Kuwait is one of the Arab states located in the Persian Gulf, bordering Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
While it is known that these states share a common cultural vein, Kuwaiti culture managed to present itself with a uniqueness that cannot be found in other Arab states.
Nonetheless, the closest resemblance to the Kuwaiti culture and traditions is that of Bahrain.
Culture of Kuwait at a Glance
Being neighbors with several states that share a similar cultural path, the culture of Kuwait may look familiar yet remains unique. “Same, same, but different,” as they say.
Indeed, there are some aspects of the Kuwait traditions and Kuwait customs that you will not find in the other Arab states, mainly because a significant number of aspects of the Kuwaiti culture and traditions are proudly homegrown, without the impact of external influences.
– Performing Arts
We begin our immersion into the Kuwaiti culture and traditions with the performing arts, which is one of the things that made the culture of Kuwait such a standout among the rest. For one, Kuwait is the only Gulf country with a theatrical tradition, which is considered to be integral to the culture of Kuwait. Theatrical activities in the country began in the early 1900s and remain very popular even today.
Because of the significance of the performing arts in Kuwait, it is considered the primary center for both theatrical and scenographic training in the Gulf region and nearby areas.
The Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts, founded in 1973, has been a successful institute that has produced numerous actors, including Mohammed Khalifa, Souad Abdullah, and Mansour Al-Mansour.
Given the exceptional quality of the performing arts segment, as well as its cultural significance, it is not surprising detail that the Kuwaiti television drama industry is at the highest level of the drama industry in the region. While the dramas are typically performed in the Kuwaiti dialect, the broadcast, and subsequent success echoes as far as Tunisia.
Due to the profound rootedness of the performing arts in Kuwaiti culture, it is not surprising that Kuwait is known to be the “Hollywood of the Gulf” not only because of the number of operas and theater presentations in the country but also the impeccable quality of the presentations and shows coming from Kuwait.
This is such a big deal considering that not all Kuwaiti soap operas and shows are available in foreign languages, but the way the performers present and draw the attention of the audience and viewers is a very special kind of connection that calls for a high level of performing expertise.
– The Arts
Aside from the performing arts, the Kuwaiti culture is known for its visual arts and modern arts, with origins that are the oldest in the entire Arabian Peninsula. In fact, Kuwait was the first country in the Gulf region to provide scholarships in the arts as early as 1936. Mojeb al-Dousari, a Kuwaiti artist, was the first recognized visual artist and was known to be the founder of portrait art in the Gulf region.
Kuwait’s intricate relationship with its culture and tradition is very evident in how arts and culture are not only preserved but also celebrated. Kuwait has more than thirty art galleries, and the country recently experienced a boom in contemporary art interest.
There are also numerous established art festivals, including the coveted Kuwaiti International Biennial, which was inaugurated in 1967. Further promotion of Arabic and Kuwaiti art occurred in 2004, with the inauguration of the Al Kharafi Biennial for Contemporary Art.
Kuwait is home and birthplace to numerous musical genres, but one of the most popular genres that emerged in the country is sawt, which is considered to be a complex form of urban music.
While other countries in the Gulf region have had external influence, Kuwaiti music is considered to be the influential compass of the music culture among the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC countries.
The roots of Kuwaiti music pay homage to the seafaring heritage of the country. It is also the first country to cultivate commercial recording artists, starting as early as 1912 to 1915. On top of this, Kuwait is home to the largest opera house in the Middle East, located in the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre.
Kuwaiti literature is one of the aspects of Kuwait culture and traditions that emerged more recently. It was only in 1940 when Ismail Fahd Ismail was recognized and taken seriously as a Kuwaiti writer in the Arab literary landscape. It was believed that modern Kuwaiti literature has had a long interaction with both French and English literature, and some prominent translators, such as Mahmoud Tawfeeq Ahmad and Fathi Khalaf, translated several French plays.
Kuwait is very passionate about sports. One of the most popular sports in Kuwait is football. The Kuwait Football Association is the primary body of football in Kuwait. It is the association that organizes the men’s, women’s, as well as foot sol national teams. The top league of Kuwaiti football is the Kuwaiti Premier League, which features a total of 15 teams.
The track record of the Kuwaiti Premier League includes being the champion of the 1980 AFC Asian Cup, runners-up of the 1976 AFC Asian cup, as well as being placed third in the 1984 AFC Asian cup.
It is also worth noting that Kuwait has participated once in the FIFA World Cup in the year 1982. However, Kuwait tied Czechoslovakia with a score of 1-1 in the first round. The country is home to many football clubs, but the biggest football rivalry is considered to be between Al Qadsia and Al-Arabi.
Aside from football, basketball is also a popular sport in the country. The national team is governed by the Kuwait Basketball Association. Kuwait made its international basketball debut in 1959, and the country has entered and participated in the FIBA Asian Championship for basketball a total of eleven times.
Interestingly enough, Kuwait also has ice hockey teams, which are under the authority of the Kuwait Ice Hockey Association. The country joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1985, but it was expelled and blocked from participating in 1992 due to the lack of ice hockey activity. In 2009, Kuwait was re-admitted to the IIHF, and the country tasted its first victory in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in 2015.
– Museums and Exhibitions
You know that a country is proud to showcase its culture and heritage when museums are considered important national infrastructures. Kuwait has several museums that have various concentrations and artistic devotions. Some museums focus on Islamic art. These include the Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah and Tareq Rajab. There’s also The Scientific Center, which is one of the largest science museums in the entirety of the Middle East.
While there has been a consistent increase in interest in museum tours, this has not always been that case and there was an obvious disparity in popularity in earlier years. The National Museum, for example, is one of the most familiar museums in the country among the locals.
However, it is one of the museums considered to be underappreciated and sometimes overlooked. Nevertheless, the government is directing its efforts toward further promoting Kuwaiti culture in both the domestic and international scenes.
– Kuwaiti Gastronomy
Seafaring is an essential part of the Kuwaiti culture, and this is obviously reflected in Kuwaiti cuisine. Seafood plays a significant role in the Kuwaiti diet, particularly fish, which is typically fried or grilled. The most favored types of fish include grouper, rabbitfish, and sea bream.
Biryani is one of the most popular rice varieties because of its texture. However, modern gastronomy in Kuwait is considered to be an international affair because of the growing international community in the country.
– Kuwait Customs and Etiquette
Just like any other Arab country, Kuwait follows a very conservative approach when it comes to customs and traditions. The general dress code highlights modesty. Also, Kuwaitis love gatherings, conversations over food, and celebrations.
Thus, it is very important to know at least some of the most important Kuwaiti customs, which include the following:
- When entering a host’s residence, always check if he is wearing shoes inside the premises. Remove yours if he does not wear shoes.
- When greeting a group of people, always greet the elders first as a sign of respect.
- Always eat with your right hand.
- Any offers of food or drink must be accepted, as turning down offerings is considered impolite.
- When invited, always bring a small gift, such as a box of sweets or even a small potted plant. Alcohol is highly discouraged, and hosts do not open the gifts the moment they receive them.
- Typically, the guests are offered the most expensive or precious cuisine, and this might be an exotic meal.
- Kuwaitis love to socialize, but as another typical Arab custom, men and women are entertained in separate rooms most of the time. They appreciate gifts, but if the gift is coming from a man to a woman, he should mention that it came from a female relative, such as his wife, sister, or mother.
– Kuwait Today
Kuwait’s initiative to embrace its heritage and cultivate it for both the old and upcoming generations to appreciate is something that all Kuwaiti citizens should be proud of. When a culture is embraced, celebrated, and promoted to the world, it just goes to show how proud the people are is about their culture. From the performing arts and literature to cuisine, music, and even the people’s love for sports, Kuwait has excelled in establishing an immersive and strengthened way of life where culture is integral to their existence.
The Kuwaiti culture is something we can consider as a lovely piece of a well-written journal found in the middle of the desert. There is a sense of poetry in it, and every facet of its culture showcases the country’s love for the emotional connection between each other, from the operas and the performing arts to written and illustrated art, and hospitality, among others.
These are just some of the reasons why Kuwait is slowly working its way up in the list of the most exciting destinations to travel to in the past few years. The hidden treasures within the country create an idyllic escape for those who want to immerse themselves in the local culture.
Adventurers who have little to no idea what Kuwait is all about aside from being a member of the Gulf countries are missing out on a lot, especially in the aspects of highly emotional performances, very welcoming traditions, and warm hospitality that is genuinely Kuwaiti.