Extract from Keith Wells, Kuwait: A Personal View


with photographs by Claudia Farkas, 1987.  Adapted from pp 10-11 and p.23.



Kuwait's history has been shaped by two geographical factors, the desert and the sea, which led to two different types of Kuwaiti, the desert bedouin and the town-dwelling seafarer, fisherman, pearl diver or merchant maritimer.[...] By heritage the Kuwaitis are great merchants and great travellers, sophisticated in the ways of trade in almost all corners of the world.


Traditionally, Kuwait's maritime activities fell into two major categories, pearling and international trade.  The pearl industry was probably the most important, if only because it employed the largest number of men. At the beginning of the century over 9,000 men worked in the Kuwait pearling fleet of about450 ships. Kuwait's international trading fleet was equally industrious, plying constantly between Basra (in Iraq), Muscat (Oman), India and West Africa.  A typical 'bhoom' (Kuwaiti name for a dhow) with a crew of about 45 sailors and a capacity of 250 tons would leave Basra with dates to trade in India and return with teak, spices, cloth and rice.  The absence of their menfolk bound the women who were left behind into a strong sisterhood, which sustained them through the lonely months till their men returned. [The film the Cruel Sea portrays the life of the past very well.]


Today's [1987] visitor to Kuwait sees an ultra-modern city where nearly all of the major buildings are less than ten years old.  At one point in the late 70s and early 80s the pace of construction was so hectic the whole city seemed to be one gigantic construction site. The struggle to maintain a sense of balance in the face of ferocious change has taken two main directions. On one hand there is the urge to preserve Kuwait's culture and heritage, with museums and heritage villages. Sheikha Hussa Al Sabah, Director of Dar Al Athat Al Islamiya at the National Museum, and her husband Sheikh Nasser have ammassesd a vast collection of Islamic Art, one of the greatest collections in the world, placed at the disposal of the nation and used as a creative educational tool.  [Mrs Jehan Al Rajab and her husband, owners of the New English School in Kuwait had a rich personal collection of Arab heritage items which they managed to protect during the invasion.  The story is documented in her moving book, Invasion Kuwait: An Englishwoman's Tale. 1993.]

The other way of coping with the stresses and strains of change has been through education and Kuwait's children have some of the best and most modern educational facilities in the world. Health provision is free for all and the role of women is particularly prominent in both general and health education. [Dr Farida Al Awadi is a shining example in her role as Dean of the Faculty of Allied Health Sciences in the 80s and after the invasion of Kuwait.]