Kuwait Culture

KUWAIT IN THE PAST (History in brief)

Kuwait was never a colony and the Kuwaitis have always been free to manage their affairs among themselves as they see fit and develop their unique cultural characteristics in their own way. The Kuwaiti of the pre-oil era survived, in the harshness of the desert or sea, through a mix of finely honed skills and highly developed social organization based on family, can and tribe, which provided the economic and political support necessary for survival. In return for this support, the individual gave unquestioning service and loyalty to his group. This gave rise to clan –based networks, which are still extremely strong and provide the basis of social relations between Kuwaitis today.

The Kuwaiti child was taught from an early age to serve and protect older family members and also, to ensure cooperation between clans, not to embarrass the family, The degree, which a young Kuwaiti was successful in learning his role was reflected in the amount of (face), he earned. The concept of face has the same meaning as respect and reputation in the west, except the face has intensity about it that is almost inconceivable to a westerner. But face accrues not only to the individual but also to the group, and a youth is considered mature once he view personal success as being synonymous with the success of the family or group.

Face is expressed through hospitality, generosity and loyalty to family or particular group. A Kuwaiti spends his life building his personal and social face and the sense of face lies behind many social behaviors in Kuwait.

The dewaniyah or parlour has existed in Kuwait since time immemorial. The term originally referred to the section of a Bedouin tent where the menfolk and their visitors sat apart from the family. In the old city of Kuwait it was the reception area where a man resaved his business colleagues and male guests. Today the term refers both to a reception hall and the gathering held in it, and visiting or hosting a Diwaniyah is an in dispensable feature of a Kuwaiti man’s social life.

As a social event, adiwaniyah takes place in special room or annex, which is usually, separate from the rest of man’s house. Only men are present and they sit around on soft benches or cushion, conversing casually, smoking, nibbling snacks and relaxing the evening, The host’s job is to be hospitable and entertain his guests, and the reputation of a man Diwaniyah is one of the prime ways in which he achieve’s face.

There are also more formal Diwaniyah, which specialize in particular interests, such as politics or science.

Most Kuwaitis men wear a dishdasha, a floor length robe with a center robe opening which is but on over the head. Because it is so well suited to the climate, this basic garment has changed little in the last few hundred years, though the collar, front button fastening and buttoned cuffs are 20th century innovations introduction by Indian tailor . Provided he is not corpulent, the dishdasha can at time make the wearer look quit elegant.

The three-part headdress of the Kuwait male is also very functional. It provides shade during summer, it can be wrapped across the face during sandstorms, and it’s end can be twisted up like a turban if the wearer is doing manual work The gutra is a square piece of cloth which is folded into a triangle and then placed centrally on the head so that the ends hang down equally over the shoulders. It is held in place by an ogal, a double circlet of twisted black cord, which is placed firmly over the head. Often a gahfiah, a close fitting skull cap , is worn under the gutra to stop it from slipping .

The headdress can be worn in various ways, ranging from the stiffly formal to the downright rakish, depending on the wearer’s mode and the social occasion, In the most dignified style the gutra is centered on the head. And pulled down well cover the forehead so that tow pointed ends are arranged on each side of the face, the other at the back, and the ogal is set straight on the head just slightly tilted back from the forehead .The possible variation on this basic positioning are endless. The ogal can be pushed backwards towards the top of the head, pulled down over the forehead, tilted on the kildare side or pulled down over a raffish eye. And once the ogal has been exactly positioned, the gutra can be arranged in various symmetrical and asymmetrical ways. The ends can, for example, be folded neatly back over the shoulders to open the face, or one end can be left hanging forward while the other is folded up and draped back to the head to expose a handsome profile. Shebabs, young Kuwaiti studs, spend a lot of their time getting the lie of ogal and gutra just right.

Once his headgear is settled to his liking, all a Kuwaiti has to complete his dress is to slip on a pair of leather sandals as he goes out the door. In the old days he would properly have girded himself in a leather belt with shoulder strap to hold a sheathed saef (sword) and khanjar (dagger) with possibly a sakeen (dirk) up his sleeve, but today’s Kuwaiti has replaced these manly accessories with those modern necessities, a mobile and pager.Kuwaiti wears white or cream dishdash, with matching gutras, most months of the year.

During winter somber –coloured heavier cloths are used and the gutras is changed to a red and white check, For example, the onset of winter and spring is easily marked when the locals suddenly, within the space of a day or so, change the colour of their clothing. In winter, most Kuwaitis also wear a heavy bisht, a cloak made of traditional thick dun-coloured camel hair or of heavy modern wool, over their dishdash, though the shebab tend to favour thick leather wool-lined zipped jerkins.

On grand occasion, a semi-transparent bisht with zari, special gold braiding, is worn by the rich and powerful, The embossed look of the zari is created by the first hand-embroidering the bisht with gold threads and then hammering the threads so that they become fused.

Kuwaiti women dress in western clothes, Though they may choose from the more demure styles, the latest designs are worn, regardless of the climate or convenience. However their traditional clothing, such as the thob (a straight-sided long overdress), is still used for dancing on festive occasion.

When in public many local women cover their chic western clothing with an aba, a head-to-toe silky black cloak, Bedouin women may also wear a burga, a short black veil that covers the entire face.

The hijab, or Islamic headscarf, which conceals the hair while leaving the face unveiled is not a Kuwaiti garment but is of northern origin. It is worn by many expatriate Muslim women. The hijab is usually complemented by along-sleeved floor-length garment,often in pretty colours, and the overall more elegant than the voluminous aba.