The Oral History of Qatar
If you were born in Qatar between 1970 and 1990, your parents probably told you stories of the Noon’s Donkey, the Big Giant, and Abu Derya, the Man of the Sea. Do you ever still think of these stories? How could they travel from one place to another across a land as big as Qatar at a time without internet TV? The answer is, oral stories!
In Qatar, it is an honor for individuals to share their stories with the aim of building an archive of a specific era: “Local oral historians have been encouraged and promoted, as local memory banks” (Al-Malki, 2016, p. 253). Oral history in Qatar is used as a tool to support the evidentiary nature of archived material such as photos, documents or official papers. Collectively, institutional archives in Qatar are focusing on collecting the oral histories of the heritage, traditions and national practices of Qatari citizens. As Ahmed stated, “Today, oral history is seen as the best method to capture details about traditional ways of life” (2018, p. 226). For example, the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) is developing an oral history gallery in which it has collected over 500 interviews from local citizens about Qatar.
There are several paths to write Qatar’s history, depending on the historians’ resources and the availability of archival materials. Many foreign and local historians wrote about the history of Qatar in times when there were no national repositories available for scholars. On one hand, foreign historians such as Fromherz (2017), Zahlan (2017), Al-Hamadani (2012) and Rahman (2015) relied on Qatari records and archival materials that were kept in the Ottoman-Turkish repositories or British, Indian and French archives. Local historians such as Al-Thani and JadAlrub (2016), Al Thani (2012), and Abdulla (1981), however, have relied on oral history and verbal stories of trusted residents in Qatar who witnessed major events in local history. In summary, oral stories have been primary sources for writing the history of Qatar throughout the ages.
However, there have been insufficient community-based archives restoring non-heritage historical stories in Qatar, such as librarians’ memories and perspectives about librarianship and archives in Qatar. Many small initiatives seek to elicit this history for future generations, mostly through the efforts of young scholars and volunteers. One important example is the Al Rayan Al Qadeem channel, where young producers such as Sabah Al-Kwuari, who worked as director of this channel, collected old, rare videos from unexpected resources. The first was from individuals who were lucky enough to keep those records and tapes from 1980 through 2000. The second source, which includes older videos of Qatari programs from the 1980s and earlier, was an individual who saw the tapes thrown out during the weeding process at the old Qatar TV building. This anonymous individual saw the value of these records and kept them in good condition until he passed them on to an official channel to be broadcast freely for the Qatari nation.
The below video is an example of rare videos been broadcasted using Al Rayan Al Qadeem channel:
This video explains “Al Arda” Traditional Dance in English:
Also, there have been some attempts to create community-based archives in Qatar, but all of these attempts are either poor in content or generally related to heritage and folklore practices. For example, UCL – Qatar, supported by the Qatar National Research Fund, developed a research project called “The Origins of Doha.” This project is available through a WordPress domain and is supposed to contain oral history records in a special section within the website. Unfortunately, the website of the project did not publish any audio files related to oral history.
Since opening our doors for the public and as librarians at Qatar National Library, we encourage all researchers and young scholars to build their own individual archives. we also collaborated with UCL – Qatar to organize many workshops to support, teach and train the public to build their own personal oral history archives. One example is “Seeing Yourself in History with Community-Based Archives: On Building the South Asian American Digital Archive,” in which we invited Michelle Caswell, founder of the Archive, to talk about her experiences in the field.
We will always continue to aim for more collaboration to build more oral history archives in and about Qatar.
Eman Al- Shamari
Information Services Librarian at Qatar National Library
Eiman is a PhD researcher in Sheffield university and author of the book Samuel Smiles Road, member of the Professional Standing committee in MetLib, IFLA.
“I won the 2017 UCL Academic Excellence Award given by HH Sheikha Hind, and the 2016 Platinum Medal in EED given by HH Tamim bin Hamad A Thani and presented papers in conferences such as IFLA and NLS. I also organized more than 40 Research and life-skills workshops at QNL.”
#QatariLitMonth is curated by Abeer S. Al-Kuwari
Abeer works as director of Research and Learning Services at the newly established Qatar National Library (QNL). Abeer’s work focuses on engaging library researchers in the Qatari community to explore archival and libraries as memory institutions and documentary heritage.