It’s the festive season and whatever your plans for the coming weeks, chances are you’ll be spending your fair share of free time trawling the mall for gift inspiration. But rather than splashing your cash on brands that no one wants, why not invest in some of Bahrain’s traditional handicrafts, the making of which date back thousands of years?
You’ll not only be supporting local artisans, but you’ll also be able to pick up a present for peanuts. We check out some of the best, and give you a heads-up on where to find them.
Bahrain’s basket weaving pre-dates recorded history, but it’s likely the craft emigrated from India some 3,500 years ago. You’d never know it now, but Bahrain was once overrun with palm trees, and it is boiled and dried palm fronds that are used to create a range of products, from a mat, to a hat, to a basket. OK, so they are not the easiest thing to get on a plane, but they are lighter than they look and with Gulf Air’s new 30kg luggage allowance, you could be lugging home dozens of baskets and a raft of mats.
Where? The colourful village of Karbabad, next to the Bahrain Fort.
Pottery can be found in the ancient village of A’ali, which is itself around 4,000 years old. Most archaeologists put Bahrain’s pottery industry at around the same age. Here you can watch potters throw the clay and fire the kiln before selecting your souvenir. On sale is everything from man-sized cauldrons to miniature moneyboxes and everything in between, meaning you can present your family with a whole pantry-worth of pottery.
Where? A’Ali village near Riffa. The pottery works are well signposted on the highway from Manama.
Most people don’t associate textiles with Bahrain, but if you are looking to shop for more than a shemagh, then you’ll want to be heading to the textile village of Bani-Jamrah in central Bahrain. Weaving textiles is a chore and a half, with weavers often juggling around 2,600 threads to make a tablecloth, and then selling them for the prices so cheap you’d hardly think it’d be worth it. But the final product is sure to set the family salivating.
Where? Bani-Jamrah, which is a few metres off Budaiya Avenue in the north east of the country.
OK, so we’re not suggesting you ship a boat home, but one craft central to Bahrain’s massive history is the construction of the traditional dhow. It was in boats like these that ancient Bahraini’s went fishing, pearl diving and conquering. Boats made in Bahrain even made it to Zanzibar, which was no mean feat. Assuming you don’t actually want to buy a dhow, shops here sell masses of bottle-sized scaled-down replicas that you can pick up and pack.
Where? The old sea port in Muharraq is dhow central, though they are also on slae in Manama Souq.
Al Jasra Handicraft Centre
If you have limited time and a little more budget (haggling here is harder), head to the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, a government sponsored initiative that brings many of Bahrain’s best artisans together under one roof. Here you can see how baskets are made, watch the weavers, and potter around a pottery studio. Everything made here is for sale, all of them still a bargain. Upstairs you’ll also be able to find Sami Al Malood (you’ll likely be able to hear him), one of Bahrain’s last traditional musical instrument makers, who has truly unique gifts on offer. Al Jasra Handicraft Centre can be found on the east coast of the island, near the bridge to Saudi Arabia. For more information, call 17 611 900.