Understanding Kuwait – Dr Keireine Canavan

Since arriving in Kuwait I have read a great many books about Kuwait and Bedouin lifestyle, I have listened to learned scholars talk and discuss the history of the region and I have observed the environment, the people and, of course, the beautiful Sadu textiles.   I am beginning to understand a little more about how traditional Bedouin life in the desert, must have been in the past, and the hardship and beauty of the lifestyle.

Kuwait today is, of course, far more sophisticated, with the cities skyscrapers, fast cars and modern hotels, shops and restaurants, and yet as I learn more of the old traditional ways, I become more aware of some of the modern ways that are steeped in cultural history, for example, the way people greet each other and the respect of family and the older generation, the generous offering of coffee and dates or gifts, religion, the way men and women dress, and the use of diwaniyas (men’s meeting places; be it in a separate room of a house, or a gathering of benches outside the front of the house, where men will meet to talk and discuss matters and drink coffee).

Fridays in Kuwait are the equivalent to Sundays in the West, but in Kuwait the extended families meet and will feast together every week, much as we in the West tend only to do at Christmas, birthdays or festive occasions.  I love to see large gatherings of Kuwaiti family members, sharing picnics or cooking B-B-Q’s on the beaches, enjoying the sea breeze and playing games.  Several times I have been invited to join a family group, when walking along the beach; very typical of Bedouin/ Kuwaiti kind hospitality.

Today the offering of food, coffee and dates, I believe, stems from a deep seated survival ‘rule’ of the desert, where in the past tribal enemies would kill their last sheep and feed their enemies, before feeding themselves, and before going into battle with the same people they have invited to their table.  Likewise, the edge of the ‘Gata’ or tent divide, of the traditional Bedouin tent, is highly decorated so as to attract attention and invite visitors into share coffee and dates, and today when I work in Sadu House among these textiles, I am frequently offered arabic coffee, dates or water by museum staff.  Interestingly, when I first visited Kuwait and people, whom I had never met, heard of my arrival, several very large platters of hot food arrived at our door, without explanation or ceremony.  On one occasion, a steaming whole leg of lamb, mounted on a huge mound of aromatic rice with raisins and almonds appeared under the thickest aluminum foil sheet.  This was the third separate dish delivered that day!  I eventually repaid the gesture by cooking home-made apple and blackberry crumbles and vegetable lasagna.

I spend most of my time at Sadu House.  I have been made to feel accepted and welcomed by the whole community of people who support the Sadu Textile Society and work at the museum, and I have met many wonderful people and made firm friendships.

Regular visitors connected with the Kuwait Textile Art Association and Master Bedouin weavers, who run weaving workshops and sell their wares at the museum shop, are talented, skillful and knowledgeable and demand my deepest respect.

I am continuing to read, collate information and data, and am continually surprised and delighted with my findings.

What a wonderful opportunity this is.




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4 responses to “Understanding Kuwait – Dr Keireine Canavan

  1. nadia

    hi Keireine,

    when i read your all your post i cant believe how much its same with my country,coffee and dates,old traditional ways,killing sheep,traditional Bedouin tent,and men’s meeting places; be it in a separate room of a house, or a gathering of benches outside the front of the house, where men will meet to talk and discuss matters and drink coffee,tea,and have date and smoke shisha).all that make me miss my country a lot.cant wait to come back uni and finish my degree to i cant go back home to visit,i hope you enjoying the worm and loving,friendly people.
    take care of yourself and hope to see you soon.pleas keep us in touch with your work.xx

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