Single-string instrument known as rababa
19th century
Object Name: Rababa
Period: 19th century
Date: 1800-1899
Provenance: Arabia
Dimensions: H:52 -W:850- D:215 MM
Medium: wood,leather
Registration Number: QNM.2011.693.1-.2
This musical instrument is called a rababah and is distinct for having a single string. With a bow made from wood, leather and metal, it is used to accompany a singer in the chord songs and in bedouin folk music. The rababah is considered part of the lute family (oud in Arabic). Plucked versions like the kabuli rababah (sometimes referred to as the robab or rubab) are plucked like the lute, but other versions are played with a bow.

The rababah is probably one of the oldest instruments found in the Arab world, dating as far back as the 8th century. It was through trading routes that the instrument was spread to the Middle East and North Africa. There are many variations with different shapes and sizes. The rababah was adopted as a key instrument in Arabic classical music, along with the oud (classic Arab lute) and the ney (end-blown flute).
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.