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Customs of a pre-oil Kuwaiti winter time

KUWAIT: Like all countries in the Arab world, Kuwait has its share of colloquial terms, some of which have disappeared with the introduction of technology and a modern lifestyle in the post-oil discovery era. In the midst of a cold Kuwaiti winter, we highlight some of these words and habits that might seem unfamiliar to locals, let alone the common Arabic speaker.
The pre-oil era delivered words that were necessary for those particular times as precautions, made ahead of the cold and rainy seasons, were of a simpler nature than they are today. In those days, families were known to have purchased specific wood, which they would light up for their central heating and campfires, known as Al-Gorm. Due to the tough desert conditions in the Arabian Peninsula, which make it tough for trees to grow, this wood was imported from India and is known for its distinct and pleasant smell.

Lighting this wood up in Al-Dowwa – a practice which is observed to this day, but is now restricted to camp sites – was also common. “As families would suffer from the extreme desert winters, homes – which mostly included only one floor – in those days, had high walls,” Kuwaiti historian Adel Al-Saadoun said. “This is why their walls were high and most rooms did not have windows.” Walls would be plastered from the inside, with roofs held up by thick wooden sticks, known as Chandals, painted in a black oil-based paint called Sayali. The Chandal would be placed diagonally to hold up a roof built from palm tree branches which are, in turn, covered with a mixture of plaster and ash, he said.

Families were aware of the arrival of winter, particularly during the time between the beginning of December and mid-January – a season known as Al-Marbianiya, says historian Saleh Al-Misbah. It is during this season that winds are at their most fierce, as northerly winds shift southwards by noon, he adds. As winter approaches the Kuwaiti seafaring population would head to Al-Safat Square – located in downtown Kuwait City next to the Gulf coastline. There they would buy their needs of fuel, wood or coal for burning from travelling desert Bedouins in exchange for goods they have manufactured themselves or obtained through sea trade, he said.

Al-Misbah adds that some would assist the burning of fire with dried goat dung, known as Yilla. About professions during the cold season, Al-Misbah explains that the common practice of pearl diving stopped in winter due to the cold waters temperatures. Instead pearl divers would choose between pursuing traditional craftsmanship or trade in foreign warmer waters with an emphasis on purchasing heavy winter clothing.

Bedouin men would wear sheepskin or camel hide while city dwellers would dress in a thick Bisht – a dark cloak-like garment, worn over the traditional dishdasha, woven from wool or fine camel hair. Today the Bisht has come to symbolize a man of high status or the clergy. As for women, they would wear a thick version of the colorful local dress known as Darraa, covered by their black Abaya, adds Al-Misbah. About local wintertime cuisine, he says these included Aseeda (a sweet or savory dish dumpling made with flour) Khabeesa (a mixed cardamom and semolina pudding) lentil or dry bread (Rigag) soups, boiled chickpeas or fava beans, steamed rice mixed with lentils and hot tea with milk – most of which are still eaten today. – KUNA

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