“Arts of the Monsoon” is a 58-minute documentary commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. It’s part of the museum’s ongoing “Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa” project that was launched in 2013 to educate the public about the little known history between East Africa and Oman. Some selected objects featured in the documentary were chosen to be on display in the the museum’s project exhibit. This history is rich in cultural exchanges and was facilitated by the monsoons of the Indian Ocean.

 

(Smithsonian)

(Smithsonian)

“Arts of the Monsoon” premiered to the public June 11, even though it had been screened to an invitation only audience the month before. In English, Arabic and Swahili, the intense cultural exchanges and similarities between Zanzibar and Oman are shown through the eyes of cultural experts, artists and musicians. These cultural connections reach back to the 17th century when Omani royalty established their presence in Zanzibar. They ruled the island controlling maritime trade routes up until the 19th century. Zanzibar is itself considered the last true gem of the Swahili coast.

 

 

The intertwined nature of Zanzibar and Oman still exist today in shared clothing such as the kanga fabric worn by women in both regions as well as with the musical tradition of taarab which blends Arabic and African rhythms. It is also not unusual to find people from Zanzibar in Oman and vice verse, each speaking Arabic and Swahili fluently. Oman boasts stronger ties with East Africa than its regional neighbors. In fact, one of the artists interviewed in Arts of the Monsoon describes Africa and Oman as twins.

 

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