Beads of sap hardening on a cut “frankincense tree” in Dhofar province of Oman. It will harden and can be scraped off in 10-15 days 

The BBC’s Frankincense Trail with Kate Humble (27.08.09) contained many errors of which outstanding was the reference to the beginning of Islam as 1700 years ago: ie. before the Prophet Muhammad was born.

The Omani tribesmen (officials) in Persil white robes and the 300 unruly camels, were also clearly designed to entertain an audience unfamiliar with the area.

Kate herself needed some education on how to dress and behave. She looked merely silly dancing with the bare-chested jebali camel-herder, and she wore the same yellow shirt throughout the “BBC constructed journey” from Dhofar, through Yemen, via Aden, to Sana’a.

The ancient Minaean and Sabaean caravans travelled east of Sana’a along Wadi Jawf, but as this region is controlled by dissident tribesmen, the film crew turned their cameras instead on the spectacular old Yemeni capital. Good PR for Yemen (were it safe).

There were in fact many incense trails leading out of Arabia. If they had stayed in Dhofar, where the film began, the logical route Kate would have taken, wound north from Salalah, headed east along the edge of the Empty Quarter, to emerge somewhere on the Gulf.

Pit for storing frankincense in the ancient port of Sumharram, Dhofar

But from Sana’a she flew to Riyadh (quick shot of Yemenia logo) still wearing her yellow shirt, and I can only imagine the BBC obtained special dispensation for her not to cover her head in this misogynist country where even the Queen, on her own visit, was obliged to wrap up.

In Riyadh, Kate declared her amazement at its modern shopping malls and interviewed the shari’a court judge on ‘execution square’ as to whether it was cruel or not, to chop off someone’s head. We only do so if relatives of the deceased insist, he replied.

But we had already been shown the sport of ‘camel jumping’ which likewise bore no relation to the frankincense trail. And why was Kate walking anyway? To make things a little more plausible, she should have been riding a camel with the 90 kilos (!) of frankincense following on a pack animal.

A good puff for tourism in Southern Arabia but it was trite as well as inaccurate. Three episodes to go: let’s hope she is wearing a different shirt.

Cutting the bark will release the sap which will harden into frankincense beads and can then be scraped off the trunk

c.Christine Osborne Pictures:  available for purchase.

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
This entry was posted in Comment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. ynotoman says:

    Oman and Yemen looks like they will have faded under the dazzling glare of Saudi billionaires and marble malls

  2. jenny2write says:

    The programme sounds most peculiar. Of course there has to be some telescoping together of scenes, and a lot has to be omitted, but it's a pity when veracity is sacrificed as blatantly as this seems to have been. How extraordinary that she doesn't have to cover up in saudi.

  3. Christine O says:

    As above,Her Majesty,ladies-in-waiting, female journos,all had to cover up – neck to ankle – in Saudi. The only woman photographer, I found it hugely difficult running about taking photos in a long dress. Also must have looked a little silly. I have written about the extraordinary British Royal Tour of Arabia in my new book: Travels With My Hat

  4. ynotoman says:

    Re the veil. Frances Linzee Gordon travelled through Yemen covered from head to foot and found the country wonderful – so I suppose it depends on ones mindset

  5. Christine O says:

    I don`t know what point you`re trying to make.I travelled all over Yemen (including to Sa`dah and Wadi Jawf) in my normal `western gear` (trousers and long sleeved shirts) when researching travel articles. The only problem I had was with the central government who tried to obstruct me, because I did not have permission to leave Sana`a. Due to regional instabilities.I love Yemen and have just written a chapter on it in my new book.I am pleased to read of the recent successful Festival of Culture.Christine O

  6. The thing that most intrigued me was the yellow shirt. What the..?!! Was it the same yellow shirt worn throughout (pooh, smelly!) or did she have many shirts the same and changed them? I can't think why the Beeb would be so sloppy in the style department! Even Stephen Fry changes his clothes! Please someone, put me out of my misery and give me an explanation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *