Society in Kuwait is known for the strong ties between its members. Families, neighbors and friends maintain close relationships, and everyone is ready to share and celebrate special occasions with others. Each family celebrates according to its ability. Among these occasions are:
"Al-Noon” occasion, when a child has its first teeth or takes its first steps. Children of the family, relatives and neighbors are usually invited in the afternoon. The mother spreads a carpet in the courtyard of the house, and goes up to the housetop. Then, she throws candy and nuts down to the invitees from a basket. Children collect candy and nuts in their clothes. The mother presents "Al-Noon" dish to other mothers in the party give.
- “Daq Al-Harees” occasion, means grinding wheat. This occasion is celebrated while preparing for Ramadan. The family buys large amounts wheat, and then invites a group of women skilled in grinding wheat. They grind the wheat while performing, accompanied by women musicians.
- Preparing for marriage, all the family, relatives and neighbors share in the wedding preparations. For example, wealthy neighbor may lend the bride and her family pieces of jewelry. Another neighbor may provide carpets, pieces of furniture or decorations. Sometimes, the bed for the bride’s room may be given as a gift. Other neighbors help in cooking or in paying the musician fees.
- Religious occasions, these holidays maintained its importance, and people reverently await them. Celebration of religious occasions differed today. On religious holidays, stores and institutions close their doors. Families and friends exchange visits.
"Al-Mawled Al-Nabawy" marks one of the important religious holidays, which is the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday. During the day, spiritual atmosphere spreads and people sing chants of praise and read the Holly Qur'an. Clothes and money are given to the poor. The Lesser Bairam, which comes after Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and the Greater Bairam, which comes on the tenth day of Dhul-Hejja, are important religious holidays. Some religious holidays, like Al-Mawled Al-Nabawy, Al-Israa Wa Al-Mearaj (the Night of Muhammad's Ascension) and the New Hejri Year are one celebrated for one day, whereas, celebrations of the Lesser Bairam is for three days and of the Greater Bairam is for four days.
Among the religious occasions celebrated in Kuwait is a celebration called “Al-Qarqiaan”. It is on the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth nights of Ramadan. As in the past, children wander through the neighborhood while singing and praying to Allah to protect the children of the houses they visit. The mothers present them candy and nuts.
Receiving the divers on their return, a party is prepared on the arrival of the divers after long period at the sea. All city men, women and children go to the beach and receive the divers in great celebration.
- Other holidays according to the Gregorian calendar include: New Year on January 01, National Day, celebrating Kuwait independence in 1961, on February 25, and Liberation day, celebrating Kuwait liberation from the oppressive Iraqi occupation, on February 26.
Citizens go on outdoor picnics in the deserts in the spring. They go to the seaside in the summer. Due to the change in Kuwaiti life manner, activities like pearl diving, fishing, business travel and shipbuilding disappeared. Accordingly, many celebrations, such as traditional songs, dances and activities disappeared.
Families always treated marriage as an important occasion. Lots of money is usually spent on it. In the past, marriage was a means of strengthening bonds between families of similar social and financial levels and having similar creed. The family used to choose the partner, rather than the bride or the groom.
When it was difficult to find a partner from the relatives, a matchmaker handles this matter for the family. When the matchmaker found a suitable girl, she would inform the groom’s family. After the family of the groom agreed, the matchmaker would inform the bride's family. After the consent of both families, a date is arranged for meeting.
During the engagement period, the fiancée was not allowed to leave the house or meet anybody. The father of the groom would give his son's fiancée a sum of money to buy a wedding gift. This gift was called “Daza”. The "Daza" consisted of four valuable garments, two rolls of cloth, towels, bed covers and blankets. A band of women specialized in giving parties would carry the wedding gift to the fiancée's house on Monday or Thursday night. Under lantern light, the band would sing all the way from the fiancé's house to the fiancée's house. If the fiancée's father accepted the gift, this meant that he blessed the marriage. He would prepare the bride's trousseau.
On the wedding night, the groom would walk from his house to his wife’s accompanied by his father, uncles, relatives and neighbors. When he reached the bride’s house, songstresses would receive him.
A party called “Jalwa” was, sometimes, held for the bride in the house of her family. In the "Jalwa", the bride would be wearing a green garment and sitting on a special seat. A green silk scarf would be thrown over her. Some women of the family and musicians would hold the edges of the scarf, raising and lowering it, following the rhythm of a traditional song. Then, the bride would be carried on her seat to the room where the groom waits.
The first week for the newlyweds would be spent at the girl’s house. After this week, the couple would move to the house of the groom’s family in a procession with family and neighbors. The new wife’s mother would not be allowed to go with her daughter as it was considered a bad omen.
The change in the social relations in Kuwait was reflected in the way of choosing life partner. Relationships between men and women became to some extent more flexible. Young men now meet girls at family social occasions, university, work, clubs and other places.
As a result, a Kuwaiti girl can become engaged to a man from outside the family. A Kuwaiti man who is studying abroad may marry a foreigner. Moreover, higher education and job opportunities have led to delaying the regular age of marriage till twenty-three or twenty-four.
After choosing a partner, family approval must be attained. Then, formal traditions, which are a mixture of the old and the new, play a vital role. As in the past, the young man proposes to the girl by asking for her hand in marriage from her father or one of family elders if her father was dead. Afterwards, they would discuss financial matters such as the dowry. When all matters are settled, an engagement party is held in the girl’s house to celebrate the occasion.
The engagement period is not fixed; however, it usually lasts for one month. Wedding party is, usually, given in large public halls or in hotels. A party is given for just men to congratulate the groom and another separate party is given for women to sing and celebrate.
The difference between the past and the present becomes apparent in costumes and garments the Kuwaitis wear today. Arab garments changed to suit the current cultural and environmental conditions. Nowadays, men and women alike wear western design clothes. These clothes are no longer restricted to the foreigners working in Kuwait.
However, Kuwaitis are aware of the importance of preserving their national customs as a symbol of national identity. Hence, men prefer to wear Kuwait traditional clothes which are more comfortable than western clothes. It is, also, noticed that Kuwaiti women chose to wear Western clothes more where they enjoy a large different collection of women costumes. However, Kuwaiti women maintained their traditional costumes by wearing long dresses, veils and cloaks.
This variation reflects the personal taste and the styles of the day, along with traditions. Usually, Kuwaiti woman wears western clothes when she goes to work. When she returns home, visits her neighbors and relatives, she wears traditional clothes. Some women wear the traditional dress when they grow old.
Traditional Costumes for Kuwaiti Men
Trousers: Long white cotton cloth that is cut and shaped into trousers. It falls straight to the ankle.
- Deshdasha: A wide white cotton robe. It has a narrow central front opening and long sleeves.
- Maqtaa: A deshdasha made of wool.
- Shalahat: A floor-length white cotton robe. It has a narrow central front opening to the chest and long sleeves that fall gracefully to the wrist.
- Zeboun: A long robe made of silk embroidered with gold thread. It has a narrow central front opening and long sleeves. It is opened so that the front parts are wrapped around the body.
- Besht: A cloak made of wool or soft spun fluff. Its color is generally black, but may also be cream, gray or brown. Each type has a different thickness according to its use.
- Farwa: A wool coat padded with sheep wool. Its hems are embroidered with ribbons of the same color or contrasting color with different geometrical decorations.
- Qahfiya: A closefitting cotton cap.
- Ghutra: A headdress made of a piece of cotton cloth worn only after being folded in a triangular shape. When it is made of a red and white-checkered cloth, it is called “shemagh”, and when made of white cashmere wool with edges embroidered with flowers, it is called "shawl".
- Iqal: A double circlet of twisted black, brown or white cords separated from each other by colored wool or gold cords.
- Vest: A sleeveless jacket worn over a deshdasha.
- Barcot or Warcot: A wool coat worn over a maqtaa.
- Qat: A wool suit that consists of a deshdasha, vest and coat with long sleeves. All are made from the same piece of cloth.
- Broadcloth Coat: A broadcloth suit embroidered with gold thread. It is worn over shalahat or shalah.
Traditional Costumes for Kuwaiti Women
Trousers: Long piece of underwear that is cut and shaped to fall straight to the ankle. It is embellished with ribbons embroidered with gold thread. It is made of cotton or silk in bright colors such as green, red and blue.
- Darraa: A long robe with long sleeves made of cotton or Indian silk embroidered with gold thread.
- Zeboun: A long fine robe made of silk embroidered with gold thread. It has a narrow central front opening and long sleeves. It opened so that the front parts are wrapped around the body. Wealthy women usually wear it.
- Thoub: A wide robe with long sleeves and oval wide centeral front opening. Names of the thoub differ according to its color, thickness and embroidered decorations, such as: jazz, amfah, thuraiya, mukhawas, manthour, and tour.
- Malfaa: A scarf that is tied tightly around the head and face and tucked in at the back to conceal the hair.
- Shila: A black headdress worn by the Bedouins.
- Burqu: A short rectangular black face veil that covers from the forehead to the end of the neck. The Bedouin wears it over a shila and never takes it off, so as to wander freely among the tents.
- Bushiya: A face veil that covers the face completely. It is worn by city women.
- Abaa: A silk or wool black cloak that envelops the body from top to toe.
Traditional Costumes for Kuwaiti Children
Bakhnaq: A black headdress worn by little girls. It is embroidered around the head and in the front.
- Kahfiya: A cap made of black cloth. It is embroidered with colored silk thread, gold thread and blue stones.
Funeral and Condolence Traditions
Funeral and condolence traditions in Kuwait are simple. Death is predestined; hence, showing excessive grief is considered a kind of objection to Allah's will. Also, funeral orations and memorials are considered unnecessary.
After death, relatives of the deceased wash his body in the house of the dead person while wearing gloves. They use jujube as a cleanser. Then, the body is dried and perfumed with rose oil, aloe, wood and camphor. After finishing, the body is covered with a white cotton cloth and wrapped with a cotton cover.
According to Islamic Sharia, the burial is performed before sunset of the day of death. First, the body is carried to the mosque where people observe the funeral prayer. Passers-by join the funeral on its way to the mosque. After the funeral prayer, the body is carried to the cemetery where it is buried in a side cavity. The face of the deceased should be directed to the Qebla, i.e. towards Mecca. That is the direction of Muslims in prayer. The grave is, then, filled with earth till it reaches a few centimeters above the level of the ground. Two clay unmarked gravestones are placed on the grave. These gravestones signify that there is a grave at that place that should not be trodden upon.
During the three days following the burial, the family of the deceased receives those paying their condolences at home. According to Islamic rules, a woman who loses her husband must wait for four months and ten days to make sure whether she is pregnant or not. This period is called "Idda". During "Idda", the widow is not allowed to look, meet or talk to any male except "mahrams". Mahrams are near relatives whom she can not marry. The widow is also not allowed to wear make up. After this period, the widow bathes in the sea and becomes free to marry once more.
These simple and quick traditions of the past continued to the present. The only difference is that washing the body of the deceased and the funeral prayer are performed at the cemetery. Other traditions including receiving condolences for three days after the burial and Idda for the widow are maintained.
Kuwaiti houses usually consists of one hall. However, wealthy families establish a separate hall or specify one room in one side of the house and call it the “Al-Diwaniya”.
This room or hall is secluded from other parts of the house. It is an area to receive guests, neighbors and friends to discuss current events, exchange views in spare time.
The main doors of the diwaniya are kept open all day long. Along the door sides, more seats are set for passers-by. Some of the diwaniyas might have sea view where guests would like to enjoy the sea breeze in the summer. Sometimes the diwaniya includes a guest room for those who need to stay for one or more nights in the country. Today, some of the diwaniyas located along Al-Khaleej Street still receive guests.
The diwaniya include a main sitting place, called "Diwan". Doors of the diwan overlook the internal hall that is comfortably furnished for guests. There are many cushions arranged in a specific way to be used as seats and armrests. The floor is covered with woven Persian carpets. The diwaniya, also, contains utensils for preparing coffee, which is redolent with cardamom. Using a special brazier, this coffee is prepared either on the far side of the diwan or in a small annexed room. Coffee preparing utensils consist of graduated sizes of brass coffeepots with lids and long beaked spouts called "Dallal". Coffee is served in small cups made of pottery. Either the owner of the diwaniya prepares the coffee himself for guests or he hires a servant to do this job for him.
Diwaniya in Kuwait has preserved its importance in the social, political and economic life. Today, diwaniya is considered of the important social institutes that play influential role in the democratic and parliamentary life. It became a referential indicator and place where many decisions were made. The number of the diwaniyas increased to the extent that one diwaniya or more can be found in every street. Some of them receive guests daily, others receive guests for only one or two days per week, and others receive guests only on special occasions.
The general atmosphere of diwaniyas became similar to that of social clubs, cultural and literary forums and political salons. Some of these modern diwaniyas are equipped with television sets, radios, satellite dishes, computers and phones. Other diwaniyas set themselves goals to achieve, like sports, economic, political. They plan schedules and set dates to reach their goals. Others declare topics for discussion days before receiving guests. The funniest innovation in diwaniya is the women’s diwaniyas. These diwaniyas receive male guests who share their interests and activities.
Folk Songs, Music and Dances
For ages, folk songs, music and dances have represented important aspects in Kuwaiti society. The main musical instruments for most of the songs were drums and clapping. However, it is noticed that after oil was discovered, no more folk songs or music was created.
In the past, specialized women musicians used to perform songs and dances in private parties for women only. Some men might participate only by playing music. Women, at that time, were not allowed to sing or dance in public celebrations.
Though folk songs and music still exist and are found in modern Kuwait, other genres spread. New image is created for old folk melodies as new lyrics are being written for the old traditional folk melodies.
The following are a selection of most important fold songs and dances:
Al-Fann: Al-Fann is usually performed at weddings. The songstresses and drumbeaters stand together forming a line. They keep swaying to the right and to the left or leaning forward till the drums reach the ground.
- Al-Khamary: One dancer performs Al-Khamary wearing a cloak that cover part of her face. She bends her body and stands straight again quietly. Then, the dancer takes some steps backwards while shaking her shoulders.
- Al-Sameri: It is a song accompanied by a dance, which is usually performed at weddings. The performing band is divided into two groups. The first group beat the tambourines while the second sing. The dancer wears a “thoub” and covers half of her face with it. She takes few steps forwards and backwards while shaking her waist. Then, the dancer turns around and uncovers her head and face to shake her hair to the rhythm of the music.
- Al-Fareesa: This dance is performed on national and religious feasts by a special band. A woman is disguised as a man and wears the zeboun, ghutra, iqal and besht. She enters in a box in the shape of a horse as if she was riding it. The horse-shaped box is decorated with colored cloth, beads and gold jewelry. It is fixed by braces on the shoulders of the disguised woman. Two other women disguised as men enter. One is carrying a spindle while the other is carrying a sword. The two women dance with the first.
The horse moves to the right and to the left, forwards and backwards, as if it is trying to avoid the attack of the two men. The man carrying the sword tries to kill the horseman. Meanwhile, the old man carrying the spindle waits for the death of both the horsemen and the man carrying the sword to take both the sword and the horse. The songstresses encourage the knight to escape danger by singing and strongly beating drums and tambourines.
- Al-Arda Al-Bahariya: It is one of the most famous Kuwaiti sailors songs that are known for its charming and distinct melodies. The song is performed when the ship comes close to the shore after weeks of sailing on the high sea. The sailors beat drums and tambourines to celebrate their safe arrival.
- Al-Arda Al-Barriya: This song and dance is about war and peace. Men perform this dance as they walk in a circle holding their swards demonstrating their use and skill with the sward. They are accompanied by the rhythm of drums and singing of a special band.
- Al-Nahma: The “Nahham” performs this song on the ship deck. Other types for Al-Nahma are performed accompanying each activity performed by sailors.
- Al-Sout: It is performed accompanied by a lute and a small drum called the “merwas”. Two men perform “Zaffan”, which is the dance accompanying the song. When Al-Sout is performed at night gatherings of men, it is called “Samra”, which means chatting by night.
- Mawleds: It is the celebration of certain religious occasions such as Al-Mawled Al-Nabawy (the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday) and Al-Israa Wa Al-Mearaj (the Night of Prophet Muhammad's Ascension). In the Mawled, an expert man or woman recites texts from the holy Prophet’s biography and chants in his praise. The attendants respond to him saying “Hai Allah” (Allah is the Everlasting). At the end of each line they bend forward saying “Hai” then straighten up saying “Allah”. These chants are performed without musical instruments and are usually in standard arabic.
Games and Enjoyments
In the past, Kuwaiti children used simple items from objects thrown in the streets and on the seashore to make their games. They spent plenty of time for recreation as their study hours were not long. From the long periods of time they spent watching their parents working, the children gained experience that enabled them to excel in creating their games. They created games such as:
Al-Dowaira: They are models of Kuwaiti houses made in the traditional way and using similar materials. They used to keep their small birds or possessions inside these models.
- Boat Building: Influenced by their fathers’ professions, children of sailors used to play with small boats called “Al-Adal”. These boats were made of empty kerosene cans that floated on the surface of water. They used to hold racing matches with these boats.
The older children used to make larger boats called “Tanak”. These boats carried two persons. Children would get into the Tanak, then, row and sail on the sea.
- Al-Arbana: It was a carriage made of a wood box fixed on wheels.
- Musical Instruments: Children made their own musical instruments, like “Al-Danbak”. It was a small drum made from a piece of sheep leather stretched over the mouth of a water jar. They, also, made stringed instruments, like the lute and rebec by stretching strings on empty kerosene jerry cans. Another instrument they made was “Al-Masoul”, which was a primitive flute made of bamboo.
- Hunting and Aviculture: Using the same methods their fathers used to train hawks to hunt, children used to train little birds. They would tie the bird legs with threads; then, holding the end of the thread, they would let the bird fly and run along with them. They, also, bred pigeons for purposes of selling, eating or racing.
- Playing on the Beach: During summer, children usually spent their time on the beach swimming or stripping pebbles across the water. They would count the number of times the each pebble hit the surface of water while saying some amusing expressions.
- Sherouka: Girls used to play “Sherouka” imitating their mothers. Each girl would bring a kind of bean or vegetable such as rice, lentils and tomatoes. Then, they would all cook these ingredients to make a wedding banquet for their dolls.
- Kardia: A toy girls used to make of two crossed sticks or from chicken and sheep bones. They would attach them together and then cover them with a piece of cloth. The head was made of a cylindrical seashell.
- Other Games: Girls used to make other toys and game, such as: seesaw made of wood, ropes, fans and some cosmetic material from by burning coconut shells to give the hands and nails a black color.
As the field of daily interests increased, different games and means of enjoyment were introduced. The way of dividing the day into work and study hours followed by weekends and vacations, helped in making a break between work and spare time.
In the past, children’s activities were limited to playing with the neighbors or going to schools teaching the Holy Qur’an. Nowadays, children enter regular schools at an early age according to their level. School starts with the primary stage till it reaches the university, institutes and vocational faculties in which study is during the day only. Hence, children, now, have enough spar time to perform different activities.
Before discovering oil in Kuwait, children made their toys from simple materials of discharged objects. They would find them in the house and streets. Today, however, many means of amusements are found inside the homes, such as televisions, electronic games, computers and ready-made toys. Children do not have enough time create their toys and make games.
Moreover, interest in the outdoor activities increased. Many families and friends meet in cafes and restaurants of famous hotels. Those places are now considered cultural and social centers, as they organize fairs for paintings, jewelry and food.
The cultural programs in Kuwait include shows held in museums, theatrical productions, folklore shows and movies in theaters. All these compete with television and recorded programs to attract the people.
Concerning sports in Kuwait, some traditional activities are still practiced, such as hunting using hawks. Modern games are, also, found in Kuwait, such as soccer, water skiing, and ice-skating in the skating rinks. In summer time, these places offer a refreshing place for the guests.
Through Kuwaiti Touristic Enterprises Company, the Kuwaiti government played an important role in developing the means and places for entertainment. This company manages a complex of residential towers, a number of marine clubs located along the seashore and Failaka Park.
From all these means of entertainment, Kuwaiti citizens choose to spend their weekend on seaside in beach cabins. Sometimes, they choose to spend other vacations in the traditional but modern way. Some Kuwaitis spend spring vacation going on picnics to the desert. Most Kuwaitis spend their vacations abroad.