Welcome to my Wilayat: Ibra, Ash Sharqiyah North

Story Nasra Al Manji

Ibra is the capital of the Govenorate of North Ash Sharqiyah (also known as Ash Sharqiyah Al Shamaliyah), and lies some 170 kilometres from the capital, Muscat, a distance that can be covered in about two hours.

Tell us a little bit about Ibra
Ibra is one of the prominent cities in Ash Sharqiyah region. It is approximately a two-hour scenic drive from the capital city, Muscat. The Wilayat of Ibra neighbours the more well-known region of Bidiyah.

How do you welcome visitors in Wilayat Ibra?
Upon receiving visitors in the province of Ibra, the residents in the villages of Ibra welcome them enthusiastically by preparing a feast. The feast typically consists of local beef, lamb or camel meat, paired with steamed rice and spices that are found in the vicinity.
Traditionally, the residents of Ibra prepare a meal so large, it could feed a whole tribe, so if the guest is an individual, the villagers invite their neighbours and other nearby villagers to partake in the celebration as an act of generosity and kindness.
In the past, it was common for the villagers to not participate in eating the food alongside their guests. They would simply present the food and allow the guests to comfortably enjoy it by themselves, as a sign of open handedness.
It is a must for villagers in Ibra to prepare the feast, whether it be for lunch or dinner, but it is frowned upon in the governorate for homeowners to not present a variety of meats and rice as well as local fruits such as quince, local dark grapes, and juicy dates, as well as freshly roasted coffee.

What are the traditions observed in your Wilayat?
Typically, after the meal, the head of the family would escort the guest or group of guests to a nearby courtyard to showcase the local tal-ents of horse and camel riding. Talented young riders from the village gather to present a riding show to the esteemed guests to show them the tradition of riding.
Different steeds and stallions can be found in the raceways in Ibra and horsemen often do tricks while riding their horses in order to get the crowd’s attention. Camels are also very commonly used as a racing animal in Ibra and are often very large and fast, which makes for a competitive race.

 Could you share some memories of how guests are welcomed?
A folk dance called Al Razha is often performed to welcome visitors and tourists to Ibra. Al Razha is one of Ibra’s and Oman’s oldest tradi-tions. This can be described as a combination of poetry, singing, and sword fighting. The folk dance usually takes place during important events around the village, such as wedding ceremonies and Eid celebrations. The dance is usually carried out by a group of men and has been passed down from generation to generation and was shaped by the people’s history.

This sounds really interesting. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Sword performers make sure that when they throw their swords in the air, they catch their weapons in a smooth manner, for this action is intended to demonstrate their strength and prowess. Al Razha, after all, showcases the tribe’s stance. Some form of modernity has seeped into the celebration these days. While in the past, Al Razha definitely would have been a serious business or an act that would signify preparation for war, it has be-come a source of entertainment these days and brings villages together and is highly entertaining to watch.

What are the areas that we must see on coming to your Wilayat?

One of Ibra’s most charming monuments is Minzfah Village. Minzfah is one of Ibra’s oldest villages and upon entering it, you can see houses and forts made from old Omani cement and plaster. The village is one of extraordinarily eye-pleasing ancient architecture.  These buildings are unique in their making because they stretch back to the third century BC and at that time, buildings such as the ones found in Minzfah Village were considered majestic palaces and unique because back then, two-story buildings weren’t as common, which lead to Minzfah becoming an eye-catching location. Minzfah is an extraordinary sight, with ancient archways, old houses and mosques, it is guaranteed to make you forget which timeline you’re in.

That sounds great. What else makes Wilayat Ibra stand out?

Aside from the regular traditional market, Ibra is considered special for hosting a weekly market called ‘Souq Al Arbia’ or ‘Wednesday Market, and is also known as the ‘Lady’s Market’. The market is held weekly by local Omani women from Ibra and is a fantastic hub for trading textile pieces and fabric to make traditional Omani clothes for women, hence the name You’ll be able to witness women dressed in colourful and vibrant clothes as they trade and haggle over different pieces of fabric and string. Local beauty products and home sup-plies are also sold by local women, which makes for a great location to catch up on the latest gossip in the town.”