In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town

In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town

In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town

In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town

Synopsis

Before the discovery of oil in the late 1960s, Oman was one of the poorest countries in the world, with only six kilometers of paved roads and one hospital. By the late 1970s, all that had changed as Oman used its new oil wealth to build a modern infrastructure. In the Time of Oil describes how people in Bahla, an oasis town in the interior of Oman, experienced this dramatic transformation following the discovery of oil, and how they now grapple with the prospect of this resource's future depletion.

Focusing on shifting structures of governance and new forms of sociality as well as on the changes brought by mass schooling, piped water, and the fracturing of close ties with East Africa, Mandana Limbert shows how personal memories and local histories produce divergent notions about proper social conduct, piety, and gendered religiosity. With close attention to the subtleties of everyday life and the details of archival documents, poetry, and local histories, Limbert provides a rich historical ethnography of oil development, piety, and social life on the Arabian Peninsula.

Excerpt

There was a furious knock at the door of my room one afternoon. I had been in Bahla, the beautiful walled oasis town in the interior region (al-Dakhiliya) of the Sultanate of Oman for just two months, but I already knew that this was highly unusual. I threw on the headscarf that my hosts had asked me to wear while I lived in their home and cautiously opened the door. To my surprise, it was one of my landlord's grown sons. We were both suddenly uncomfortable; until then only my landlady or the young children of the family had come to my door, mostly to let me know that a meal was ready, that visitors had come, or to ask whether I would like to join my landlady as she went to a neighbor's house for a coffee gathering. After an awkward pause, Majid suddenly announced: “Come quickly, there has been a coup d'état!” “What?” I asked, even more surprised. “Yes, a change in government, come downstairs. It's on television,” he said urgently. We ran downstairs and joined the rest of the family as they stood silently and solemnly in front of the large television perched on the bookcase of the otherwise furniture-less family room. Indeed, the usual afternoon cartoon programming on Omani national television had been interrupted and a stern-faced newswoman was declaring that the government was about to make an important announcement. But soon it became clear that there had been no coup; rather, the government was issuing a constitution.

I could not stop thinking about Majid's actions. Why had he expected or assumed that there would be a coup? What had motivated him to leave his home in one of the new suburbs of Bahla, jump in his car, and speed over rutted dirt roads to his father's house in the interior of the walled town? There had been no sign of high-level political instability and the Sultan remained, despite . . .

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