The giving palm: Valuing generosity and status through human-plant relations in Omani sung poetry

Bradford James Garvey


Omani poets theorize the value of generosity by distinguishing between two nominally similar events—two instances of men watering trees. Analyzing Omani oral poetry shows how this distinction is justified by graded equivalencies that metaphorically justify a status hierarchy and invest it with behavioral expectations of generosity. To understand how generosity and status relate, Omanis distinguish between reciprocity (iconized in date palm agriculture), the divergent capacities of the rich, who are obliged to give generously, and the poor, who cannot give at all. When a rich political leader pours water on a dying plant, he demonstrates an exceptional sense of his commitment to generosity and confirms the central—but graded—value of giving. When the poor pour likewise, they underline the necessary link between generosity and capacity that they fail to achieve.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/728726