Monday, March 1, 2010

Sacrifice to the Sea

A few days ago I was sitting on the beach with some friends and somehow we ended up discussing old Dhofari traditions. Despite our modern way of life, Dhofaris are still very much connected to the earth and the old way of life. Yes, we are superstitious people, and yes we still do practice some forms of pre-Islamic paganism. I have observed quite often the sacrifices our people make to the ocean, water springs, etc.
.
Many of the older generation in Dhofar still believe that water won't run in the springs unless a sacrifice is made. And yes, I have seen locals sacrificing small black cows (slaughtering them under water) and performing odd rituals to ensure the springs continue to provide water. If a water spring goes dry, the mountain tribe that guards the spring (it's all tribal) will gather and slaughter at the spring in hope of water. Sure enough, on several occasions, water indeed does appear.
.
My friend's father is a fisherman. According to him, sacrifices must be made on a regular basis to the ocean to keep it calm. In fact, (correct me if I'm wrong), it is commonly known that top government officials (no names please, we all know who it is) sacrifice gold and money to the ocean to keep the peace. This old fisherman says he would never risk going out to fish if a sacrifice hasn't been made because he knows how angry the ocean can get. Over and over again, I've heard the ocean being referred to as a human. The ocean is considered a powerful force that controls us. (لازم نذبح وإلا البحر بيهيج)
.
I find it fascinating how connected people are to the sea. I wish I had more time to study old traditions and rituals. There is so much we do not understand about this world because we are so obsessed with materialistic development. We do not treat our planet well. We do not respect the ocean, earth, stars, sun, and moon. We merely take advantage and then complain when things go wrong (earthquakes, tsunamis, pollution, global warming, hurricanes). Perhaps our ancestors knew more about the mysteries of life.
.
Do people in other parts of Oman make sacrfices? Have you observed them? What are the rituals? I'm curious.
.
It's raining in Salalah today (in fact, all over Oman if I'm not mistaken). The weather is very odd. Dark clouds. Although I left the house at 7:30 this morning, it was still dark outside and I had to have all the lights on.

17 comments:

  1. Wow, that's interesting. Its amazing how long people hold on to ancient pagan practices.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Nadia
    Do you want me to tell you something my father used to do to protect his cows and camels? well you'll say yes :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very interesting post Nadia. Coming from a religion that is labeled "pagan" by christianity and islam puts me on the defensive without my realising it. which is why i take umbrage to the word pagan. almost everything hindus do is considered pagan, even though its something that most people did before organised religion happened.
    but to come back to your point -- traditions and beliefs connected to the sea exist in most asian communities that have coastlines and fishing as a source of livelihood.
    in kerala, where my roots are, the fisherfolk believe the sea to be a mother. and anything She does is accepted without criticism or question. All negative things that come from the sea are a direct fallout of human behavior, is what they believe.
    There's a beautiful song in my mother tongue, parts of which personify the sea in a lovely, delicately sad manner. I'll email it to you sometime. Till then, I hope you'll do more such posts.
    Traditional ways and rituals are immensely interesting.
    (sorry for hogging all this comment space)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Despite the existence of Islam in Dhofar as a religion, some old people still have some old pre-Islamic habits, such as believing in Gin’s (جن) ability to help and to hurt. In this manner people try to avoid gin in some occasions by giving food(نغش) or slaughtering animals (ذبح), or repeating some particular prayers.
    I don’t have details about the words used in such prayers, but I still remember my father saying some words like if he is conversating with someone asking him to take care of his camels, cows or goats. It is not an every day prayer. It takes place only when people (with their animals) move to a new place. This is because they believe that gin might not be happy with their arrival and living with them (with gin since they are living everywhere especially caves). So it is a kind of initiative from my father to gin that we know you are here but we are coming as your guests who need by keeping our animals safe.
    Before he starts his one side conversation, he milks at least 1 liter of milk and locates it on the ground in its container (عادةً قعلو), one meter away from him. Then he speaks loudly like if he is in a stage and there are hundreds of spectators in front of him. When he finishes he takes the bowel (milk container) and he takes one sip of the milk.
    That’s not all :)
    But there is no more free information Nadia :).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes >>>>>>>>>>>> Being able to identify with restless quill

    I still write with my legs on the sand,when i go to the beach. I write " kadalamma kalli " ( meaning mother sea is a liar )just to annoy her and guess what? if you wait a little. she will rub that off clean in one mad rush. I know it sounds silly but its something from childhood trips to alappuzha beach qhich i still carry around with me

    ReplyDelete
  6. Lovely post Nadia. True Oman.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Superstitious rituals are a product of our deep rooted desire to control the uncontrollable. The Aztecs sacrificed humans.

    I'm a fan of science and a rationalist. Some of the rituals can be seen (now) to have a rational explanation. Incense is a proven anti-bacterial agent. Washing several times a day helps stop transmission of disease. Not having sex until marriage and staying faithful to one partner is a totally effective defense against STDs and unwanted pregnancy; etc.

    It's cute as long as it doesn't do too much harm (at least, to humans, vs black calves). Like those daily horoscopes. As long as people KNOW that its a harmless ritual.

    The problem is so much of it is harmful - lead & charcoal used to black the eyes of babies; useless remedies used when proven modern medicine is available; female genital mutilation; the list goes on and on.

    Ah well.

    Nice post (as usual) Nadia.

    ReplyDelete
  8. .... The following is not a "sacrifice" but a pagan belief: apparently in China fishermen, when they eat their fish, never turn the fish over on their plate after one side of the fish has been eaten. (they just pull off the back bone) They believe that if they turn over the fish their boats will capsize....

    ReplyDelete
  9. I can't believe I'm Dhofari. I've never heard of anything like this before. But anyway, الله بالعقل !

    Off-topic: Nadia, do know you what سمة is in English?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Interesting!!!!

    Although you may call it tradition but it is in fact a sacrifice made to the devil. Yes to the devil himself. Fishermen and others do this without even realizing the meaning behind it. They also go to collect spells for several sources around fishing communities for 5-40 O.R to catch more fish, especially during Tuna season. So initially it is a sacrifice to Satan and by time it came to be a tradition. A God-fearing fisherman will never do such pangenetic act. This is exactly what you described as pre-Islamic practices, which are tied to societies and nations that believe in the power of the mysterious creatures, ghosts and spirits. This is all a type of magic and pagan.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples around here with such practices. There used to be a big rock (boulder) somewhere in Dhofar, that women usually climb and call jinn (jinni) with their names to help them get something, or accomplish a task and then they offer their sacrifice to them. This used to happen long time a go and I'm not going to tell you where exactly they do this in Dhofar. Of course most of the times there wish turned down and only then they end up seeking black magic and of course the sacrifice would be greater.

    Nothing personal……………………Peace

    ReplyDelete
  11. Very interesting to know.

    However, I find it also interesting that we consider these acts as pagan and many find them offensive while we (Muslims) sacrifice our cattle to Allah every year. One might argue that the concept differs, but don't they all?

    ReplyDelete
  12. there's a video of a dhofari woman sacrificing to the sea on youtube

    ADG

    ReplyDelete
  13. oh.... wow... I had no clue. Do you know if they hold any Jumm'ah Khutbas in the masjids warning people that these things are against Islam?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Dhofaris will, no doubt, have heard the word "sinlik". It is used for example, when you trip, but don't hurt yourself - meaning "may God protect you". But the word "sin" derives directly from the name for the (pre-Islamic) moon god, Sin. This lunar god was one of the main deities of the Hadrami Kingdom and inscriptions with this name on them have been found on several inscriptions excavated in Dhofar.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Vary interesting post, keep up the grate work. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Alot of Omani traditions I've seen are very similiar to my Celtic heritage. In Irish/Scottish/Welsh pagan beliefs, the Jinn are referred to as the Sidhe (Fair Folk, Faeries, ect). Sometimes good and helpful to only the most noble of human beings, and most of the time just playing with/or causing their ruin, ect, through trickery and causing men to pursue things that make them into wraiths (or zombies as my Omani friends like to say). Many would leave milk and honey out to keep the Sidhe/Jinn appeased, or make sacrifices to the sea by throwing in silver or gold (my little sister did this) and sometimes even human beings like the babies believed to have been born half-Jinn (called changelings---in my ancestry, they actually record my family as having Sidhe in our family heritage and people whisper that certain children born in my family can fortell the death of someone yet not be able to stop it because of their closeness to the Jinn/Sidhe [such as being more easily succumbed to was-was/whisperings]). They also say that iron can kill the Sidhe, so people would bury iron under their doors when they built their houses so the Sidhe could not enter.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Great post Nadia!

    Reality, the difference is that this sacrifice to Allah goes to feed the needy!

    Thinking of it, many rituals in Islam came to suit everyone, remember Islam was first revealed to guide the most ignorant of people. Maybe this sacrifice ritual was written to suit those people who feel the "need" to sacrifice. Of course, the difference is that good comes out of it: feeding the poor and needy!

    ReplyDelete