Omani matchlock gun
Below you find our collection of Omani guns and associated tools. According to Islam Omani men are not supposed to wear jewellery (except for a signet ring) however they are allowed to wear weapons. Consequently weapons have also become jewellery in Omani culture. This also explains why a male kohlpot (to blacken the eyes) is in the shape of a gun-cartridge. The Omani Musket ( Abu Fathilah / Fatiyalah = Father of the match) works as follows: The fuse is fitted into the jaws of the cock for firing. Note the two brass tubes one to extinguish the match the other perforated to keep it alight but safe. To fire the gun powder has been inserted into the front of the barrel, the tightly fitted lead bullet is pushed down the barrel. A small amount of powder is put into the small "powder-pan" , there is a hole (touch-hole) that travels from the pan towards the centre of the barrel. By pressing the trigger upwards the lighted fuse is moved towards the powder-pan and the tiny explosion ignites via the touch-hole the powder inside the barrel and the bullet is fired. The animal skin has been fitted at the end of the stock to dampen the shock-wave from the gun when firing.
In 1672/1673 a Dutch VOC ship visits Muscat and a Dutchman named Padtbrugge reports on what he sees in the Muscat souq (see Ref 4 first item) p 13: One finds many Arabian rifle-makers and sword cutlers. Also canon-ball-smiths because they do not know how to melt and cast iron" On page 14: The imam requested to buy 200 pieces of Singalese guns with silver inlay in the front, middle and end of the barrel (similar to the barrels below) The barrel must be made of thick iron and the barrel should be narrow: you should only be able to put your little-finger inside the barrel. We gave him six guns as a present"
The original guns on our web-page date from the 17th century (see Elgood) . Dating based on decoration and the style plus the stamps on the barrel etc.The earliest description of the working of an Omani matchlock is found in the book "Vom Mittelmeer zum Perzischen Golf" Band 2 page 326-327.by Max Freiherr von Oppenheim. He mentions how beautiful the muskets are but also that the bandoleers and powder boxes are even more beautiful! Robert Elgood in "Firearms of the Islamic world in the Tareq Rajab Museum Kuwait " p 87 (bottom right) mentions that the older the weapon the more it was esteemed by the Arabs! Guns were passed down from father to son through generations and acquired special names and were never parted with save in extreme necessity. So they are genuine heirlooms which may explain that we could find 17th century barrels in Oman.
In Wellsted´s "Travels in Arabia" 1836 p 348 he writes: "Their arms consist of a matchlock of the same description as those usually found in the East; the barrel of great length, ornamented with inlaid gold and silver etc" On page 17 he writes "The Persians at Muscat are mostly merchants, who deal in Indian piece-goods, coffee, hookahs, or raleans, and rosewater. Others from Bandar Abbas , Lar and Menon manufacture swords and matchlocks for which there is a great demand in the interior.
Wangemann in "Land und Leute Ost Afrika " 1890 page 4 / 5 describes the frightening looking irregular soldiers of the Sultan in The Customs street close to the house of Wonders "Leute, die vielleicht sonst in gewohlichen leben friedliche bauern, heute aber gar wild und schrecklich aussehen. Sie haben weite gewander in matten abgetonten farben, phantastische turbane auf dem kopf und sind mit einer ganzen waffensammlung behangen. Da fuhren sie flinten, lang wie Blasrohre und reich mit silber beschlagen, zwei, drei krumme dolchen stecken in der leibbinde, dazu komt ein pulverhorn oft aus silber und in schneckenhausform gebildet (HvW: Yemeni design) , patronen kartusschen nach art der Tscherkessen (HvW: Circassians) ein kleiner schildt aus Nilpferdhaut (HvW in fact Rhino skin), ein krummer sabel, oder ein gerades schwert mit dunner zittender klinge Oft stehen sie in gruppen beisammen, sehen uns mit funkelenden augen an und spielen mit ihre waffen."
There are two types of (gun) powder-boxes. The larger (wooden) type is used to put the powder into the barrel. The small silver powder-box (Taliq) is to put powder into the tiny powder pan. Our overview also includes powder-measures, a bandoleer with wooden cartridges with measured amounts of powder, an even more spectacular bandoleer with ivory cartridges(!!) fire-strikers to make fire and tools to cast bullets from led. We also have a European tool (purchased in Nizwa) to cast multiple bullets but originates from a Dutch or English ship around 1700 (according to the Dutch Scheepvaart Museum in Amsterdam) It could very well originate from the ship Amstelveen that sunk before Oman in the 18th century (see references)
Omani silver (primer) gunpowder box
Used to put a small amount of gunpowder in the gun's powder-pan
Omani gunpowder chargers made of ivory, silver and goat leather
The gun powder in Oman was made by grinding and mixing equal quantities of sulphur, charcoal and salt-peter. Similar to swords the Omani considered their matchlocks also as heirlooms passed from father to son for generations and can therefore be very old.
Emily Ruete writes in her book Memoirs of an Arabian Princess 1886: " As an escort our father always sent one 100 to 150 soldiers, who walked alongside the long train (of people returning from the plantation) In spite of their heavy load of weapons (all were always carrying musket, shield, lance, sword and dagger) they managed to keep pace with our riding animals"
In the Omani souqs we used to find a lot of Martini Henry rifles, often with some crude silver decoration. In rare occasions they have been heavily decorated with silver and very fine chased designs. These guns typically date form the last quarter of the 19th century and the very beginning of the 20th century.
Towards the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, Oman got seriously involved in the arms trade to supply e.g. rebels on the North West frontier of India. Details are described in the book "Gun-Running and the Indian North West Frontier", by Keppel, publisher John Murray London 1911:
In the "Imports to Oman" section of this website we describe a probable link between: