The highest quality incense is produced in the region of Dhofar (Oman), this has marked its history, culture and traditions that endure until today. To understand its meaning we’ll explain everything that surrounds these wonderful resin beads.
History: Omani incense (also known as olibanum) has been used since 6000 years before Christ by the following civilizations (chronological order):
- Ancient Egypt
- Empire of Babylon
- Asia (China with Shang Dynasty)
- Greek Empire
- Persian Empire
- Roman Empire
- Nabato Empire (city of Petra)
- Birth of Christ who is offered gold, incense and myrrh (which is the resin of the tree commiphora). After reaching its time of greatest splendor, its trade falls back with the decline of the Roman Empire and the beginning of Christianity, since rituals with incense are considered pagan rituals.
- Asia (Tang Dynasty)
- In the twentieth century with the discovery of the oil fields, incense loses all its commercial importance (until 1970 the Bedouin Omanis used it as a bargaining chip).
Trade routes: Their value surpassed that of gold and was transported
- By sea: embarked on the Dhow (typical boat) from the ports of Khor Rori and Al Baleed towards China or the Roman Empire
- By land: transported by camel caravans from the Wadi Dakwah to the town of Shisr, before crossing the great desert of the empty room «the empty quarter»
Tree: It comes from a small tree of the genus Boswellia that only develops in Africa and Asia. There are about 30 varieties of Boswellia, but only 4 of these produce incense resin:
- Boswellia frereana: grows in Somalia
- Boswellia serrata: grows in India
- Boswellia papyrifera: grows in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Sudan
- Boswellia Sacra: is the best quality, it grows in Yemen, Somalia and Oman thanks to the special weather conditions (rains, temperature, hours of sunshine, terrain quality…) of the Dhofar región.
In the Dhofar region, we differentiate two production zones:
- Coastal zone (Khor Rori and Al Baleed): the tree reaches a large size, producing a brown resin (incense), (the darker it is the more impurities it has due to the greater amount of rainfall it receives from the monsoon Khareef).
- Inland zone (Wadi Dawkah): with few rains, extreme dryness would kill the tree, it reaches smaller size, however it produces a yellow-green resin of great quality.
Process: The resin is extracted masterfully after making a cut (about 12 cm.) in the crusts of its bark (oriented east and west of the tree to facilitate the drying of the resin that sprouts) with a spatula (called manqaf).
Quality: The different qualities of incense (from highest to lowest quality) receive these names:
- Hojari (the best)
Use: formerly it represented power and union between the earthly world and the divine. Now a days in Oman is traditionally used for:
- Weddings and ceremonies as a symbol of purity
- Births to protect both mother and newborn
- Visits: creates a welcoming and heartwarming atmosphere
- Aromatize clothes and house stays
- Manufacturing of perfumes.
Burner: called majmar, made in mud and decorated with paint,
- The lower part creates an air chamber to protect the surface where it’s placed
- The mid part, is where an incense stone is placed on a carbon coin and laid under sand (to aerate and burn coal better).
An incense stone usually lasts for about 30 minutes (it releases its aromatic oils and in 10 minutes it starts to turn black until its smoke goes out (when this happens, it’s recommended to replace the burned stone with a new one).