On the trail of Frankincense

f you are looking to buy the three gifts that the magi offered to Jesus, the best place would be the souks of Oman with their quaint shops set in a labyrinth of old world charm. And as we walk in we are enveloped by the aroma of burning frankincense, Arabic coffee and sweet tea.

Frankincense is the aromatic sap of the Boswellia tree and one of the few places where it grows in plenty is in the hills around Salalah in Oman. This aromatic gum is harvested by making cuts into the bark of the tree to let the sap seep out form resin teardrops and lumps that eventually dry in the sun. It is from this primarily desert region, including Yemen and Somalia, that frankincense finds its way into the censers and thuribles of Roman Catholic churches for use in worship.

Although Oman is predominantly dry desert, Salalah with a gift a seasonal rainfall is a luxuriant green and attracts thousands of migratory birds especially during the Khareef season.

History has it that the Queen of Sheba was more impressed by frankincense of Salalah, and felt it was a far richer gift to send to King Solomon. It is no wonder then that in the days of the merchants and caravans, it was a commodity far richer than the oil which decides the economy of today. Many of the trees are hundreds of years old and have sustained generations after generations of families who have harvested their aromatic sap to be sold to travelling merchants of yore.

Even today, the central points of the city are adorned with gigantic incense burners traditionally made from clay and painted in bright colours or crafted out of various metals.

I have carried some incense home, and as I burn it, the house is filled with its wonderful aroma, filling the entire house and sending out little tendrils that slowly escape to tease others in the neighbourhood.incense 4 incense incense1 incense 2 incense 3

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