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Folk Songs and Dances

Each region of Oman has its own songs and dances unique to the area. During festivals and ceremonies, these are performed for the appropriate occasion. In March 2001, the Omani Song Festival will be held. The competition is being run by the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture and the winner will have the opportunity to have an album made of his songs.

In the Sharqiya region, there are three main types of songs pertaining to the different environments in the area. These songs fall into the following categories: of the sea; of the desert; and of the urban areas. The sea songs reflect sailors' duties when preparing the ship to sail; during the voyage; and upon their return. There are eight types of sea songs such as Shillat al Hamool (The Song of the Porters) which is performed when loading goods onto the ship while they pray to God to keep them safe during their journey. Another type is the Naza Al Sharaa (Raising the Sails): each sail has its own song which differs in speed and text.

[Dance]The Hambal is a singing march performed by sailors on their way to the Razha (see below).  There are two drummers, leading the procession, who turn to face the marching participants and walk backwards, encouraging them to show their bravery and courage.

The desert songs often praise the sturdiness of the camel. The Al Taghrud is sung while riding the camels, which encourages both the animal and its rider. It is a group song with a fixed chant which does not change from place to place. The Al Taariq Bedouin song is sung either atop the camel or seated on the ground. Two singers perform it in alternate verses. This song praises the she-camel and her merits and reflects the slower pace of the camel as opposed to the Taghrud which mimics the camel when it is travelling at speed.

The Razha is a dance which is characterised by the sword and poetry exchange. It is performed in most areas of the Sultanate. The men participating in the dance must leap into the air, carrying a heavy sword. Upon landing, they must not falter. The men will also throw the sword into the air and catch it as it comes down; a show of strength and prowess. Years ago, the Razha was used as a way to express the needs of the people in the tribe and also to announce war, victory, muster troops or mediate between warring factions. The Razha al Kabira (the Razha of adults) was once a dance of war. Today it is used as a welcome and celebration to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. It has three slow rhythms which the participants match in their movements. Upon the beating of the drum, the men perform their sword displays, the aim of which is to hit your opponent on the left thumb. If no side is a clear winner, then an elder of the tribe cuts the air between them, terminating the fight.

The Musandam region has very different songs to the rest of the districts in Oman. The Al Ruwah is unique to the Bedouins who live in the mountains there and involves 8 - 10 drummers who move forward and backwards and then in a circle. It has different verses pertaining to different times of the day. The first is the Sirah which is performed in the morning; the Saadar is performed mid-morning; the Rawah at noon; and the Siria in the evening. This song is heard mainly at weddings, religious festivals and on official holidays. The Al Mawlid is a song of celebration performed on the Prophet's birthday, and also at weddings, moving to a new house or at the curing of the sick. This dance has a leader (khalifa) a second in command (shawwush) and a reciter (qara). The khalifa's succession is hereditary and the qara is a man of science or a scholar. The Al Dan song and dance involves two rows of participants who stand parallel to each other. A number of drummers approach the rows, until a dancer comes out from one of the rows to perform solo. The drummers then beat their drums, chasing him through the dance until he returns to his original position. A stipulation of performing the Dan is that the men must all go barefoot. Anyone found wearing sandals is punished with a fine.

[Dance]In the Dhofar region, the Bar'aa is performed as a celebration of youth by two dancers, each holding a dagger in his right hand and his shal, fixed at the waist, in his left hand. The characteristic movement of the Bar'aa is a powerful one-footed leap into the air. The two dancers move in a synchronised series of steps, advancing and retreating while they both make full circles. At a particular moment, both dancers bow down before the musicians to allow the soloists to come forward and sing.

The Raqs al Nisaa is the Women's Dance, which is one of the most frequently performed dances in that region. The women move amongst the seated participants, bedecked in gold and holding their veils while making small, measured steps. Two dancers perform at a time, until they have circled the area and then they sit down to allow the next pair to continue.

The Al Wailah is a dance performed by women in the wilayat of Ibri in the Dhahira region. The women form into groups, each woman placing her right hand on her neighbour's shoulders and the groups move around in unison. At the start, each woman shakes a silver rattle, which she holds in her free hand, to emphasise the simple rhythm. When the leader of the group gives her rattle a long shake, the women exchange places and form circles. The dancing is accompanied by singing and drumming.

The Taymina is a traditional song of the Dakhliyah region which is sung when a child learns the Quran by heart. The children of the local school gather in a procession behind the teacher of the Quran, who reads a passage of a religious nature. At the end of each verse the children reply with, "Amin", in a unified voice.

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