We received lots of questions involving our sourcing, spurred on by the Vice News video about frankincense sourcing in Somaliland, so let me answer a few of those questions.
That video is from Somaliland, with some information from Puntland; it involves corporate sourcing on a huge scale, and the corruption that comes along with it. It’s not about the traditional harvesting practices of frankincense, whether in the Horn of Africa or Arabia.
Oman is a different country than Somaliland. It's in the Middle East, and has a diverse economy, fully functioning government and interest in preserving both ecological integrity, safety and security. This backdrop governs Oman and its frankincense, and while I don’t know how other companies operate within the framework of Oman, I can speak for Enfleurage.
We buy our frankincense, which is legally and sustainably harvested, from a professional and knowledgeable trader, and we send it to our distillery for processing. The frankincense trees in Oman are all under the protection of various families, and this is well regulated and quite frankly, none of our business. The relationships between the families or tribes, are private and we have nothing to do with them. These are powerful, educated, huge families with intimate knowledge of Dhofar and frankincense—it’s most emphatically their land, and not a place for any outsider to pretend or try to exert influence.
Sometimes (Western) people ask me to provide documents or photographs to verify what they think, or have been told, provable sustainable harvesting practices. I cannot do this. Photographs showing people’s faces while working with frankincense trees is not acceptable, except in special cases, such as making a documentary or for a tour group, and you will have a minder for this. Oman does not issue documents claiming frankincense sustainability, although I have seen fake ones posted on the internet.
Basically, sourcing is done locally, and it’s regulated locally. It has nothing to do with Western agencies, western companies, western organizations. Oman is a complicated country, and southern Oman is even more so. It’s extremely rare for any westerner to have even a clue of the reality there, no matter how many books you read or videos you watch, on any subject. You can trust us on that. That includes me, having spent so many years living in Dhofar, I know very little about the societal situation and the ways frankincense trees are managed by different families. But I do know they are managed.
Sourcing is done locally in Somaliland too, of course, but the state of the government, security, the economy, is completely different from Oman, and the video explores the situation there, in one region. The countries are night and day in terms of security, government, etc. With all respect to Somaliland, there are families there with generational rights to the frankincense trees and the experience and time investment to harvest them sustainably. The point of the video is how a wealthy western entity can get around that by playing people off against each other.
In southern Oman, the management of the trees is local; decisions involving them are made locally. We must remember that these trees are considered a gift from God. The life and harvest and respect for these magnificent trees is a driving force. The local families will not over-harvest or otherwise destroy these trees. They cannot, as the trees will belong to their children, and their children’s children, and so forth. Fortunately, in Oman, the tribes have the ability and the financial strength to drive their own future.
There are no companies that exert an influence in “helping” the Omanis with their trees. The Omanis don’t need the help; they are quite capable. We at Enfleurage are privileged and honored to work with Omani frankincense; we don’t need to pretend we are controlling anything. Frankly, I find that attitude a bit condescending and colonialist. Just because we are westerners doesn’t mean we have the ability or knowledge or understanding, or anything, to try to mold frankincense into our own image. As westerners, we don’t always know best, and our motives are usually not pure.
So if you watched the video, yes, it’s horrifying. You can draw your own conclusions about your own frankincense essential oil. If you buy ours, you can assure yourself that your oil is distilled from resin that is harvested in harmony with the seasons, the families, the culture, even if we can’t explain it all in detail to you. A very small percentage of Omani trees are harvested at all, and these are not the trees you will see, even if you are visiting Southern Oman. The trees in tourist areas will generally not be as healthy, due to humans, and camels. I think that’s to be expected and it reflects not at all on the country-wide reality.
Photo courtesy of T. Harris/Enfleurage Private Collection/Oman