GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Shifting Terrain: Destroying While Preserving the Dalla (Coffee Pot) and the Ethic of Neighbourliness in the Sultanate of Oman
Paper Proposal Text :
Since its inception as a nation state from 1970, Oman’s landscape has been saturated by material objects and sites - ranging from old mosques and shari’a manuscripts to archaeological landscapes and national symbols such as the coffee pot - that have become increasingly ubiquitous as part of a public and visual memorialization of the past. Public spaces as well as the media are covered with these tangible icons, providing the context within which the very foundations of the nation take shape. However, the construction of the heritage industry in modern Oman has also necessitated the reconfiguration of the public domains of history and Islam as seemingly separate and autonomous, erasing any awareness of the socio-political and ethical relationships that once characterized Ibadi Islamic rule (1913-1958), centered in the city of Nizwa in the region. The result is the transformation of what was once a shari’a society through practices of progressive historicity. Cleaving through the temporal assumptions of sharī’a time, heritage practices of the secular modern state reconfigure religion through adopting a temporal engagement with a past that necessitates a changing teleological future rather than one continuous with an exemplary history. Material forms - including mosques and shari’a manuscripts - once embedded in ethically grounded social practices oriented towards God and salvation now assume an iterable and pedagogical mode of representation that cultivates every-day civic virtues, new modes of religiosity and forms of marking time, defining the ethical actions necessary to become an Omani national modern through the framework of tradition.

Centred on the dalla, or the Omani coffee pot, this paper takes the social practices and knowledges induced by its material form and function as a basis for examining the shift from the religio-ethical relationships of the last Ibadi Islamic Imamate (1913-1958) to those that define ‘heritage’ as part of modern state building today. As an object of experience, that has generated responses across different contexts the coffee pot which once enabled the sociality and every-day interaction of members of a sharī’a society has become an abstracted but potent icon of the Omani state. In generating the territorial possibilities of the Sultanate of Oman and its secular mode of citizenship, the dalla and its museumification becomes one of the material forms that sustain an active effect on the very basis by which religion and politics are linked. The effective results are the recalibration of forms of history and temporality to requirements of modern political and moral order in the Sultanate of Oman. At the same time, I argue that the the dalla and its significance also becomes a means for citizens to reconcile their own sense of local history and collective memories of the Ibadi Imamate of the 1950s with the modality of history deployed by the nation state.