In November 2010 I was working in the Gulf on a number of painting projects, one of which took me to Sur, a town on the coast of Oman. Sur is famous for dhow building and has its own maritime museum. I had been before and I’ve produce a number of paintings of dhows. We decided to call in to the museum in the afternoon and were given an unexpected treat of Razha Dancing which was taking place outside the museum.
The Razha is an Omani dance where local men leap into the air carrying either a heavy sword or rifle. As they land, they must not falter. They will also throw their weapon into the air and catch it as it comes down displaying their strength and prowess. Singing, and what sounds like chanting, will also be accompanied by the beating of a drum to three distinct rhythms to which the participants match their movements.
At first glance, the whole proceedings can look quite unnerving. Indeed, the dance would originally been used as a way to announce war, victory, the mustering of troops or to mediate between warring factions, however the locals made us feel very welcome offering us Omani coffee, bottled water and dates whilst I produced sketchbook studies of the poetic movements. In the evening I returned where the dancing was continuing well into the night. I gathered more reference material which I hope to develop into some more finished paintings. The image above is actually a small Christmas card which I made for Susan that year. The back of the card contains the following appropriate inscription from Psalm 30 verses 11 & 12:
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
The verses are appropriate because just after that trip, on returning to the UK, Susan had to be rushed to hospital to have emergency surgery for a twisted bowel. She had complained of stomach pains on the trip which could have been the early signs of problems. We are so pleased that it didn’t flare up whilst we were in Sur!