Perspective: Omani rule and Arab cultural influence on Gwadar

Before Gwadar became part of Pakistan, it was an overseas Omani territory for over two centuries.

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A shop named ‘Oman Gift Centre’ in Gwadar, 2019. (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari )

Gwadar, a port city on the coast of Balochistan, has become a hub of importance after the inauguration of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the development of its own port.

However, many Pakistanis are unaware of the fact that before Gwadar became part of Pakistan, it was an overseas Omani territory for over two centuries. Pakistan bought Gwadar from Oman for PKR5.5 billion in 1958, around US4 billion today.

Omani Arab soldiers in Gwadar

Due to this, many locals have dual Omani and Pakistani nationality and continue to live and work between the two countries. But most importantly, it is the cultural influence, which the Arabs have left on the locals of Gwadar.

An Omani fort in Gwadar, 2019 (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)
One of the two cannons that were used to announce Eid by firing, just like in Arab cultures  (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)

Unlike the rest of Balochistan, the locals of Gwadar consume a substantial quantity of dates and laban, a drink similar to lassi, during Ramadan, and have their dinner after tarawih prayers. This is because of the Arab cultural influence still alive there.

Sukoun, an Arab dish, is also made and shared by residents of different neighborhoods among themselves. “Dates are soaked and softened in water, and wheat flour is mixed with them. Women here in olden days started preparing it at noon and sent it to neighbors hours before iftaar,” said Nasir Raheem, a social activist.

Dad Kareem, a fisherman shows an old Omani passport of his father, says that people of Gwadar have a special love for Arabs (Credits: Hassam Lashkari)

Sakeena Bibi, 80, said that women had adopted quite a few traditions from Omani Arabs and are still practicing them. “The women in Gwadar like to use oud scent in many things,” she said. Sakeena still remembers her Arab friends, Shadi and Kana’an.

“The women in and Makran and Gwadar chant the same way as Arab women while we are joyful. This is what we have adopted from them.”

But it’s not just the fragrance or food: The people of Gwadar have also copied Arab dances. Leva, an Arab and African dance, is also popular. People dance around a man in the center beating a drum.

The date palms of Makran coast were also contributed by Arabs, including some preachers from the peninsula, who brought date seeds with them that benefitted the locals for centuries.

“Arabs are great people. When someone from an alien country rules another population, the locals begin to hate them. Ours is a special case. There is love and only love,” resident Karim said.

An Omani fort in Thana Ward in Gwadar, which has now been converted into a museum. (AN Photo by Hassam Lashkari)

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