Pauline Searle's DAWN
Searle, Pauline, Dawn over Oman, Muscat: International Printing Press, 1979.
By Kevin Stoda
Oman of a half
century ago would be unrecognizable for many visiting here today. The late
1950s and 1960s found Oman
in the midst of a civil war. Meanwhile,
both the Cold War spies & insurgents plus the drumbeating led by religious
wars of the region also shook the Land
of Frankincense and
Myrrh. This was occurring in a land that had only recently officially abandoned
Las autumn, when I first moved to Oman, I came
across Pauline Searle's three and half decade-old
primer on the country, entitled DAWN OVER OMAN.
is such an ancient land, the book still reads rather well in helping any reader
to come to terms with current Omani culture and history. Searle, whose husband worked with Petroleum
Development Oman in the days before national reform took place, spent the
better part of two decades getting to know Oman as wife, employee, and
journalist for Reuters. She lived in the
country starting from a period when
ground wars still enveloped the land through the actual dawning of an age of
peace in Oman.
This occurred after the present ruler, Sultan
Qaboos took over in the 1970s.
On the one hand, through carefully gleaning Searle's publication, DAWN OVER OMAN (1975, 1979), for pearls of insight into era's gone-by, one
can discover what most modern travel books might otherwise provide on Oman's
geography, peoples, languages, and traditions.
On the other hand, as the title, "DAWN", of her classic work
presupposes, Searle gave witness to a major new set of developments in Oman (since the
early 1970s). This "DAWN" and its fruits
are what one now witnesses in Oman.
In short, in a few short decades, Oman has moved
from a medieval world into a modern age.
Meanwhile, the very same Sultan Qaboos, who took over in 1970, is still
on the thrown here.
An example of the "gleaning
approach"that I take when reading a historically important works, such as Searle's
DAWN OVER OMAN, might include simply looking at the variety of quotes cited at
the beginning of certain sections and chapters of this well-packed 150-page
work. Searle wrote:
"The Kesra named Oman Mazun
And Mazun, O Friend! Is a goodly
A land abounding in fields and
With pastures and unfailing
That selection of poetry, attributed to a pre-Islamic
poet, reveals that two to five millennia
ago, the land where the country of Modern Oman is located now was once a plush
and green place for agriculture--quite
different than many of our modern images of this part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Naturally, Oman has historically secreted
away great aquifers of water--even through this present day--, however, the temperate climate of the 3rd
millennium B.C. can only be understood (or
tasted) by the retelling of the thoughts of a poet in his or her own words--i.e.
as Searle chose to do when she wrote on Oman and thus pealed-back the layers of
hidden mystery which had here-to-fore covered the former hermit sultanate's
reality through the better part of the last century.
In her own
words, Searle begins her narration by reminding us: "Until mid-1970s Oman was among
the least known countries in the world.
Geographically isolated by the Arabian Sea to the east, the
Empty-Quarter to the west and mountains to north and south, ruled over by a
backward-looking and autocratic Sultan with no apparent resources, Oman could have
remained this way indefinitely. But" Searle adds, "the discovery of oil was to
In the very
next paragraph, Searle prophetically reveals what we know to be true today. "Oman
is a country ruled over by a progressive" Sultan, and is a member of the Arab
League and the United Nations. Ministers
fly around the world conferring on political matters; buildings rise overnight;
an international airport handles the largest jets and traffic drives bumper to
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