While Oman’s true national symbol is the khanjar, a wickedly curved knife in a gilt silver scabbard still worn on formal occasions (equivalent of a black-tie dinner for us in the West), a close second might be the Incense Burner. The Frankincense trade originated in southern Oman, Salalah Governate, and therefore, in almost any local market the smell of burning incense quickly overwhelms a visitor whose palate is unaccustomed to such a fug.
As part of the national effort to enshrine the Incence Burner, several years ago the Muscat Governate erected a giant white statue of a burner on a headland between Old Muscat and Mutrah, in the vicinity of Riyam Park. When visitors first drive past this monument, heads turn. Is it a spaceship? Modern art? A relic of some misguided brutalist 70’s architectural campaign? It’s weird, sure, but soon it blends into the background, a part of Muscat, a landmark useful for navigating around town, with people saying stuff like: “You know where the Incense Burner is?” rather than “Near Riyam Park.”
One might think this is weird, sure, Not Quite Right, certainly. But we should remember that an Omani is likely to find our kitschy American fascination with something like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine or a huge statue of a spoon and cherry equally odd.