For centuries, Bahrain has been a hub of cultural and traditional crafts. They narrate a tale of the glorious past of the Pearl of the Arabian Gulf
Far away from the hustle-and-bustle of chaotic city life, away from the realms of modernisation, there exists the world of the traditional craftsmen. Nestled in the nooks and crannies of the villages in Bahrain, these artists still hold on to their roots in the form of art which has been carried forward from generation to generation, making it an inseparable part of the country’s rich heritage. From the traditional basket makers to carpet weavers, traditional musical instrument makers and potters, the country’s traditional art speaks volumes about its cultural richness.
Earlier in the year, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) held a ‘Handicrafts Training Programme’ with the participation of experts from Morocco. Here more than 70 trainees, including craftsmen, artists and art teachers, participated. It was managed by the Directorate of Handicrafts at BTEA.
Pottery as an industry in Bahrain has been famous since ancient times. Having learnt this trade from their forefathers, potters in the village of A’Ali earn their livelihood from the old-fashioned foot operated wheel. Amazingly enough, this craft is still being practiced in the same way as ancient times with little or no resort to modern devices. Baking the finished pots in kilns built into the nearby burial mounds, they create beautiful pots and handicrafts of virtually every size and style imaginable – from naturally finished to brightly coloured pieces.
Tucked away in the villages of Bani Jamra and Jasra, weaving is still practiced using traditional techniques here. Working on looms, Bahrain’s fabric weavers inherit the trade, turning lengths of cloth into marvels like the abbaya worn by women, or the well-known wezar, worn around the waist by men. Besides mastering the art of making traditional attires, there are weavers in the village of Karbabad and Budaiya, who weave date palm leaves together to create arty pieces like mats, baskets, hand fans and small dishes.
With the deep-rooted pearling history of Bahrain, it’s no wonder that the dhow industry has been closely associated with the heritage of the Kingdom. A visit to Bahrain is not complete if one misses out on the dhow building yard. Dhows vary in length or design, from the straight faced Banoosh to slightly rounded or bend-faced Sambuk or from the Jelbut to the ancient mariners’ classic favourite Betheel, dhows do bear a visible difference from each other and takes around two years to finish. The ancient dhows, well set against the Arad Fort dotting the horizon, is the best souvenir one can take home on their visit to this beautiful island nation.
Words: Maryam Al-Dabbagh