Women-made kohl from the island of Masirah

by | May 23, 2024 | 0 comments

By Shakir Mubarak Al Araimi

Some tourists – not all – who have visited Masirah have managed to unearth the long-existing traditional art form there.  And they believe it to be quite uncommon and unusual. And I, like all Omanis, are proud of this fact.

I refer to the unique practice of making kohl in Masirah.

Mesmerising experience
As you are all aware, Masirah, an island off the south-east coast of the Sultanate of Oman, is famous for its turtles and dolphins. Watersports are a key attraction of Masirah and it is also considered to be a paradise for kite surfers. And, if you are a lover of marine life, the Masirah Island Reefs offer an absolute treasure trove. Divers and nature enthusiasts have always waxed eloquent about the mesmerising experience the reefs offer.

Age-old tradition
But the other not-so-publicised surprise element that this tiny little island throws up is an age-old tradition of making black kohl. Of course, for an Omani and many of us living in Oman, we are not only aware of it, but are also beneficiaries of this wonderful art of making kohl.

Test of time
Tucked in the entrails of this beautiful island is a purely traditional art that has stood the test of time and will perhaps remain as long as life itself. This is an art that has been passed on, generations after generations, and will continue to do so.

Sharks abound from May to August
Kohl is used as a cosmetic. In Masirah, the women make the deep, black kohl from shark liver. I understand that this kohl is produced in the four months from May to August as that is the period in which sharks abound in the seas before Masirah.

Significant roles
While the women play the main part in the making of the kohl, the men too have their significant roles. It is a rounded family affair. The men fish and bring the sharks back to their families. They also help extract the liver oil from the sharks. After that the women take over completely, making the kohl in the traditional way, an art that has been passed on from their grandmothers to their mothers, to them and then on it will move on to their daughters and so on.

80 kohl bottles
During Black & White’s recent visit to Masirah, the womenfolk there told our team that around four to five medium-sized sharks’ livers are required to make nearly a litre of oil. One such litre of oil can produce 50 to 80 bottles of kohls, they say.

Intricate process
The making of kohl itself is a very intricate process, with no compromise on cleanliness or hygiene. Remember that kohl is even used on a newborn baby. It is believed that the pure kohl will make the eyes of the tiny tots, bright, beautiful and light.

On the commercial side, the women of Masirah have introduced modern mascara, using the same kohl. So, the traditional kohl has also been partly modernised, but still retaining its essence and unique character.

Keep it alive
With this story, we not only hope to highlight this tradition of Masirah but also help bring more awareness of kohl to the public, including tourists. We also hope that more and more Omani women take up this art form and let the world discover and applaud their efforts to keep this tradition alive forever.

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