Whenever I visit the Maritime Hall of the Museum of the Land of Frankincense in Dhofar in the south of Oman, located at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Al Baleed (meaning the City), I admire the replica of the “kamal (meaning guide).” The original object is kept in the Musée de la Marine in Paris. At first glance, the object is a flat piece of wood with a knotted rope. Not exactly spectacular, but the kamal is one of the earliest aids to navigation and guided the Arab sailors by the stars. It served during the ages of exploration and trade. Like the Frankincense trade where the exchange of incense and other materials connected Oman with ancient civilizations all over the world. Before the invention of the kamal, navigators used the fingers of their hands to determine latitude by measuring the elevation of (Polaris) the North Star. Through their experiences, navigators were able to mark certain knots to match the latitude of their usual ports of call.
(click on thumbnail to enlarge the picture)
My port of call was the Oman Across the Ages Museum. A newly built museum which opened in March 2023 and is located in Manah (appr. 160 km from Muscat and 20km from Nizwa). In this museum, the transition of Oman between past, present and future is demonstrated in 14 halls. In the Maritime Hall, the story of Ahmed bin Majid is told with audiovisual means. He invented and designed the kamal. This Omani navigator invites you to try the device via interactive screens.
With the kamal – the guide in mind, I visited the Maritime History Gallery of the National Museum, established in 2013 in Muscat, the capital of Oman. This Gallery states: “…with its extensive coastline, the story of Oman’s past is in many ways a maritime history.” But also: “Today, Oman continues its relationship with the sea. It has a modern fleet, prosperous seaports and historical reconstructions.”