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Old 11th May 2014, 08:21 AM   #34
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Location: Buraimi Oman, on the border with the UAE
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Salaams All ~ I have to record the following detail en masse~ since it is vital for our records~ from the newspaper The Muscat Daily, by M. Najmuz Zafar,
October 15, 2012.

Quote".At the end of the 19th century tribes across the Middle East region - even as far away as Afghanistan - were labelled by the firearm they preferred, ie, a Snider tribe, or a Martini tribe. With Muscat being the small arms centre or entrepôt for the whole region and beyond, and its special preference for Martini Henrys, it was perhaps a Martini tribe..

One Belgian offer in 1907 alone was for 50,000 absolutely new military Martini Henrys along with 8mn cartridges. In 1908 in Muscat there were 5,000 Martinis marked ‘Martini Masqat’, probably of German origin but priced at only R40 (290bz; in those days Indian rupee was the local currency in Oman) with 100 rounds, while those with the Enfield Factory roundel still visible on the butt commanded R70 (508bz).

Presenting these facts and more at the recently concluded annual conference of the International Committee for Museums of Arms and Military History (ICOMAM) in the wilayat of Nizwa, Dr Christopher Roads threw light on historic arms like the abu futilla and the somma (Martini Henry), which are part and parcel of a cultural heritage unique to Oman, but surprisingly little is known about their origin.

Dr Roads for the last 15 years researched and restored thousands of historic firearms and artillery in the sultanate, and is the managing director of Historic Arms, Exhibitions and Forts.

From 1996 to 2002, he covered most of the country in search for historic ordnance and small arms. “One of the messages that came over clearly almost everywhere was that ‘these are our arms and they have always been here’. It is therefore reasonable to presume that the arms that we eventually gathered in for maintenance or restoration reflected past local circumstances.

"That they were, in effect, the arms that the arms trade, centred around Muscat, had provided. Obviously there would have been some dilution, some exchange with neighbours but, by and large, they reflected earlier preferences,” he said.

Going into the history of small firearms, Dr Roads said that no flintlock guns of any description seem to have been found in Oman. Documentary sources endorse the view that most tribes went from matchlock muskets (abu futilla) straight to breechloading rifled arms, usually the Martini Henry, though in some cases it may have been a quantum leap from matchlock to the .303 Lee Enfield.

“No pistols have been recorded except the Mauser (C96) 7.63 at the Bait al Zubair Museum and which belonged to the father of H E Mohammed al Zubair, although many were offered for sale in Muscat.

"For example the Mauser C96 was on sale for R74 (537bz) with 400 rounds thrown in - there were no fewer than 500 of these for sale. Personal armament was the musket or rifle plus sword and khanjar. Distribution of types today reflects, as one might expect, trading routes and trading ports and a strong conservatism.”

Turning to the matchlock abu futilla, he said it is hard to pinpoint the origin of these deeply fluted barrels with prominent poinçons (proofmarks). “Our quest for Portuguese examples of these early matchlocks has failed both in specimens and illustrations. So the legend that their very distinctive fluted barrels demonstrate a Portuguese origin remains exactly that.”

However, he added that the most striking fact is that these matchlocks with side plates resemble quite markedly some matchlocks from the Scinde, (the British spelling for the province of Sindh when they ruled it during 1850s). “With the Sea of Oman connections to Gwadar going back many centuries, it seems more likely that Scinde designs would be found on the Omani coast.”

Coming back to Martinis, Dr Roads said that the greatest density of Martini Henrys were in the area around Muscat and the lowest around Salalah. “Ex-French military arms are far more frequent at Mirbat, Sadah and Taqah castles near Salalah than anywhere else in the country.”

On his exploration drives around the sultanate in various castles, Dr Roads found Martini Henrys in large numbers. In Ras al Hadd castle, there were 34 arms. All, save one, were Martini Henrys and the odd one was a .303 Martini Enfield.

In another isolated castle in Mintirib, where alongside 20 Martini Henrys nestled five serious matchlocks, three percussion trade guns, one Gras and, strangely, one Snider.

“Sniders are rare in the sultanate’s castles, but not in the country. All those encountered are of BSA 1875 make and believed to have been originally intended for Portuguese-occupied West Africa. A large number, perhaps exceeding 1,000 were in one of the royal armouries and today they are common on the walls of officers’ messes.”

In the relatively isolated castle of Sunay Silah on the coast near Sur, 26 Martinis and one Gras were found. But one of the Martini Henrys was a Mark IV long lever - the first to that date encountered in the sultanate and still there are very few indeed. Perhaps more interesting was another Martini Henry, Serial number 8282, which still had its full military forend and original cleaning rod inside it.

Also on the coast is Quriyat. It shares with Sunay Silah the presence of a complete British military Martini Henry made by the NA & A Co Ltd in 1880. “From the superb quality of its silver work this must have been the prized possession of a sheikh who had imported it privately.”

In Quriyat only 13 guns were found, ten being Martini Henrys. In Jaalan Bani bu Hassan castle, out of 51 guns, all are Martinis, save five Gras and four trade guns from an earlier era.

At Nakhal castle there were 43 guns which interestingly included a number of Belgian Francotte arms, including their superb Martini look-alikes, but with the entire mechanism immediately detachable within a frame (CA059). All the arms here were Martini types and a strong reminder of the immense extent of Belgian sales.

At Rustaq, not far away but buried rather more deeply in the mountains, there were about 78 arms, predominantly Martinis, but with five matchlocks and a very interesting percussion ultra-small bore birding gun.

And at Jabrin, far away on the other side of the mountains and therefore very isolated, all the guns were also Martinis except for one Gras, one Werndl, one Mauser 1898 and one Winchester 1866 (CA49). The Winchester bears no marks to elucidate its journey there. Perhaps it has come via Saudi Arabia from Turkey.

At Nizwa and in its region over 120 arms were noted. Again Martinis were dominant but 23 were jezails and a Mauser 1898, two Lee Enfields, two Werndls and a Gras rounded off an impressive selection." Unquote.

For interest I have added below The Muscat Arms Seller artwork that could be as late as the early 20th C..and which I found as part of the modern portfolio of literature at Barka Fort last week.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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