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Save the souq

Muttrah Souq is the essential showcase of Omani traditions and craftsmanship. It is in such a place that a traveller who wants to experience the local tradition would go. Oman’s citizens and other residents are particularly fond of Muttrah because it is the place that keeps them in touch with a culture whose roots run back to ancient times. Therefore it is important that the place is maintained as true to its character as possible. Muttrah Souq’s ambience is exceptional and visitors to Muscat love to spend time there because of its authenticity. That is why everybody has a responsibility towards the people and future generation to maintain its true nature. Let us keep this place of authentic art and craft that way. The recent influx of cheap imitations from other markets is mercilessly nudging out authentic wares. At least some unscrupulous traders eyeing a quick buck stock the fakes. As some of these forgeries would look as good as the original ones, people get duped easily. Some of the traders who have wanted to maintain the credibility of Muttrah Souq have dismayed by such practices. There must be a system that ensures the authenticity of the wares sold on traditional souqs across the Sultanate. There could be other areas where imitations are allowed to be sold, but with clear signage indicating that there is no guarantee for the authenticity of the merchandise. But traditional souqs must not mix traditional with imitations which would amount fooling the customers. Tourists flock to traditional souqs in deference to the richness and antiquity of a culture and experience its essential goodness. It will be unfortunate if the visitors are duped into believing that substandard imitations are the real ones.

It should not be forgotten that the soul of a culture is manifest most in its traditional craft. Artisans who create the craft therefore deserve reverence as they are the people directly in touch with the core values of a culture. The Sultanate with its huge wealth of traditional art has always held craftsmen in high esteem. Communities across the land have watched the work of these people who have added value to the society they live in through innovation and hard work. Craftsmen have the imagination of an artist and skill of an engineer and contribute simultaneously to the society’s aesthetics and economy. In fact the artisans bring out their creations through endless toil in an environment of minimal automation. They are not mere traders though they have to market their creations. What one sees in the market are some of the ills of unbridled globalisation which have to be tackled. If a craft becomes economically unsustainable it will die off over time. It would be a shame if such a rich panoply of ethnic creativity is lost to posterity and humanity. As Badar Mohammed Al Ma’amari, academic at the Sultan Qaboos University, says there must be conscious effort to protect the artisans and help them preserve their craft. Citing the unfortunate plight of traditional pottery craft, Ma’amari says, “Nearly two-thirds of ceramic tableware in Oman now comes from abroad.” The Public Authority for Crafts and Industry has its task cut out in raising people’s awareness and guiding the formulation of proper rules.

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