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Saudi Arabia's young Hijazis celebrate their cultural history

As part of the National Transformation Program, Saudi Arabia has allocated $1 billion to preserve its cultural heritage

Samar Fatany

Published: Updated:

As part of the National Transformation Program, Saudi Arabia has allocated $1 billion to preserve its cultural heritage. The festival Ramadanna Kida (Our Ramadan Was Like This) held in the historical area of Jeddah is one of many concerted efforts to bring back to life the Hijazi culture and the rich heritage of Old Jeddah.

The initiative organized by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage in cooperation with Makkah Province and Jeddah Municipality is a positive development for the advancement of the Jeddah historical area. The great number of visitors attending the festival is an indication of how the public is eager to celebrate Hejazi history and culture.

Visitors, young and old, men and women, from different segments of society with smiling faces walk along the lanes in Old Jeddah, enjoying scenes of the past. Young Jiddawis in traditional dress display their goods and proudly invite people to share their delicacies with welcoming poetry and folklore songs.

Their confident eloquence with rhyming words and traditional tunes add a sense of pride and nostalgia to the old customs of a once simple and happy life. Also significant are the old style cafes serving traditional coffee and mint tea with popular Ramadan dishes, allowing visitors to relive the beautiful atmosphere of the friendly neighborhoods that prevailed in Hijaz decades ago.

The collective effort is an example of civil society contributions that can support government initiatives to promote Saudi Arabia as a center of culture and help our society develop and prosper

Samar Fatany

One of the most impressive features of this year’s festival is the “Years Gone By” photograph exhibition. The photographs bring back to life the cultural heritage of the old city and its significance as a historic route for the journey of pilgrims to the holy sites. The authentic photographs projected on large television screens depict the social atmosphere of Old Jeddah and its role as a global trading hub.

What is also impressive is the high quality resolution of these old pictures dating back to more than half a century ago. Each screen shows scenes that capture the past with historical images of Jeddah and prominent merchant families. They describe the daily trade activities with workers unloading the goods carried on sailboats from ships anchored offshore and the camel caravans carrying pilgrims to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

Reliving the past

The “Years Gone By” photograph exhibition is held at Bayt Waqf Al Jar, one of the old buildings in the district which is built of rock and wood and has a distinctive old architecture. Old Jeddah families have brought their children to the exhibition to connect with their roots. Other families have brought their elders to relive their past and reminisce over the beautiful memories of years gone by. The photographs allow the public to value and appreciate their city and culture more.

The historical photograph exhibition is organized by the Barakat Trust and is produced by Tarik Alireza Consulting Engineers, Jeddah and Richard Wilding, London. According to the organizers, the historical images are mostly from the Barakat Trust Photographic Archive, with additional images from the Middle East Centre Archive, St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford, and the Royal Geographic Society, London. The exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of Tamer Group (SA’AID and the Community) and Banque Saudi Fransi.

The collective effort is an example of civil society contributions that can support government initiatives to promote Saudi Arabia as a center of culture and help our society develop and prosper. The Barakat Foundation has made significant cultural contributions in the Arab and Muslim world. It provides financial support for the study and research of culture and Islamic art. The trustee and co-founder of the foundation Hamida Alireza has sponsored several projects dedicated to preserving Saudi and Islamic art and Saudi ethnic designs and costumes.

The development of civil society and nongovernmental organizations is necessary to support the National Transformation Program. Cooperation between the government and civil society can produce valuable contributions to the community and to the state. An active civil society is the need of the hour.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on June 25, 2016.
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Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

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