Al-Ghazeer at the Radisson Blu Kuwait

350 years ago, Kuwait was little more than a few goat-hair khyaam assembled around a fort or kuut. But it was also a junction of caravan and sea routes, connected to India, East Africa and almost every jiz' of the Arabian peninsula:

In 18th century, there were akthar min 800 working ships in Kuwait, transporting stone, wood, water, fish and the pillar of Kuwait's economy: pearls. A haunting glimpse into a Hayaat of a Kuwaiti pearl diver can be seen in Khalid Al Siddiq's Bas Ya BaHar or "The Cruel Sea" (1972). In the clip below, an-nawkhidhah gestures to his crew members to begin preparations for a dive.

Before oil, jobs were scarce and most men signed up as pearl divers, living at sea for months at a time. On the buum, each man had his role. Aside from an-nawkhidhah, there was the rithiif who trained to be a diver on the job; the Saib who pulled divers out of the water and the nahham who kept morale high by singing songs whenever an-nawkhidhah asked.

al-yimaal was the type of song sung as the men rowed the boat out to sea. Each line of the song ends with the men letting out a heavy hum, not too dissimilar from a camel's growl, that served to steady their breathing as well as tie them in a very pure and primitive way to the desert from which they came.

With the arrival of steel ships in 20th century, wooden vessels such as al-buum were quickly and predictably abandoned. However, the tireless preservation of the country's maritime past is taking place at the Radisson Blu in Salwa. Moored there is the world's largest hand-nailed wooden ship, Al-Hashemi II, a commission by the Marafie family in the 1980s.

This enormous vessel is perhaps the most cunningly designed piece of functional history in Kuwait today. It's possible to wander inside the vessel for nothing, stumble among the chandeliers of its period ballroom, pass through diwaniyat an-nawkdihah and end up on the top deck, surrounded on three sides by sea.

Alongside Al-Hashemi II, is a small buum that sailed to Kuwait from India and today harbours an old-school steak house Al-Boom that has been the go-to for Kuwaiti Emirs with international guests to entertain.

But the cherry on the cake is that the Radisson Blu are now offering public rides in one of the restored vessels, Al-Ghazeer, a chance to see the sea - perhaps not as a nawkhidhah - but as a walad or bint an-nawkhidhah instead.

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Nouns خيام khyaam Tents

جزء jiz’ Part

حيات Hayaat Life

البوم al-buum The ship

دونية النوخذة diwaniyat an-nawkhidhah The captain’s diwaniyah or lounge

ولد النوخذة walad an-nawkhidhah Man of leisure

بنت النوخذة bint an-nawkhidhah Lady of leisure
اكثر من
akthar min More than