A Soldier from Oman: Memory’s Nectar

By Said bin Rashid al Kalbani,  the first Inspector General of Oman

The third part of a series translated by
Khalid Mohammed Al Balushi
khalidb@squ.edu.om –

From Chapter 1 –
Early Life and the Bragash Tree –

Whenever beaten by the “teacher”, we would be so afraid of the news reaching our parents. There was perhaps something of a tacit assumption that beating was a form of mercy, and, as such, our parents had to do their duty. I should say that despite the pain we endured, beating helped us discipline ourselves. It was thus accepted in those days. I deem it to be an inappropriate method for raising children in these days, however.
I should also that I owe a great deal to Ali bin Salim. What he taught me has been of immense use in my life. He taught me how to write and read in Arabic, something I developed later through work.
I fondly remember how we treated our teacher, the pivot of the school:
On seeing him in the morning, we would say, “Good morning, Grand Teacher”; in the evening, “Good evening, Grand Teacher”. If we wanted to take our leave and go to the comfort room, we would say, “God bless you, Grand Teacher”. If we wanted to drink water, we would say, “God give you water, Grand Teacher”. If we wanted to wash our faces, we would say, “God guide you, Grand Teacher”.
As mentioned earlier, our school was but the shadow of a tree, and our only school tool was a “slate”, a small flat wooden frame or shoulder of a camel or a cow. If too expensive, then one would do with alkarba, material made of the palm tree’s lowest part. As regards the pen we used, it was similar to chalk. We would make a’hn, “whitish” powder we brought from the mountain where there now stands a communication tower. We would leave the a’hn in water for some time to dissolve, and then soak the “pen” we cut from a tree called nasal. We used to sharpen the “pen” by breaking it from the middle, so that it would write with deep imprint. Those who don’t know a’hn should note that it is the material from which we make mattresses today. All these primitive tools to write on and to write with are a reflection of the simplicity of our education as well as of our life in its entirety, dependent as it was on our local environment.
From Chapter 1
The Altameena Chant

Altameena was a chant we recited on the completion of the reading of the Quran or often rehearsed on religious occasions. Though it varied according to the individual teacher and place, its meaning was more or less constant.
All the children repeated “Amen” at the end of each and every stanza:

Glory to God who guided us
To the Straight Path.
Glory to God, worthy of praise,
Virtue prevailed,
Prayers concluded,
Upon the Hashemite Prophet.

***

This lad both read and wrote
Learnt rhetoric and letters
You fulfilled your duty
O the son of the most honourable Arabs
With generosity
Strew money and gold
God gives, God bestows.

***
The teacher taught me
With love and care
He made me repeat, he made me rehearse.

I learnt from a grand book
May God bestow upon you Eden
And hew for you buildings.
Never forget the ink and ink pot
With them you shall remain in
Paradise with nymphs.

Some chants were sung in chorus before the end of the lessons:
No god but Allah
Mohammed is Allah’s prophet
God be merciful to the teacher.
There’s a silver pen in our hands
We write God’s verses
May God damn Satan.

Such chants we would joyfully sing, heralding our departure to home.
We started praying approximately at the age of 12. At pains to teach us how to pray, both our parents and those who brought us up would watch us rather strictly. If they sensed any negligence from our part, they would punish us by beating us with a stick. Our fathers would take us to the mosque to perform our five prayers, including even dawn prayers.
After I finished reading the Quran, my tameena was something of a graduation ceremony, but it also meant new responsibilities. I had no choice but to devote my time helping my father in the farm. I had to plant garlic, onion and herbs, cultivate date palms and lemons, raise cattle and harvest honey. I should also mention that it was my brother and friend Salim bin Mohammed Al Kalbani who taught me how to find honey.

the first Inspector General of Oman –

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