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  The People and The Culture  

     The post-oil boom era of about four decades transformed Kuwait not only in its physical infrastructure, the population structure also changed completely with the huge influx of manpower for the development. Today's population of Kuwait comprises of over 100 nationalities reducing Kuwaiti citizens to a minority in their own country.


Population Summery 2002

Total Population 2,363,325 (100%)

Kuwaitis .... 884,000 (37.40%)

Expatriates .1,479,000 (62.60%)

Gender (Men: Women) ration approx

Overall .. 3 : 1

Kuwaitis   0.97 : 1

Expatriates ..... 2 : 1


The work force

     Employment in Kuwait falls into three categories: the public sector (ministries, other public authorities and the state-owned oil companies), the private sector, and domestic service.

     The state employs about 93 per cent of Kuwaitis in the work force who enjoy relatively high salaries and generous benefits compared with the private sector.

     The government's role as the dominant employer of national manpower is due to several factors: the state's perceived duty to provide jobs for all citizens, the high salaries paid in the public sector. In the private sector 98% of employees are expatriates. At least 60% of these are non-Arabs, mainly Asians.

     According to the Ministry of Planning report, unemployment among Kuwaitis increased from 2,449 in 2000 to 6,238 people by the end of 2001. The threefold rise in the number of jobless Kuwaitis is attributed to increasing number of college graduates to enter the job market.


The Culture:

     History reveals that Kuwait was never a colony and the Kuwaitis have always been free to manage their affairs among themselves as they see fit and develop their unique cultural characteristics in their own way. Because the country has experienced several hundred years of continuous immigration, the sources of Kuwaiti culture are very diverse.

     The culture of the Kuwaiti people is very rich and variegated and, like most cultures that thrive, it is undergoing continuous change.

     The Kuwaiti of the pre-oil era survived, in the harshness of the desert or sea, through a mix of finely-honed skills and a highly developed social organization based on family, clan and tribe, which provided the economic and political support necessary for survival. In return for this support, the individual gave unquestioning service and loyalty to this group. This gave rise to clan-based networks which are still extremely strong and provide the basis of social relations between Kuwaitis today.

> The Diwaniyah
     The diwanyiah, has existed in Kuwait since time immemorial. The term originally referred to the section of a Bedouin tent where the men-folk and their visitors sat apart from the family. In the old City of Kuwait it was the reception area where a man received his business colleagues and male guests. Today the term refers both to a reception hall and the gathering held in it, and visiting or hosting a diwaniyah is an indispensable feature of a Kuwaiti man's social life.

     As a social event, a diwaniyah takes place in the evening in a special room or annex which in usually separate from the rest of a man's house. Only men are present and they sit around on soft benches or cushions, conversing casually, smoking, nibbling snacks and relaxing over beverages such as tea, coffee or the like. Relatives and friends come and go throughout the evening. The host's job is to be hospitable and entertain his guests.

     There are also more formal diwaniyahs which specialize in particular interests, such as politics or science.

     The diwaniyahs are the core of Kuwait's social, business and political life, the places where topics of interest are discussed, associates introduced, alliances formed, and similar networking activities undertaken. Formal diwaniyahs may be convened to discuss particular topics, sometimes with invited guest speakers. They are called for particular purposes, such as election campaigns. Formal diwaniyahs are the root of Kuwait's consensual political system.

> Kuwaiti Male Attire
     Most Kuwaiti men wear a dishdasha, a floor length robe with a centre front opening which is put on over the head. The headdress of the Kuwaiti male consists of three parts. The gutra is a square piece of cloth which is folded into a triangle and then placed centrally on the head so that the ends hang down equally over the shoulders. It is held in place by an ogal, a double circlet of twisted black cord, which is placed firmly over the head. Often a gahfiyah, a close-fitting skull cap, is worn under the gutra to stop it from slipping.

> Kuwaiti Female Attire
     Many Kuwaiti women dress in western clothes. However their traditional clothing, such as the thob (a straight-sided long overdress), is still used on festive occasions.

     When in public many local women cover their chic western clothing with an aba, a head-to-toe silky black cloak. Bedouin women may also wear a burga, a short black veil which leaves the eyes and forehead exposed, or occasionally a bushiya, a semi-transparent veil which covers the entire face.

     The hijab, or Islamic headscarf, which conceals the hair while leaving the face unveiled, is worn by many Kuwaiti and expatriate Muslim women.

> Marriage
     Social status, financial standing and religious sect are some of the important considerations. Some marriages are still arranged in Kuwait. However there is no coercion and both partners are free to accept or reject their parents' choice. Marriage between cousins is normal.

     If no marriage partner could be found by parents among their extended family or close acquainted families, services of a female go-between (Khataba) is sought.

     Once an agreement to marry has been reached, the contract is signed according to Islamic law fixing an amount of mahr or dowry which the man must pay. This is followed by a public announcement and then separate wedding receptions are held for the woman and the man. Both are extremely lavish. Weddings are major social occasions.

> Births
     Lavish Kuwaiti hospitality prevails on the birth of a child, more so if the infant is a son. The baby whether a boy or girl, will receive presents of gold jewelry. Traditionally the mother will stay at home for 40 days after birth eating special foods, such as gabout (a type of mutton stew), to restore her strength.

     Once his first-born son has been named, a father will be addressed by his son's name prefixed with "Abu", meaning "the father of".

> Deaths
     Since death is regarded as God's will, excessive display of grief is considered evil and elaborate ceremonies are regarded unnecessary. When a person dies, according to Islamic rites, the body is buried before sundown on the day of death. It is usually accompanied to the graveyard by male relatives only. The family of the deceased stay at home for a period of the three days following the funeral to receive condolences. Each morning for three days, the men of the family hold a condolence diwaniyah and even casual acquaintances will come to pay their respects. The men of the family sit in a row with their elders in the middle. But they all stand when a visitor arrives. The visitor goes down the line shaking hands and murmuring condolences, then sits quietly for a while before leaving.

     Women receive condolences separately. A widow observes idda (strict seclusion) for four lunar months and ten days after her husband's death.

> Cooking

     Because of Kuwaiti's coastal location seafood is prominent in the local diet.
Bedouin influence has given a special place to Kharoof (mutton), tamar (dates) and laban (yoghurt). Ancient trading links with India have influenced the variety of spices used. Immigrants from Iran and, more recently, expatriates from Lebanon have added their culinary input. The influence of the Far East is also discernible in modem Kuwaiti cooking. Kuwaiti cuisine is a synthesis of the various techniques and ingredients that traders, travelers and immigrants have brought to Kuwait, a synthesis which is unique and recognizably Kuwaiti.

> The arts and folk scene
     Kuwait has persistently paid special attention to refining and preserving the folk arts. In 1956 the "Folklore preservation Centre" was established and in1982 folklores were included within the curriculums of teaching the folklore subject for students of music, theatre and fine arts.

     Kuwait has a long tradition of story telling, poetry, folk dancing and music. Local folklore and traditional music centre on tales of the desert and the sea, children's stories, riddles and proverbs. Poetry, with historical and modern themes, is still written in Kuwait.

     Kuwaiti males excel in Iilth-like dancing which they perform on special family and social occasions. The well known Ardah is a very graceful slowish dance performed by groups of men gently swinging swords to the sound of drums, tambourines and sung-poetry. Other popular rhythmic dances are the Samri, Khamari, and the Tanboura which are performed at family gatherings, social occasions and wedding celebrations.

     Kuwait Television has formed the Kuwait Television Folklore Troupe which presents Kuwaiti folklore abroad at various world festivals.

     Beduine art is the most prominent expression of Kuwaiti folk arts and is best illustrated by 'SADU' weaving, creating rugs with beautiful geometric designs from hand-dyed and spun wool. To keep the craft alive the government opened AI-Sadu House on the Gulf road in Kuwait city.



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