National Geographic

It doesn’t seem that National Geographic would be a likely candidate for a Not Quite Right moment, though the more closely a person looks at another culture the more that even the most familiar things turn out to be slightly twisted.

This twist, in particular, demonstrates a little something about the power of language and the power of having power itself, providing a good example of the old adage about the ‘winner gets to write history.’  And the winner, at least right now in the Arabian Gulf region, is Abu Dhabi, one of the seven Emirates in the UAE and the place where the new, Arabic-language version of National Geographic Magazine started being published last October.

The 'tampered' title, which reads "The Trucial Emirati Coast"

First, let me say that I love National Geographic.  My family dreads the moment it arrives in my mailbox.  I hide away with it for hours, more hours than normal now that the magazine is available in Arabic.  It gives me a chance to learn vocabulary I’ll probably never encounter elsewhere, stuff like:  super-nova, Inca lip-piercing, Mormon tabernacle, plate tectonics, Gorilla repopulation studies.  It is wide-ranging reading, good for the brain.

But it seems that Abu Dhabi couldn’t resist a little historical rewrite.  One of my Omani friends pointed out that the December 2010 cover story is a reprint of a 1956 National Geographic article on the UAE.  However, the UAE hadn’t even formed yet.  It was still known as the Trucial States (due to a century-old treaty with Great Britain that was aimed at controlling piracy in the Gulf).  Or, even more pointedly, as the “Trucial States of Oman.”

In fact, the full title of that 1956 article was, in the typically verbose style of those days:

Desert Sheikdoms of Arabia’s Pirate Coast: In Trucial Oman’s Principalities, Cradled by Seas of Sand and Salt, Camels, Dates, and Pearls Support a Fiercely Independent People

Abu Dhabi seems not to have liked publishing a magazine cover that hinted at its one-time fealty to the Sultanate of Oman.  So they took some liberties and changed the title.

The arabic of the cover story now procliams ساحل الإمارات المتصالح:  The Trucial Emirati Coast.  The editors in Abu Dhabi went with “Emirati” even though the name “Emirates” didn’t have any association with their chunk of the earth until 1971, a decade and a half after the article appeared.

Slightly political, yes, but mostly just Not Quite Right.

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8 responses to “National Geographic

  • A.Aziz

    The first thing dragged my attention was the cover picture and in particular the translation of the Trucial states of Oman. I don’t have to explain more because what you have written on this issue is Absolutely Right. Although I am not against The Emirates but what Abu Dhabi is striving to prove over its existence in such way is not patriotic in my opinion and Not Quite Right. On the contrary, this can pollute the common history and maybe future between Oman and UAE. I think National Geographic magazine must be very careful when reproducing its old material regardless the language and “influence” to avoid -at least – contradiction.
    Away from the above, I like the man attitude which reminds me of a similar photo I have seen of an American woman practicing yoga with a Bedouin man imitating her on a dune in Southern Oman.

  • Bev Jackson

    ha! (taking lessons from American politicians rewriting of history, no doubt.)

  • guitta

    see,politics intervene in everything ,even history….

  • guitta

    see politics intervene everywhere even in history……

  • A.Aziz

    Yes indeed, it is the same photo.

    • Benjamin Buchholz

      The similarity between the pose of this man on the cover and the yoga “Tree Pose” that Angie and Mohammad (our guide on the Rub al-Khali trip) strike makes me wonder whether this is a common way for Bedu to stand? Any thoughts? I’ve never seen a man in the Gulf region standing on one leg like this . . .

  • A.Aziz

    it used to be a common pose since the majority of people carry the slim bamboo stick in in the gulf region espcially in oman and “Trucial States of Oman”. it is a way of maybe relaxing one leg after walking for a long distance. or may be it is a pose of pride. i’ve haven’t heard of a particular reason but what i know that i’ve seen my grandfather among many other stick holders do it. and maybe it is rarely seen today because not many people carry sticks all the time now a days. we, in oman carry them for certain occasions only and thats normally limited to the tribes men but city young men do it sometimes to pretend that they are still holding to traditions.

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