Research Introduction – Dr Keireine Canavan

Hello to everyone, and thank you to so many people for viewing and responding to my first blog.

Some people reading this blog received an introduction, via email, while others did not, so I have attached a shortened version below.

I was awarded a 6 month Extended Research Leave sabbatical in Kuwait, Middle East, where I have visited, several times a year, for the past 6 years.  Whenever I travel abroad, I always make a bee-line to the nearest museum and enquire about the archive textile collection, and my first trip to Kuwait in 2003, was no exception.  I was very kindly received by the Director of the Kuwait National Museum, and introduced to Sadu House Textile Museum, Bayt Sadu, where a collection of beautiful, traditional Bedouin textiles awaited; simple, and pure in structure and composition, yet rich and colourful in tradition and culture.  I was smitten.

Al Sadu is a cultural center based in Sadu House (pictured above), which aims to celebrate, promote and preserve Kuwait’s traditional textile art and related skills.  It is also where the Weaving Craft Co-operative Society is housed.  Sadu House was built in 1936, and reflects the traditional Kuwaiti architectural of the time, with four open courtyards (houshe), and thirty rooms over two floors.  There are large cool white rooms with marble floors and tall pillars, and added Indian influences, as seen in the decorative wood inlaid doors and windows.  It is a most serene, calm and atmospheric place; full today of bold coloured textlies of black and white, red, orange and gold, steeped in history and ancient culture.  Luckily for me there is a reference library of books and internet access, to assist my understanding and journey along the long pathway of Kuwait’s weaving traditions and the regional history and culture. 

I have so much to learn!

I am reading, reading and more reading;  Harold RP Dickson’s The Arab of the Desert 1949, Kuwait and Her Neighbours 1956, Violet Dickson Forty Years in Kuwait 1971, Sir Wilfred Thesiger Arabian Sands 1959 ……. S. Weir, A. Keohane and Altaf Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, to name a few, plus National Geographic 1952, and Radio 4 archives about British travel writer Dame Freya Stark (1893 – 1993)…….

Major Harold Dickson (1881 – 1959) was taken at a very young age to Syria, where his mother’s milk failed.  An Anziah tribal wet nurse was provided for the baby and thus started a blood affinity and life-long bond between Dickson and the Arabs of the Middle East.  Dickson met and married Violet, who became Dame Violet Dickson (1896 -1991) in 1920, and under British rule and as British Political Agent, Dickson and his wife spent much of their working lives in Kuwait, with a close friendship and genuine interest for the Bedu people and their culture.

To me, Violet or Umm Saud (mother of Saud, her first born son) appears to have been a rather bold, forthright sort of person, who wrote of the nomadic Bedouin tribespeople, that….  It is certainly true that illiterate people have memories trained to hold facts in a way that we lose, once we learn to write things down’ (p91)…. and continues later that  change is sweeping across Arabia so fast that in a few year’s time much more of the old tribal way of life will have gone’ (p217).

Dickson House Cultural Centre (pictured) was built in 1870 and is the semi-colonial home of Harold and Violet Dickson. I visited Dickson House, which is situated a little further along the Gulf Road from Sadu House, with wonderful views from the balcony of the Gulf and the old fishing habour.  It consists of a ground floor of historic photographs and documents, and the first floor living quarters of Harold and Violet.  Having read their books, I felt I knew them more intimately as I walked through their house, in their absence.  


Sir Wilfred Thesiger, (1910 – 2003), the famous British explorer and travel writer wrote about his experiences across Arabia and reported that researchers will bring back results far greater than mine, but they will never know the spirit of the land not the greatness of the Arabs’ (p.IX).

Hmm!  So this is my goal; to gather results, and learn something of the spirit and greatness of Arabia.


My research brief is:

To researching the Bedu Al Sadu weaving patterns and traditional symbolism at the National Museum of Kuwait: Sadu House Textile  Museum.  The focus of the research is on the tent divide or shajarah; the decorative woven panel that divides the men’s quarters from the women’s, in the traditional Bedu desert tent or Bayt al Sha’ar .

In its widest linguistic application, Al Sadu means to extend or to stretch and spread. As used by the Bedu tribespeople of Kuwait, it also means the process of wool weaving, the actual woven objects, as well as the ground loom itself.  Al Sadu refers to the rhythm of the long and gentle pace of the camel’s stride, the rhythmical extension of the hands when weaving, and the traditional artform of Arab poetry.

The most important woven item to the nomadic tribespeople is the tent or Bayt al Sha’ar; the Bedu home or ‘black hair tent’ made from sheep’s wool, goat and camel hair.  The shajarah or tent divide is an ornate screen that incorporates many coloured patterns and designs, derived from the surrounding desert environment and reflects the instinctive Bedu awareness of the natural beauty of the desert.

In less than half a century, the discovery of oil in Kuwait resulted in an astonishing and rapid transformation of the country, when many cultural traditions were altered, diminished or lost.  This once small community of seafaring men, pearl divers, tradesmen and nomads, with associated traditional skills and artforms, was significantly changed and the traditional ways of life were generally seen by the younger generation as out of date and unnecessary.  Consequently, artforms such as Al Sadu weaving and the meaning of patterns and designs are in danger of being lost forever.




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6 responses to “Research Introduction – Dr Keireine Canavan

  1. Sally Grant

    Hi Keireine,
    this research project sounds fascinating and enriching. Best wishes

    • alsaduweaving

      Thanks Sally. Everything is going very well, regarding the research, although Internet access can be very frustrating at times!

  2. Pingback: My first Project, Weaving in the Arabian Peninsula « claresnewsdesk

  3. Lionel Parks

    Hi keireine, I found your seb site while searching for Kuwait bedu craft museum. My interest is because I lived and worked in Kuwait from 1977 – 1982 . I have many 35mm colour slides taken during that period, showing how the waterfront was before the old houses and souk were demolished and the Dhow building was moved.More importantly perhaps in relation to your research,I have a few lovely Bedu weavings of bags,that would have been used in the Diwaneya and also a few ancient camel bags which I had much fun bartering for, in the old sheep suk or Friday market.
    I no longer have the space in my cottage to use or display them all and would like to find a good display home for them where others can appreciate their beauty.
    If you have any suggestion,please e-mail me..
    best regards
    Lionel Parks

    • alsaduweaving

      Hi Lionel – how wonderful and much appreciated. I shall contact you via email. Kind regards, Keireine

    • alsaduweaving

      Dear Lionel, it was lovely to meet you, and to view your collection of Sadu textiles. The knowledge of your time in Kuwait and your images of old Kuwait from the late 70’s were of great interest, and provoked our discussions of modern-day Kuwait. Thank you for the Sadu camel bags and textiles, they will certainly be appreciated for their beauty and display of expert traditional weaving techniques. They will have a good ‘new’ home and be widely used to show students and interested scholars at lectures and conferences in the future. Thank you. Kind regards, Keireine

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