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“…called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey.” (1 Nephi 17:5)
Jibbali is the generic name for the various languages spoken by the mountain people of the Dhofar Province in today’s Oman. It is an ancient language that long predates the more commonly Arabic language spoken by the majority of Omanis. There have been occasions when we have encountered mountain people who cannot or will not speak any Arabic, only their native Jibbali.
Unfortunately, Jibbali is a spoken language only, it is not written. This makes learning the language very difficult, especially for Westerners, as there are sounds in Jibbali we do not make in English. A friend once suggested the best way to learn Jibbali is live two weeks with a mountain family that raises goats, then two more weeks with a family that raises cows, and finally two weeks with a family that raises camels; then, one may begin to grasp the language known as Jibbali.
When we asked Dr. Ali Al-Shahri, who is distinguished in the dialects of the Jibbali language, about the name for the location where Lehi and his family first beheld the “many waters”, he replied that in Jibbali that specific location is called “Kharfot.” When questioned about the Jibbali definition of “Kharfot,” he thought for a minute trying to think of the proper English to describe the word; then he said that Kharfot meant that ‘the rains had come and now there was plenty for everyone’. Or simply said, “bountiful!”
Kharfot is a khor (Arabic) or inlet located between the two small fishing villages, Dhalkut and Rakhyut, in western Oman on the Indian Ocean. After the monsoon season (June – August) the vegetation is so thick that one would think he was in a jungle. Numerous date palms surround the lagoon. Many large (some 65 feet tall) tamarind trees, which bear breadfruit, are located all the way into the interior of the wadi (Arabic) or canyon. An Australian botanist counted over 130 tamarind trees in Kharfot in 2009. (The wood of the tamarind is a hardwood that is used in ship building.) Several producing fig trees are scattered throughout the wadi. Cattails grow abundantly along the sides of the lagoons and near the springs. Several varieties of grain-bearing grasses are evident all along the floor of Wadi Kharfot. Vines of many varieties are seen overhead in the trees and over boulders.
Numerous wild flowers are in abundance at the end of summer and into the fall. Butterflies, bumble bees and honey bees can be seen among those flowers. It is rather obvious why Lehi and his family would choose to name the place “Bountiful,” especially after they had just traveled through some of the driest, most desolate desert (Rub-Al-Kali or Empty Quarter) in the world.
This past April as we neared the conclusion of our third archeological campaign at Khor Kharfot, one of our boatman, Saleh, wanted to take us on an exploration. He had explained to us that, as a young boy, after the monsoon season, he would dwell for about six months with his father in a cave in Kharfot. They would tend their goats and cows that grazed on the plentiful feed. We were thrilled to be led by a local Jibbali man who could tell us even more about this splendid Wadi.
Six of us, three Americans, our Omani government representative, another local boatman, and Saleh dragged our boat high upon the beach to prevent the rising tide from carrying our boat away. We walked through the outlined ruins of an ancient mosque, past rock mounds indicating burial sites. Khor Kharfot is revered as a sacred place by the Jibbali mountain people who have buried their ancestors here for as long as they can remember. (One older gentleman said it was considered sacred because of the prophets that had lived here.) The remains of ancient rock walls divide large sections of open ground. Stacked rock enclosures are evidence of more recent (100-300 years) living habitations.
As we near the edge of the lagoon, the trees are more plentiful and larger. A huge four-foot -in-diameter tamarind tree with breadfruit pods lying in the ground provides an ideal setting for picnics on the grass beneath its branches. We pause for photos with date palms in the background. The trail leads us through the bulrushes, cattails, and tall grass to the other side of the lagoon. A continually flowing fresh water spring bubbles up from beneath the boulders. The cool clear water is refreshing.
After more photos, Saleh leads us through the trees and boulders, up the slope and into the opening of a large cave. Towards the back of the cave the path leads over rocks and up some placed steps through an opening to the second level of an even larger cave. This level has stick enclosures for baby goats, separate areas for cooking, and higher shelves for laying down mats for sleeping. It is an ideal position for observing the entire area – all the way from the beach in the distance, up the wadi past the lagoon, and on up the canyon that is called Wadi Sayq. On top of the mountain in the far distance we can barely see Saleh’s village of Hakab. But much to our surprise, the most pleasing aspect of the cave is its coolness.
In my mind’s eye I can see Father Lehi sitting in the coolness of the cave as he observed the construction of the ship directly below that would carry them across the many waters to the promised land. I surmise that his large family must have enjoyed their time at Kharfot under the influence of the Spirit, especially after having endured ‘many afflictions and much difficulty’ of suffering in the “wilderness” for eight years. Eventually even Laman and Lemuel agreed that the ship’s construction “was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.”
Saleh told us he had a surprise for us after we had gathered under the large fig tree that was near the spring. But before he would lead us to the surprise, he cut a stick about 18 inches long from the rib of a palm frond, and split it about three-fourths of the length of the stick. Then he found a piece of string about ten inches long, and told us to follow him.
Saleh led us on the north side of the lagoon, among some low-lying trees, among which cattle were grazing. After about a ten-minute walk, he pointed at one of the trees. Much to our surprise there was a large disk-shaped beehive attached near the top of the tree. It was approximately 12 inches in diameter and about 2 inches thick, with hundreds of bees flying around. We, of course, backed off so as not to disturb the bees, or get them mad because of our presence. Saleh asked if we would like some “wild honey” to taste. Of course! But how could he obtain it without being severely stung? He began climbing the tree completely unprotected from the bees, with the palm-frond stick he had prepared earlier, and a knife in hand. We stepped back even further because the bees were becoming agitated, and marveled that Saleh would attempt such a feat.
He cut the branch above the hive so that he held the entire honeycomb in his hands. Next, he cut the hive in half, tossing down the upper half to those of us gawking below. He then clamped the bottom half of the honeycomb along the cut mark with the split stick, secured the open ends of the stick with the string, and replaced the bottom half of the hive back in the top of the tree. We were amazed! Not even once during that daring episode had he been stung! We asked him how he was able to do that. “Oh, these bees don’t sting”, he replied nonchalantly. How was that even possible? We had never heard of such a thing. He explained that these bees were slightly smaller, and not to be feared like the larger stinging bees up on the mountain. It was easy to gather wild honey in Khor Kharfot.
The sweet, sticky honey tasted wonderful!
We wondered aloud if this was why the Jaredites had been able to transport honey bees in their barges to the Promised Land without ever mentioning having been stung. We wondered if there may be a connection between Khor Kharfot and the Jaredites. Could this be the same “deseret” that the Brother of Jared had transported. More research and discovery are definitely required.
Our friend Saleh taught us that the Jibbali word for honey is “dbsh.” When we asked him to repeat the word, he said, “It’s spelled d-b-s-h, just like it sounds!” And the word for bee is pronounced “quirrh.”
Each time we have visited Khor Kharfot we have learned more and more about why Lehi and his family would have called the place Bountiful. This time was no exception. We had experienced firsthand the reality of wild honey in Bountiful.