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Women and Community in Oman

Copyright Date: 1984
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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    Women and Community in Oman
    Book Description:

    Before 1970 Oman was one of teh more isolated countries on the Arab peninsula. The growth of the oil economy during the seventies, however, has brought rapid change to the small towns and villages that make up the country. In Women and Community in Oman Chritine Eickelman captures the tone and feel of this desert culture on the verge of substantial, and probably irreversible, change. During 1979 and 1980 she lived in Hamra, an oasis of 2,500 persons and the capital of the Abriyin tribe. Situated on the western edge of the Jabal al-Akhdar region of inner Oman, this was formerly one of the most inaccessible areas of the peninsula. Eickelman lived there among the people of Hamra, visiting Omani, this was formerly one of the most inaccessible areas of the peninsula. Eickelman lived there among the people of Hamra, visiting Omani homes, and speaking daily with the men and women - especially the women. The result is a lively and very personal firsthand account of day-to-day life in the Omani interior. The book looks at the practical changes in the life of the Omanis, and at the roles, concerns, and aspirations of the women there. Eickelman explores key concepts in the Omani community and family life, from choosing a spouse and "negotiating" a marriage to giving birth and raising children; from work and status within the community to rituals, mores and sociability in the neighborhood. Eickelman's study stands as a discriminateing and sympathetic view of a sturdily independent culture. This perceptive and informative account will be of lasting importance and interest to Middle East specialists, anthroupoligists, those concerned with women's studies, and to al persons who want to learn more about the implications of political and social change in the Third World.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2294-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xix)
    (pp. 1-40)

    A GLARING, blinding sun. Damp, clammy heat. Dust often as thick as fog. Except for a narrow strip of carefully tended shrubs and flowers in the median strip of the highway leading from the airport to the capital, the entire region seemed devoid of vegetation. Odd-shaped rocky hills and plains lined the entire thirty-seven kilometers of road linking Sib Airport with the port of Matrah, the capital area’s older center of trade and commerce, and Muscat, the old, walled administrative center. Elegant villas, shops, and tall apartment buildings in various stages of completion rose from this barren, moonlike environment. The...

    (pp. 41-79)

    ALMOST everyone in Hamra emphasizes the importance of the extended family, often speaking as if all households are large. Yet to my surprise I found that almost three-fourths of the households in Hamra are composed of “nuclear” families: a man, his wife, and children, or a widow or widower with sons and daughters. Some of these families include an elderly parent of either the husband or the wife.¹ There is a tendency for households related by kinship to be located near one another but nonetheless most remain small.

    By speaking with many women I learned that the size of households...

    (pp. 80-111)

    THE concept of family cluster (ḥayyān)¹ is crucial to understanding social life in inner Oman. Marriage choices, the formal and informal visiting patterns of both men and women, notions of public and private, the utilization of space within the household, and male-female relations are all closely linked with the notion of hayyan and the fundamental distinctions people make between family and nonfamily. Family clusters are perceived as forming mutually distinguished groups, each of which is bound together by socioeconomic ties and the sharing of information that is not revealed to others. In visiting patterns, women visit the households of hayyan...

    (pp. 112-132)

    The most striking characteristic of daily life in Oman, in contrast to many other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean societies, is the lack of open conflict and the pervasive civility and tact that mark all social conduct. In the preceding chapter, I have shown how oasis dwellers generally seek to avoid situations that they perceive as potentially leading to conflict. One of the highest compliments that can be said of a person is that he or she has the skill to avoid such situations. The consequences of open confrontation can be extremely serious. It can lead to physical assault or even...

    (pp. 133-149)

    NOT all neighbors are kin. Some unrelated neighbors form close bonds of friendship and visit one another as close family members. Nonetheless, most of the inhabitants of Hamra say that developing close ties with unrelated neighbors is decidedly less desirable than the ideal of forming close ties within the family cluster alone. Badriyya felt the need to justify, at least to me, Rashida’s frequent informal visiting.

    “Rashida comes to visit us often because she has no children and few family members. Her parents are dead, and she has just one brother. Her husband’s parents are also dead, and he has...

    (pp. 150-179)

    FREYA STARK traveled in the Hadhramaut in the 1930s and provides one of the few accounts by European visitors to the Arabian peninsula that recognize the importance of women’s visiting networks. In inner Oman, women’s tunics are shorter and do not trail and there is no finger snapping or hand kissing, but at any formal gathering of women there is the same slow ritual of going around the room and greeting everyone individually, the same circles of descendants of slaves clearly distinguished from the freeborn, and, for women of lesser status, the same stooping from hand to hand. This practice...

  11. 7. CHILDREN
    (pp. 180-215)

    MOTHERHOOD is by far a woman’s most honored role in inner Oman. It is only during the visiting period occurring after childbirth that a woman obtains her first social recognition among the women of the community. Having many children, especially sons, increases a woman’s status considerably by making her later in life the female head of a large family cluster.¹ Having mature brothers or sons significantly facilitates a woman’s chances for achieving prominence in the oasis community. Just as a woman retains close ties with her parents, especially her mother, there are very strong bonds between her and her children,...

    (pp. 216-236)

    IN a book intended only for an academic audience, an historical section normally comes first. In this study, it seems more natural to put it at the end. It was only after experiencing the society and community of Hamra for some time that I could interpret the significance of historical change.

    Fifteen years ago Hamra formed a tightly knit community. The unity and cohesiveness have not disappeared, but the oasis is rapidly losing its social and spatial compactness. In the recent past, oasis inhabitants were linked by a common lifestyle, dependence on the falaj for water and their livelihood, a...

    (pp. 237-240)
    (pp. 241-246)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 247-251)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-253)