19th - early 20th century decorated tent partition
19th-20th century
Object Name: Tent partition, ruwaq
Period: 19th-20th century
Date: 1800-1999
Provenance: Qatar
Dimensions: 910cm x 211cm
Medium: textile,wool,cotton
Registration Number: QNM.2011.127.1
During the winter months the people of Qatar would move inland and lived in large tents which were divided into sections for reasons of privacy. They used tent partitions such as this example, known as al ruwaq. The main purpose was to divide the guest area from the living space. To honour the guests, such pieces were among the most extravagant and beautifully decorated textiles in the tents. The decorated side would face the majlis while the back would face the living space of the tent.

This example is woven in bright colours including red, orange, white and dark brown, with geometric shapes and motifs inspired by objects found in the natural environment such as animals and plants. Textiles like this, as well as the roof and walls of the tent, bags, horse and camel decorations, were made exclusively by women. Women were responsible for the collection, shearing and dying of the wool, and for spinning the yarn and weaving it into such items.
The Qatar Peninsula is surrounded by sea except in the south where it connects with its neighbours from the Arabian Peninsula. For hundreds of years people have shared the land, resources and knowledge inherited from their environment. With no fixed lifestyle in terms of time and place, people moved easily and freely between land and sea for trade, livestock, pearl diving, fishing, and hunting at various times throughout the year. This symbiotic relationship between the people and their environment was represented in the unity of their societies, including the exchange of knowledge, stories and the trading of available goods.

A distinctive characteristic of life on the Qatar Peninsula has long been the close association between the coast and the desert – al barr. Some desert tribes spent several months of the year in coastal cities, setting up semi-permanent residences to participate in pearl diving or fishing. Similarly, coastal residents occasionally moved to al barr during the winter to graze their livestock. This exchange of natural resources and the influence of different environments has contributed to the creation of a unique community.
The presence of British, French and Dutch trading companies in the Gulf from the early 1600s brought uncertainty to the region, with unstable alliances and intense competition over trade routes. As trade flourished, however, the strength of the Arab tribes increased. Many Arab tribes moved from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula to Qatar, and by the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the major towns of the Gulf were founded. Several towns flourished on the Qatari coast, including Huwailah, Khor Hassan, Fuwairat, Ruwaida, Freiha, Al Bidda and Doha. The most notable was Al Zubara which became a hub for the Gulf pearl trade.