"We Don't Marry Them": The Politics of Kinship, Transnational Histories, and Nation-Building in Contemporary Oman

Binte-Farid, Irtefa, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation focuses on the connections between kinship, marriage, and nation-building in the Sultanate of Oman based on 17 cumulative months of fieldwork between 2014-2016. It tells the story of how Omanis, despite living in an authoritarian state, are actively involved in defining national identity and who counts as “truly” Omani, and it shows how, by utilizing different marriage strategies, they navigate and make evident distinctive ideologies of national belonging.

Sultan Qaboos, who ruled Oman for 50 years, tried to erase historical hierarchies and foreground an egalitarian national identity by making tribes the central unit of national belonging. He also created new tribes for non-Arab Omanis who did not fit into the traditional structure, attempting to flatten tribal hierarchies in the public sphere by making them all equally dependent on the state. In this dissertation, I ask two interrelated questions: What is the relationship between Oman’s hierarchical tribal structure and its egalitarian national identity? And how do the different marriage strategies practiced by Arab-Omanis—those with deep roots in the Omani territory—and by Zanzibari-Omanis—those with transnational connections—articulate different models of the Omani nation?

Although the hierarchical implications of tribes (as both kinship and political units) have been rendered publicly taboo by the state, they remain critically important in everyday social relationships and are vigorously debated in private. Kinship practices, particularly marriage choices, are one of the few ways in which the status quo can be meaningfully challenged, negotiated, and/or confirmed, thus making the study of kinship an important avenue for the study of nationalist politics in Oman. I argue that despite the state’s focus on shared identity and history, Omani citizens from various backgrounds utilize different marital strategies in order to articulate and eventually make manifest different models of the Omani nation— as either an egalitarian nation for all, or a hierarchical one rooted in the values of Arab purity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Oman, Anthropology of Kinship, Transnational History, Oceanic History, Arabian Gulf, Middle East, Nationalism, Genealogy, Marriage, Tribe, National Identity, Tribal hierarchy
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