Revisiting A Cultural Heritage

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sadu3The cultural heritage of Kuwait has a rich history of arts and handicrafts dating back centuries. The Bedouin Kuwaitis were famous for their brightly woven rugs, tapestries and calligraphy. However, with the discovery of oil in the late 1930’s the reliance upon handicrafts began to fade as the country morphed into an oil rich nation with newfound revenue to import products from all over the world. Today, the vast majority of Kuwaiti society is more interested in the latest fashions straight off the runways of New York and Milan than crafting.

World-renowned Kuwaits artists like Thuraya Al-Baqsami and Khazaal Al Qaffas have kept a flicker of hope for the Kuwaiti art scene burning brightly for decades. However, over the past few years a veritable art revival has been quietly taking place. A minority of Kuwaitis are increasingly becoming more interested in art and handicrafts. Over the past couple of years, hobby shops and art supply stores have started opening up at record pace. And business is booming.

The renewed interested in arts and handicrafts in Kuwait remains a mystery. In the USA and Europe, for example, a surge in interest for homemade handicrafts is often tied to a problematic economy as people try to save money by making things at home or even selling their wares to earn an income. The Kuwaiti economy has not only survived the years long economic turndown, but it has also flourished. The only discernable reason for the revival of arts and handicrafts is that many Kuwaitis are looking to get back to their creative roots.

Not only are there an abundance of arts and crafts suppliers in Kuwait, but there is also a wealth of handicraft classes complete with instructors now available to teach everything from jewelry making to painting. One of the most recent handicraft supply shops, LB o J’zazz – Beads and Things, also offers between 40-60 handicraft classes per year. Owners Lubna Seif Abbas and Bettina Al-Bakhit offer workshops complete with all the materials necessary to complete the crafting project from start to finish. In a recent interview, Abbas shared, “Each class is project-based. I think that everybody has creativity, it is just they need somebody to show them the basics, they need good tools, and time, and we have lots of time here in Kuwait. If anybody is bored, just let them come here. We will fill time with something useful and joyful to do at the same time. There is so much that we can do. People now seek to perform arts and crafts, and they look for some
thing deeper while enjoy doing it.”

The future looks bright for the handmade revolution in Kuwait as even members of the expatriate community are even getting in on the crafting. Abbas revealed that an increasing number of non-Kuwaitis are expressing interest in her courses and several are taking part.


Going Gaga for ‘Ghabqas’

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

buffet2It sounds like some trendy new product to hit the market or the latest fad that will improve all aspects of life. However, a ‘ghabqa’ is nothing of the sort although it does unite people. By definition, a ‘ghabqa’ is a social and gastronomical event that brings people together to celebrate during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is a cultural tradition of the minuscule Gulf nation of Kuwait. Kuwaitis have been putting on their own ghabqas for centuries.

The timeframe for most ghabqas is during the second half of Ramadan. However, the last ten days of Ramadan is when most people hold their ghabqas as the race to the end of the holy month has already begun. By all appearances, the ghabqa is an elaborate feast that features a buffet-style menu with all of the traditional trappings of local cuisine. A ghabqa is only as good as the entertainment, food and beverages served.

It use to be that families would host ghabqas either at home or in a large rented hall much to the delight of their friends and relatives. These days’ large Kuwaiti companies and corporations are also getting in on the act. Managers throw elaborate ghabqas at five-star hotels for their employees and their families.  Special invitations are also given out to preferred clients and their families as well. Reporters, and even local bloggers, are often invited to ensure that the event is covered in the press as well as social-media.

Unfortunately, corporate ghabqas are nothing more than marketing ventures used to entice brand loyalty within the country. Large placards, marketing materials and anything else emblazoned with the company logo is splattered all over the tables and amongst the buffet platters. The bright side of a corporate ghabqa is that guests are often treated to lavish gift bags that might contain an expensive watch, perfume or even pricey jewelry. The entertainment at a corporate ghabqa is second to none. Many corporations hire regional celebrities to perform on stage for the benefit of ghabqa guests.

The best place, however, to enjoy a ghabqa is with a private family. The event is much more relaxed and guests don’t have to compete with one another or spend the night networking. The best part of a private ghabqa held by a family is, of course, the children. Kids have the chance to spend time with their cousins or make new friends with the children of other guests. Special treats and tiny toys offered expressly for the smallest guests is what make a family-held ghabqa truly an event to remember.