Milk churn made from goat leather, Qatar
20th century
Object Name: Milk churn, isga
Period: 20th century
Date: 1900-1999
Provenance: Qatar
Dimensions: 137.5cm x 79cm x 91cm
Medium: wood,goat skin,cordage
Registration Number: QNM.2011.240.1
Containers such as this milk churn were typically made from goatskin and stitched shut at the bottom with a thick strip of, often embroidered, leather. A long, waxed cord would suspend the bag from a tripod or a tree branch, which would allow the bag to be rocked backwards and forwards during the churning process. This was performed in the morning together by two women. When the Qatari people were on the move, the containers would hang from the sides of camels. Similar containers were used to store and carry water, goat and camel milk.

Diet in the desert depended greatly on milk and milk products such as buttermilk, cheese and ghee, providing a rich source of calcium as well as filling, nutritious meals. Goat milk was used in numerous ways. After being boiled and left in a shaded area to sour for five to six hours, it was then poured into the skin and churned for up to an hour. Two things were formed: first, leben (buttermilk), which was consumed regularly on its own or boiled again to form yegert (fresh cheese), usually eaten with crushed dates; and second, small chunks of butter, which were formed and collected by hand. When butter was heated, somn (ghee) was formed and then placed in small leather containers made from rabbit skin.
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.