Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Seh Mihraba Prayer Rug

I have posted on this blog some time ago an unusual Seh Mihraba rug from the Shindand market area in west Afghanistan. I had bought it from my friendly Afghan carpet sellers Mirwuis and Syed who used to have a small shop in Kuwait’s Souq Mubarakia. They frequently offered a variety of rugs from Afghanistan and Iran on the Friday market in the Al-Rai industrial area next to the notorious 4th Ring Road, just behind the nurseries. Opposite to the animal market, there is what is called the Iranian market where you may find in fact everything you might be looking for. The whole area is very fascinating. My friends and I liked to go there, if possible every weekend.

I would like to post another, much more typical, Seh Mihraba rug here. Tareq Rajab, Kuwait’s former Director of the Department of Antiquities and Museums in Kuwait and owner of two most marvelous private museums in Jabriya (the museum for calligraphy I had a chance to visit shortly before leaving Kuwait for good in 2007), also had a tiny shop in Salmiya, next to my flat in the Al-Qana’a towers: the Kuwait Design Center, where Mr. Rajab sold certain items from his vast collection. I have heard that the shop has meanwhile been closed down when the friendly lady from the Philippines, Marlene, and her colleague decided to leave Kuwait for good.

Visiting the shop has always been a delight. They had fine furniture, carpets, chinaware, engravings, and many other affordable and not affordable collectibles for sale. Every now and then, the two organized, with the help of Mr. Rajab and his wife Madame Jehan, exhibitions in the couple’s third building in Jabriya, Dar Al-Cid, where even more exclusive furniture, carpets and rugs were displayed.

It was on one of these occasions when I bought this high quality Seh Mihraba (literally meaning three mihrabs, or prayer niches) prayer rug which is displayed here. The design is typical for rugs from the Shindand area south to Herat, Afghanistan. The central field contains four rhombus-shaped medallions described as nakshe hozi (“water basins”). The overall dark-red field displays highlights of triangles in bright-red and bright green and blue dots. In the centers of the main medallions. The central area is flanked by columns of white, stepped rhombuses, again surrounded and containing bright highlights. The border system consists of four stripes. The main border is composed of interrupted white stripes. The very soft and shiny wool has a silky appearance. See a similar carpet in Parsons’ Carpets of Afghanistan, plate 97.

Afghan Baluch prayer rug
Seh Mihraba design
Afghanistan,135 cm x 86 cm, second half of 20th century

Warp: W, Z2S ivory
Weft: W, S, grey
Pile: W, Z
Knots: as2 (asymmetric, open to the right)
Density: 11 x 7, ca. 77 kpsi (1200 per sq dm)
Height of pile: 3 mm
Handle: velvet, grainy
Upper end: 6 cm kilim, W, soumak technique
Lower end: 4 cm kilim, W, soumak technique
Sides: 0.5 cm wide, W, selvage dark-brown
Colors: 9, black, dark-brown, dark-blue, Bordeaux, white (undyed), bright red, bright green, bright blue,

See another very similar rug here.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Curse Of Jumba La Mtwana

Suleiman, one of Whitesands Hotel’s tour managers, wasn’t in a good mood. Very talkative, he obviously believed that I would actually be interested in his family affairs which seemed to be in a mess. His wife had been taken back to Riyadh by her parents where they were living. Arabs. A black man was not really the son in law they had expected, he told me. But at least you are a Muslim, aren’t you? I asked him. Yes, he replied, but his mother was Christian, and it doesn’t really matter. Then he told me about the origin of the Palestinians. Although knowing the story about Jacob and his older twin brother Esau, the two sons of Isaac and Rebekah, I wasn’t aware about theories regarding the two resulting tribes, the children if Israel (or Jacob) and those of Esau, the Palestinians (or Edomites, I suppose). An interesting hypothesis.

We took a ride to Jumba la Mtwana (he unavailingly tried me to pronounce the Swahili words correctly). The century-old gorgeous ruins of a town north of Mombasa can be found just off-shore the Indian Ocean. We crossed the beautiful Mtwapa creek and then turned right after having passed through a busy village. Suleiman mentioned that many old Europeans, males and females, come here to get married again (?) and start a new life. He pointed to rather strange examples, old and pretty ugly men with young girls doing shopping. He found that okay. I was in doubt. Is it a sort of sex tourism? I asked. Not really, he explained. Both parties have advantages, so it’ll be okay!

Into the jungle! We approached the ruins of what had been a bigger town. A Muslim place, I immediately recognized. A young guide was desperately waiting for tourists. I was the only one so far today. When entering the site I saw a huge skeleton of a Blue Whale which has once stranded here. Further we went into the magical remains of buildings, mosques, squares, a cemetery with a stele covered by Arabic script. Century-old trees, even Neem, or medicine, trees I once was very interested in for medical reasons. A 1.5 meters long green snake disappeared in a hole, a colorful lizard was more curious. Magical. My guide told me a word in my ear: “Germans used to give the best tips!” I was wondering why the people had disappeared from this place? “Was it an epidemic, sort of plague?” He gave me an evasive answer.

When returning to Whitesands, I asked Suleiman about it. “Didn’t he dare to tell you the true story? It was Allah’s curse. Once, the king of the town wanted to marry another girl. But people warned him that she was one of his own daughters. He didn’t mind, and from then the town’s destiny was doomed.

Friday, 2 October 2009


I couldn't resist.

Mombasa's Fort Jesus

Mombasa does not reveal its special charm easily. I had been in the old city before (I will report later) but was a bit disappointed. The organizers of the AMER IADR Meeting had scheduled a guided tour on Friday afternoon, and I was the first to register. Twenty-eight Euros for three hours, whow! I expected gorgeous insights into the East African societies and culture.

Out we went with the bus. The group promised to be fun. In fact, we laughed a lot. A South African couple was interested in my pretty exotic experiences in Kuwait and Norway. Our first stop was at the Akamba Handicraft Industry Cooperative Society, a non-profit organization where some 10'000 people were employed who carved beautiful sculptures and small items, chairs, masks, etc. from ebony wood, Kenya's gold.

Well, when entering Mombasa city we got more or less stuck in the afternoon traffic jam. Our guide seemed not to have the slightest clue what he wanted to show us. We passed the famous giant tusks but I could't take a snapshot. The other day, my friends and I had started our walking tour at Fort Jesus, and I asked the guide whether we will also visit that sight. I saw in his face that he loved my suggestion. "Don't worry", he told me, "it won't be closed", he dispelled my concern.

Upon arrival we had in fact half an hour left. Only four of us were interested. The guard at Fort Jesus was knowledgeable and showed us around. The fort had been built by the Portuguese in 1593 and in the following centuries, it had changed hands at least nine times between Portuguese sailors, Omani soldiers (who recruited their slaves in Mombasa) and Swahili rebels. In 1875 the British finally used it as a jail. There are great views from the Fort's mighty walls at the Indian Ocean. The Fort's museum is not a must but turned out to be an excellent refuge for cooling down from the steamy heat.