DOHA—The influx of migrant labor to Qatar and the modernization efforts associated with the economic boom since the 1970s pose a major cultural challenge for Qataris. The country’s openness to other cultures and the rapid pace of social development prompt many questions about culture, identity and heritage in a country where native citizens are a minority.
At an assembly last week in Doha, the capital, a panel of experts discussed the topic of safeguarding key aspects of Qatar’s intangible cultural heritage, and its role in protecting Qatar’s traditional culture and national identity for future generations.
According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage includes rituals, practices, expressions, oral traditions, and knowledge and skills associated with traditional crafts that people recognize as part of their inherent cultural heritage.
Like other Gulf societies, Qatar experienced a rapid and dramatic change away from its historic pearl fishing and Bedouin lifestyle, after the discovery of oil resources in the 1940s. (See a related article, “An Archaeology Project Connects Young Qataris to Their Past.”)
As a result, several Qatari heritage elements vanished because the economic reasons behind their practice were no longer valid. Today, many of these elements are only alive through association with objects in museums and grandparents’ tales, but younger generations had no chance to experience them firsthand.
“Safeguarding this type of heritage is a social responsibility for civil society organizations and members of the community and not just the role of government institutions,” Mariam Ibrahim Al-Hammadi, from the department of humanities and history at Qatar University, said at the panel discussion.
As such, raising awareness of the importance of intangible heritage is vital, according to Al-Hammadi.