwise, unlike most Eastern sovereigns of his day, he wore no jewels or ornaments of any kind.  During cooler months, he donned a dark-colored embroidered cloak, or bisht, over his dishdasha."

* Bird 2010 p16-17
"Most Omani men dressed as simply as Seyyid Said, in white dishdashas with scented tassels, open sandals, blue-checked cotton turbans, and khanjars.  Virtually all men had beards, some wore turquoise rings, and others stained their feet and palms red with henna.  Some also applied a narrow stripe of silvery white antimony to the outer edges of their eyes, to increase the sparkle and, it was believed, to improve sight.  One admiring European wrote: 'The people of Muscat seemed to me to be the cleanest, neatest, best dressed, and most gentlemanly of all the Arabs that I have ever yet seen.'"

* Yanwood 1978 p132
"[I]n southern Arabia, in Oman, the ubiquitous masuline [SIC] gown, the dishdash is of a ... simple design.  Here, as in all the Arab countries, the garment is much the same in cut and style for all classes of the population.  What denotes a man of wealth and differentiates his garment from that of a peasant is the quality of the fabric from which it is made and the ornamentation of edges and front.  Some winter garments are fur-lined."

* Bird 2010 p113
"Zanzibar's poorer Arab and Swahili men dressed in simple waistcloths, while the more well-to-do dressed as they did in Oman -- in the traditional long white dishdasha, or kanzu as it was known in Swahili, girded at the waist with a sash made of cashmere or raw silk.  In the colder months, the men donned an embroidered brown or black bisht over the dishdasha, and on their heads sat white skullcaps topped with turbans.  Made of Omani silk mixed with cotton, the turbans were usually of a fine blue-and-white check fringed with broad red borders, and were worn with their ends hanging over one shoulder.  Some men also reddened their palms with henna and blackened their eyes with kohl."

* Thesiger p45 (describing Salala, early 20th century)
"The palace gates were guarded by armed men dressed in long Arab shirts and head-cloths.  Some of them were from Oman and the rest were slaves; none were local tribesmen.  One of them took me into the reception hall, where I met the Wali.  He was a townsman from Oman, large and portly.  He was dressed in a white shirt reaching to the ground, a brown cloak, embroidered with gold, and a Kashimi shawl which was loosely wrapped around his head.  He wore a large curved dagger at the middle of his stomach."


​* Royal Armouries Museum > Re:Loaded
"[....]  In 19th century Arabia matchlocks like this were prized possessions, often preferred over more modern firearms." ....

* al-Hashmi 2022-01-11 online
"[A] flask where they put gunpowder ... is called 'Alkema' or 'Alsamaa' which they stick to a special type of belt they wear round their waist called 'Mahzam'.  It is worth noting that Omani people have been using 'Alsamaa' for hunting back in the day.
    "What's more, Omani gunpowder is known to be kept in an exceptional flask called 'Talahiq' which is usually made of silver, gold and wood.  It is astonishing that they used the horns of goats and gazelles in making Talahiq.  Altalahiq is used for a matchlock gun called 'Abu Fatiylah'.  It is designed perfectly to slide into the belt of Omani ancient warriors and accompany Abu Fatiylah gun.  It is known for its unique domed shape that is decorated admirably with rows and motifs.  It sometimes has wonderful conical spikes around the edge of its body.  Altalahiq's decorated upper part can be opened to refill it with gunpowder again."

* Elgood 1995 p


* Richardson 2015 p62
"In Oman a straight, double-edged sword with a long, tapering, guardless hilt is used (the kattara).  Because of Omani trading contacts across the Indian Ocean, these swords are found in other places linked with Oman, and are often called Zanzibar swords.  These usually have imported German blades, and those in the Royal Armouries collection are marked, one with the 'running wolf' of Solingen, the other with adorsed [SIC] crescents."

* Peers/Ruggeri 2005 p43
"Apart from their matchlocks the Omanis were armed with long, straight swords worn on a strap over the left shoulder, and daggers on their right hips."

* Burton 1884 p166
"The Arabs of Zanzibar preserve the old two-handed weapon of Europe, with a thin, flattish, double-edged blade ending in a bevelled point, and much resembling the executioner's Sword prolonged.  They bear the Solingen mark.  Zanzibar, however, has two Swords.  The shorter weapon is three-grooved and single-edged, the blade measuring one foot ten inches; the handle and sheath are of copper, embossed or engraved, and adorned with fine stones.  The second, which is the usual shape carried by Arab gentlemen, is three feet to three and a half feet long; the long tang tapers towards the hilt, and is cased in wood and leather; the pommel is cylindrical, and the grip wants guard and quillons.  Demmin finds it 'difficult to understand how this singular weapon could be wielded.'  It serves mostly for show, and when wanted is used like a quarterstaff with both hands.  But the Zanzibari's Sword is always clumsy, as dangerous to the wielder as the old blade of the Gauls and Ancient Britons.  Their cousins, the Bedawin living about Maskat, have conserved with a religious aspect, many ancient weapons won or bought in older days, possibly dating from crusading  times." [references omitted]

* Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery
"[....]  The characteristic sword of Oman is the kattara, with its long, tapering guardless hilt." ...


* Paul 1995 p68
"The Omani dagger is basically a jambia but the sheath has an exaggerated curve extending well beyond the point of the blade and curving upwards giving the sheathed dagger a dramatic and ornate appearance.  The Omani dagger is even today an essential part of formal attire in the Sultanate.  The hilts of jambias are made of wood, horn, ivory, bone and metal.  Silver sheet and studds [SIC] decorate the hilt and the sheath."

* Bird 2010 p26
"The [Muscat] slave bazaar was a place to see and be seen for Arab dandies of the day, who sauntered among the human merchandise with their long beards well perfumed, their fine turbans tightly rolled, and their silver-hilted khanjars glinting at their waists."

* Bird 2010 p96 (quoting Ingrams 1967 p206)
"'It is always said that it is unsafe to wake a Manga Arab suddenly, as he will start up, dagger in hand, and strike out.'"

* Capwell 2009 p219 (describing an Omani janbiyya/khanjar, mid-19th century)
"The hilt of this Omani janbiyya, or dagger, is made from horn, probably from a rhinoceros, and was presumably believed to possess magical properties or to confer virility to its owner.  Subsequent to the decline in the supply of rhinoceros horn, the giraffe horn and hoof became a popular material for use on grips.  Now that conservation has become of great concern, the grips are usually made from plastic."

​* Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery
"[....]  Omani khanjars are traditionally carried on a belt, decorated in silver like the dagger, and permanently attached to the scabbard by a complex of silver wires, loops and knops."

Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery *
"[....]  The most numerous of the Arabian daggers are those from Oman. They are characterised by lavish use of silver, both wire and filigree, in their decoration. Others have wooden hilts decorated in gold, on this example with gold coins." ...


* Peers/Ruggeri 2005 p43
"Their small round shields were made from the hide of the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, elephant or addax antelope -- the latter being popular because of its natural whiteness."

* Benitez/Barbier 2000 p100
"There is disagreement about the origins of this type of shield. Dieter Plaschke and Manfred Zirngibl identify shields like this one as Oromo, while Robert Elgood identifies them as coming from Oman. Nineteenth-century writers, such as Wellstead and William Gifford Palgrave, likewise record seeing them used by the Omani and Bedouin in Saudi Arabia. Sir James George Frazer recounts coming across them in Muscat, but writes that they were probably imported from Zanzibar. Because of sustained contacts with the Arabs, it is quite possible that the Oromo made these shields from readily available rhinoceros or hippopotamus hides, applied metal emblems of either Arab manufacture or design, and exported them to the southern regions facing the eastern Horn of Africa, where, according to Plaschke and Zirngibl, they were also used in ritual knife fights."


​*Araujo 2010 p13
​"​The dallah’s form is pleasing to the eye. It is elegant and feminine, inviting the eye to gaze on its polished, reflective golden surface. The upper part of lid and spout are reminiscent of the Aladdin’s lamp from the 'Arabian Nights' so ingrained in the popular consciousness and closely connected to magic. The lid’s elongated finial echoes elaborate minarets. The unique crescent beak-spout form suggests the delicate lines of calligraphy as well as the Islamic crescent moon, which is a symbol present in the flags of numerous Muslim countries and also featured in the minarets of many mosques.
    "The sense of sight has a massive architecture of cells working in parallel allowing humans to identify colors, forms and movement. The choice of metal also plays an important part in how much vision excitement the object creates. The yellow, warm golden color of the pot and the coffee it contains not only reminds one of luxury and preciousness but also echoes the affable atmosphere a host tries to create for his guests in which the coffee ritual takes center stage. The next level that goes beyond the visual is concerned with the meaning attributed to the coffee pot through what it represents within the ritual – hospitality, generosity, social standing, wealth and prestige. It was common for the dallah to be prominently displayed, and the greater the size and number of pots in use, the more affluent and influential the host would be." [references omitted]