Qatar has a rich traditional heritage, that can still be seen in today's very modern culture: from winter camping in the desert to setting sail on classic dhow boats. But how are these traditions being modernised, so they can be enjoyed by a whole new generation of locals and tourists alike?
Campsites in the desert
Each winter, thousands of Qataris leave the city at the weekends for a desert escape. The government assigns a camping season and, permits approving, many locals set up their temporary dwelling in the desert.
For Jassim Almohammed, this age-old tradition offers an opportunity to connect with Qatar’s Bedouin past.
“If we go back to history, our ancestors lived during these times in the tent. We always come every weekend and spend the weekend in this place,” he says.
Campsites are decked out with seating areas, volleyball courts and of course fully-functioning kitchens. Abdulrahman Almulla says it’s a chance to brush up on essential skills: “We learn self-reliance and we also practice our hobbies and depend on ourselves with cooking.”
Five star glamping service
But for those looking for a little more glamour, Regency Camp Sealine says it offers a five-star service in the middle of the desert.
“At first this was just a regular Qatari camp. And later on, in order to meet the demands of the guests, we expanded and we created the more sophisticated service for the customers. We have tried to blend the traditional Arabic hospitality with modern hospitality,” explains Zemri Dauti, the Regency Sealine Camp manager.
Modernising the ancient art of pottery
Another tradition being modernised in Qatar is pottery. Hameed Al Qahtani, founder of popular local studio Ceramic Cube views it as an incubation for anyone who’s interested in the ancient craftsmanship. The studio provides workshops, materials and bespoke pieces.
“The dream is to eliminate all the carbon footprint from the mass production of ceramics by utilising all the creative people that can be in our community, whether here in Qatar, the GCC countries or Europe, just so that we replace all these mass production ceramics with something that has a soul and it's handmade,” he says.
The business of dhow boats
During the 19th century, pearl diving was big business in Qatar. In fact, up until the 1940s, the pearl trade accounted for a major share of the country’s economy - employing nearly 50 percent of the population.
Former pearl diver and seller Ibrahem Abdullah explains how the pearls would be separated, sorted and ultimately priced: “The pearl seller separates the pearls and collects them and separates them into big and small ones and checks if they’re all in good shape. And then they have the scale and balance and weigh the pearls.” The bigger the pearl, the higher the value.
The men diving for pearls would go on missions that could last for months, sailing across the ocean in wooden boats known as dhows.
Nowadays, the boats are hired out by tourists and locals alike, eager for a slice of history and to enjoy a day sailing on the Arabian Gulf.
Pearl diving is no longer a primary source of income. But the ocean, fishing and the dhow boats themselves still hold a special place in the culture of Qatar.