Tuesday, February 9, 2010



From the bark of the Boswellia sacra tree
flows frankincense the magi brought,
allegedly the infant Jesus. Not for me
such gifts, or so I have been taught.
If they had asked me, I’d have told them I’d prefer
to have some gold, but had no choice.
I wasn’t given even just a little myrrh,
or if I was there is no invoice
proving this. Advised by some to turn the page, I
respond with, “Why was I ignored
when I was born? Why was it that the magi
were on my birthday merely bored?”
The answer, my dear bard, is blowing in the wind.
I’m not a meteor for rain
or sun as is that that other Wunderkind,
with frankincense as his refrain.

Inspired by an article by Jeremy Howell in the BBC news regarding the possible medical properties of frankincense, allegedly brought to the infant Jesus from Oman by magi. I seem to remember that the line "Gold would have been nice," is spoken by Mary or Joseph in "Life of Brian".

The gift given by the wise men to the baby Jesus probably came across the deserts from Oman. The BBC's Jeremy Howell visits the country to ask whether a commodity that was once worth its weight in gold could be reborn as a treatment for cancer.Oman's Land of Frankincense is an 11-hour drive southwards from the capital, Muscat. Most of the journey is through Arabia's Empty Quarter - hundreds of kilometres of flat, dun-coloured desert. Just when you are starting to think this is the only scenery you will ever see again, the Dhofar mountains appear in the distance. On the other side are green valleys, with cows grazing in them. The Dhofar region catches the tail-end of India's summer monsoons, and they make this "This is the first cut. But you don't gather this sap," he says. "It releases whatever impurities are in the wood. The farmers return after two or three weeks and make a second, and a third, cut. Then the sap comes out yellow, or bright green, or brown or even black. They take this.”..
Frankincense was sent by camel train to Egypt, and from there to Europe. It was shipped from the ancient port of Sumharan to Persia, India and China. Religions adopted frankincense as a burnt offering.
That is why, according to Matthew's Gospel in the Bible, the Wise Men brought it as a gift to the infant Jesus. Gold: for a king. Frankincense: for God. Myrrh: to embalm Jesus' body after death.
The Roman Empire coveted the frankincense trade. In the first century BCE, Augustus Caesar sent 10,000 troops to invade what the Romans called Arabia Felix to find the source of frankincense and to control its production. The legions, marching from Yemen, were driven back by the heat and the aridity of the desert. They never found their Eldorado. Oman's frankincense trade went into decline three centuries ago, when Portugal fought Oman for dominance of the sea routes in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Nowadays, hardly any Omani frankincense is exported. Partly, this is because bulk buyers, such as the Roman Catholic Church, buy cheaper Somalian varieties. Partly, it is because Omanis now produce so little.


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