Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (4)

This is my favorite section from The History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City by Saleh Abdulghani Al-Mutawa, Architect. It is quoted from the section called Social Customs, starting on page 206:


Kuwait is a small nation, with population of one million, that actually has a large influence on people’s behavior; it makes the whole country like one unified family. In the neighborhoods, it is customary to see houses left open and without any security measures, always ready for visitors, which reflects the strength of the relations between neighbors, and the confidence they enjoy. The most distinctive customs are:

1. Large families; average size is eight members. The young generation is trying to minimize the family size. They live in rather large houses, seven to ten bedrooms, which is considered to be an average size house. The house provides privacy for the boys, when they grow up and have their own families.

2. Large family groups, either under one roof or in clustered dwellings, is noticable throughout Kuwait neighborhoods. That reflect the willingness of families and relatives to cooperate and help each other.

3. Newly married sons tend to stay in their parent’s house and share the cooking and dining, so houses have rather large kitchens and dining rooms.

4. Families and relatives visit each other on Fridays and stay for lunch, which is the main meal of the day. The number of visitors varies from 20 – 50 persons, depending on the size of the families. Men and women visit in separate rooms, since separation of males and females is part of the custom. (The author notes that he is talking about old habits and traditions that were prevailing in the old city.)

5.All houses have what is called “Dewania” which is a guest room. In well designed houses, two “Dewanias” were furnished, one for males and one for females, since separation between males and females is mandatory as far as the customs are concerned. The “Dewania” has its separate entrance from the rest of the house, which is to provide privacy for the inhabitants and prevent sudden interactions with guests. It is considered bad for a female to be seen by a male guest, and vice versa. In poorly designed houses, the “Dewanias” don’t have proper privacy and seclusion. The men have the habit of visiting the neighborhood “Dewanias” at night for socialization and discussion of daily matters. In the past the “Dewanias” were the only news sources for the people. Different “Dewanias” are known by the last name of the owners. Hot tea and Arabian coffee are served on a regular basis and in big events like celebrations, “Eads”, wedding parties, and so forth, big feasts held for families, friends and neighbors.

6. “Chay Aldaha”, or afternoon tea at which it is customary for women to visit each other and gossip. Hot tea and cookies are served for refreshment. “Chay Aldaha” is held in the female “Dewania” to ensure privacy for female guests and to prevent sudden embarrassing interactions with male inhabitants.

7. Women are dressed in conservative clothes when they go out; the face and the two hands are the only parts of the body which are exposed. (The author makes a note that he is talking about old habits and traditions which were prevailing in the city) Privacy for women inside the house is an important factor. They should not be seen from the outside while they are doing their daily housework, and should not be in the way when male guests are visiting in the house.

As you can see, the winds of change have blown through Kuwait creating many, many changes. This book captures a slice of time in Kuwait history, and a wealth of information you don’t even know you know. The ways Kuwaitis lived for generations have changed, just in the last 20 years. I was particularly taken with the author’s mention – several times – that women should not be seen tending to their daily housework – how many Kuwaiti women do you know who are doing housework?

There is a current controversy regarding removal of diwaniyyas constructed on public grounds – if this is an old and accepted tradition, perhaps some adjustment can be made, particularly where the diwaniyyas are not impeding public transport or walking paths? Perhaps some can be “grandfathered”, i.e. exceptions made because of historical location?

Meanwhile, my Kuwaiti friends, sorry for boring you with these descriptions of your family dwellings; you already know all this, but the rest of the world does not, and I wanted to share this with those who follow this blog because they find you exotic and fascinating. 🙂 You really need to add this book to your libraries, as a record of a way of life that seems to be slipping all to quickly into the past.

February 27, 2008 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Privacy, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , , | 8 Comments

History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (3)

I am quoting so much from Saleh Abdulghani Al-Mutawa. Architect, that you may think you don’t need to run out and buy the book but I assure you, I am only sharing with you a few of the gems I found within. The author has done so much research with such loving attention that the book is full of treasure, every page offers something worthy.

The Year of Demolish
It is a sad memorial in Kuwait’s history. In Rajab 1289 A.H. (i.e. in the middle of the nineteenth century), heavy rains accompanied by severe winds hit the old Kuwait city, and demolished most of the mud houses. Sea waves went high and hit and wrecked ships. It was a disaster for Kuwaitis.

A second natural disaster took place in Kuwait on 30 November 1954 when heavy rains fell and demolished houses and forced 18,000 Kuwaitis to seek refuge in newly built schools. Houses built of mud and a little cement were severely affected, while houses built of rock were not affected.

My Kuwait friends – tonight, instead of going out in your cars, stay home! Sit with your grandparents and ask them about the house they grew up in. Ask them about the meals they cooked. Ask them about the heavy rains, so heavy that they could destroy houses and force 18,000 Kuwaitis to abandon their homes and go stay in schools. These are amazing stories – learn your stories from your grandparents . . . and then come tell us all the stories in your own blogs. If you don’t have a blog, or if you want to share here, you are welcome.

Some of my Kuwait friends ask why I care more about these things than the Kuwaitis. First – my Kuwaiti friends care. In my country, we call these people “the silent majority.” Every now and then the majority energizes and asserts itself. Kuwaitis care. Change is happening, it happens slowly. Keep the faith.

Second – I live here. I may not be Kuwaiti, but I care about the places where I live. If God has placed me here, I trust that he has his reasons, and it is my obligation to him to learn as much as I can and to serve – wherever he may place me. He placed me in Kuwait.

Tomorrow I will print my very favorite part of this book – where it describes family living. Meanwhile, run out and buy your own copy. There is so much I am not covering. This book is a part of your heritage.

February 26, 2008 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Books, Building, Community, Cultural, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Weather | , , | 7 Comments