Saudi national archives foundation Darah uncovering past with oral history tradition

The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) has upgraded its work to record and preserve oral accounts of Saudi history. (Supplied)
The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) has upgraded its work to record and preserve oral accounts of Saudi history. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 December 2020

Saudi national archives foundation Darah uncovering past with oral history tradition

Saudi national archives foundation Darah uncovering past with oral history tradition
  • Riyadh-based research center is a historical source complementary to other materials, including books, manuscripts

RIYADH: From one generation to another, history is told and retold. But with time, large fragments are lost, so a Riyadh-based research center is helping preserve some of Saudi Arabia’s most important historical facts.
The earliest forms of storytelling for many cultures were primarily oral, combined with gestures and expressions, and at times, even drawings and paintings. With time these stories differ, their essence forgotten and countless tales lost through time. In recognition of the beauty of this dying art, the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) has upgraded its work to record and preserve oral accounts of Saudi Arabian history and make them accessible to researchers.
Speaking to Arab News, Darah spokesman Sultan Alawairdhi said the center’s founding is in line with the government’s policy to preserve its history. He added that it is of vital importance to ensure that historical narratives are accessible to all by using knowledge and historical facts told by the elderly who lived through major historical events that shaped the Kingdom.

“The Oral History Center was founded 26 years ago to document popular narratives from the perspective of the public. Shortly after its foundation, the center became a member of the US Oral History Association and the UK Oral History Society,” he said.
The center acts as a historical source complementary to other materials, including books, manuscripts, documents and more. Anyone who seeks knowledge about certain events can get plenty of information, but written history often neglects the “human element” because of the priority on documentation and research in the past, said Alawairdhi.
He said agricultural methods, crafts, travel, motherhood and childhood and health affairs are often left untouched by written history sources.
“Since its foundation, the center has set standards in line with global centers that have a considerable experience in history. The center has been provided with state-of-the-art technology and tools on a continuous basis to help conduct interviews, record audio, take photographs and make videos, as well as transcribe, archive and store equipment,” he said.
The center meets all the requirements for conducting oral interviews, securing information, preparing main points of discussion and more. It also has venues to conduct interviews that provide the necessary tools to make the most out of research, Alawairdhi said.

Today, the center has recorded more than 2,000 audio and video interviews with people hailing from different parts of the Kingdom. Alawairdhi said the center’s aim is to digitize written material and make it accessible to researchers who wish to listen or read the interviews, thus serving scientific research and progressing knowledge nationally and
regionally.
“Oral history is an important source, such as archeology and historical accounts. Its importance lies in the fact that preservation of key historical accounts, biographies and characters is instrumental for the second state, which is recording. History began as an oral tradition that depended on narrators,” Mohammed Alhelfi, a modern history researcher, told Arab News.
Material derived from an oral tradition is fundamental in reaching accurate historical recounts, such as cross-border travels, which were originally recorded through oral accounts, but later turned to written records. Because oral history preceded written history, it must be subjected to a scientific methodology that criticizes its content and achieves balance between different historical accounts of a certain event, Alhelfi said.

At some points in the past, oral accounts were considered inaccurate compared to written accounts, and recordings were subject to skepticism by researchers, who claimed that narrators could hide or distort the truth based on their relation to historical events.
Eyewitness accounts of historical events are an issue many historical research centers have faced. Experts race against time to question as many of the elderly as they can. Researchers and interviewers depend largely on word of mouth, place blind faith in interviewees and hope for the best. Luckily, the elderly often have a strong belief in keeping with the truth and telling the story as it is, without room for distortion and error.
As with many historical centers, documenting the evolution of a culture is key to understanding its history. One of the Kingdom’s more unique features is a diversity of dialects, fashion, lifestyles and more. Darah holds behind its walls a treasure of local dialect and semiotic language research.
“The center trains its Saudi staff members how to methodologically document oral historical accounts and explains to them the importance of oral documentation as a key source of historical accounts. The center also translated and published several works in the field,” Alawairdhi said.

He added that the process of recording oral history is “extremely difficult” and requires interviewers to travel long distances through desert and tough terrain to conduct interviews. The process also requires good negotiation skills on the part of the interviewer, who must convince people to answer questions.
“In fact, the teams working in the center have interviewed different people and some experiences were funny while some were painful. One of the saddest stories happened a while ago when the teams went to interview an elderly person only to know later that day that he had died,” said Alawairdhi.
Evolution has changed the tools available to storytellers. With the advent of writing and the use of modern technology, historians are linked by one common theme, to identify historical significance and keep traditions alive.
 


King Salman, crown prince send cables of condolences to Chinese president after Henan floods

King Salman, crown prince send cables of condolences to Chinese president after Henan floods
Updated 3 min 15 sec ago

King Salman, crown prince send cables of condolences to Chinese president after Henan floods

King Salman, crown prince send cables of condolences to Chinese president after Henan floods
  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also sent a cable of condolences and sympathy to the president
  • Villagers were evacuated over makeshift bridges on Friday as floods submerged swathes of central China

RIYADH: King Salman sent a cable of condolences and sympathy to the president of China on Friday after floods sweeping through the country’s Henan province killed at least 56 people.
“We share the pain of this affliction with you, and we send you, the families of the deceased and your people our deepest condolences and sincere sympathy. We hope that the missing return safely,” the king said in a cable to Xi Jinping.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also sent a cable of condolences and sympathy to the president in which he expressed his hopes that the missing would be found safely.
Villagers were evacuated over makeshift bridges on Friday as floods submerged swathes of central China following a historic deluge.
An approaching typhoon threatened to dump more rain on the stricken area.
Millions have been affected by the floods in Henan province and people have been trapped for days without fresh food or water.


Saudi Arabia announces 11 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 11 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 23 July 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 11 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 11 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 496,810
  • A total of 8,141 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 11 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,247 new infections on Friday.
Of the new cases, 263 were recorded in Riyadh, 211 in the Eastern Province, 209 in Makkah, 157 in Asir, 90 in Jazan, 68 in Madinah, 55 in Hail, 51 in Najran, 24 in the Northern Borders region, 21 in Al-Baha, 19 in Tabuk, and six in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 496,810 after 1,160 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 8,141 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 23.7 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


A look into modernization of tawafa profession as Hajj 2021 ends

A mutawwif is someone who has been appointed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to guide pilgrims. (Supplied)
A mutawwif is someone who has been appointed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to guide pilgrims. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2021

A look into modernization of tawafa profession as Hajj 2021 ends

A mutawwif is someone who has been appointed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to guide pilgrims. (Supplied)
  • Pilgrims used to stay up to four months, in comparison to spending less than a week at the moment

MAKKAH: Shadia Jumbi has worked in the tawafa profession since she was eight years old, helping pilgrims and guiding them through Hajj.

“We are used to traveling to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and China to bring pilgrims who are later met at the pilgrims’ city in Jeddah. We used to receive pilgrims and supervise them during the Hajj journey in the holy sites and throughout the Hajj phases. They used to stay in Makkah for up to four months, in comparison to spending less than a week (there) at the moment.”
Tawafa establishments are a key part of the Hajj experience, managing pilgrims’ affairs upon their arrival in the Kingdom until they leave for their homeland after the holy rituals have been performed. A mutawwif is someone who has been appointed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to guide pilgrims. These two elements are being brought into line with trade regimes and universal standards through development and modernization.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Shadia Jumbi recalled how pilgrims were captivated by Makkah’s communities. They learned about their customs and traditions, tried Hijazi food, and brought along their culture which merged with the Saudi culture.

• She also recalled that five stories used to be dedicated to pilgrims in Makkah’s houses, with homeowners living in the highest story. They interacted with the household members as an integral part of their Hajj experience. Nowadays, pilgrims eat, drink, and stay at hotels and camps. They do not interact with Makkah’s communities.

Jumbi, who is 70, is considered to be one of the first mutawwif in Makkah. She remembered when guides would fly to the home countries of people who wanted to visit the Kingdom, saying there were vast differences between Hajj in the past and Hajj in the present and that Hajj used to be an arduous journey for both pilgrims and mutawwif.
She recalled how pilgrims were captivated by Makkah’s communities. They learned about their customs and traditions, tried Hijazi food, and brought along their culture which merged with the Saudi culture. They witnessed Makkah’s manners which were a reflection of the host country’s manners and delivered a positive message to all their communities abroad.
“In the past, we received them in our homes, cooked for them, washed their clothes, celebrated them and invited them to join all our celebrations and occasions. They were keen to learn the Arabic language and learn about the most important places in Makkah and visit them, as well as the historic and archaeological sites.”

Tawafa establishments are a key part of the Hajj experience, managing pilgrims’ affairs upon their arrival in the Kingdom until they leave for their homeland after the holy rituals have been performed.

She recalled that five stories used to be dedicated to pilgrims in Makkah’s houses, with homeowners living in the highest story. They interacted with the household members as an integral part of their Hajj experience.
Nowadays, pilgrims eat, drink, and stay at hotels and camps. They do not interact with Makkah’s communities.
Jumbi said that the mutawwif would grow close to pilgrims and form a strong relationship and solid bond with them.
“Nowadays, the mutawwif has become a mere number in a series of the tawafa offices that are spread everywhere. They no longer play their role in supervising tourist trips and market visits and, when pilgrims get sick, we drive them to the hospital, treat them and supervise them from the moment they arrive until they leave.”

Shadia Jumbi, who is 70,  is considered to be one of the first mutawwif in Makkah. Jumbi has worked in the tawafa profession since she was eight years old, helping pilgrims and guiding them through Hajj.


She spoke of farewells, tears and open arms. “When we visited them in their countries, they did not let us stay in hotels. They received us in their homes. The mutawwif was respected and, unlike today, their main role was dealing with pilgrims as a family they respect.”
Ahmed Saleh Halabi, a writer specializing in Hajj and Umrah services, said there were many benefits to tawafa institutions being transformed into companies.
“There are benefits and gains in developing the human resources working in services and administration. Their work will not be limited to working in the Hajj season alone, but also throughout the year through diversifying service programs. The role of the tawafa companies will not be limited to securing and preparing the pilgrims’ camps in the holy sites, as they will also secure housing and food for pilgrims (in Makkah and the holy sites).
“Moreover, the companies will be able to organize the visits’ program in Makkah, as well as the tourism programs in Taif and Jeddah, which means that contributors and workers in the area of providing services for pilgrims will have economic benefits, met with the pilgrims’ benefits through the services they receive.”

Mentalities must change and everyone must accept the new shift.
Ahmed Saleh Halabi
Writer specializing in Hajj and Umrah services

Halabi said that if institutions worked on diversifying their services, they would receive different sources of income and change their traditional methods of receiving pilgrims, supervising their housing, setting up their camps in the holy sites, and providing buses to transport them.
“It is hard to demand (that) contributors inject money in new companies to increase capital, however, it is possible for companies to obtain concessional loans from banks that enable them to stand strong.”
He also said that “mentalities must change” and “everyone must accept” the new shift.

Old business card of mutawwif.

“Companies now need new ideas that call for diversifying services and participating in other services that the institutions were not involved with, such as investment in transportation and food.”
He said transformation could not harm tawafa establishments and mutawwif and that he expected change to be beneficial as they could work through the year, instead of seasonally, in any profession or service.
A mutawwif at the National Tawafa Establishment for South Asian Pilgrims, Abdul Aziz Abdul Razzaq, agreed that transformation had its advantages.
These included having a memorandum of association, a statute, share certificates, and a corporate governance manual to protect the company, ensure contributors’ rights and develop the organizational structure for members and committees by choosing the skills of professionals based on adopted standards.
Other benefits were discussing strategic goals and reports in regular meetings, and getting into investment opportunities with external partnerships — for areas such as communication, housing, food and transport — as well as providing high-quality services for pilgrims, enabling contributors to trade and purchase shares in the future, raising the share value for shareholders, enabling contributors to join the service delivery companies and the possibility of entering the Umrah system in the future.

Decoder

Tawafa and mutawwif

Tawafa establishments are a key part of the Hajj experience, managing pilgrims’ affairs upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia until they leave for their homeland after the holy rituals have been performed. A mutawwif is someone who has been appointed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to guide pilgrims. These two elements are being brought into line with trade regimes and universal standards through development and modernization.


Saudi authorities ramp up health inspection tours

Officials have urged the public to report any suspected health breaches. (SPA)
Officials have urged the public to report any suspected health breaches. (SPA)
Updated 23 July 2021

Saudi authorities ramp up health inspection tours

Officials have urged the public to report any suspected health breaches. (SPA)
  • The municipalities urged all commercial facilities to abide by regulations to ensure public safety

DAMMAM: The Eastern Province municipality carried out 1,314 inspection tours in one day across shopping malls, commercial centers and stores to monitor compliance with health and safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

These checks resulted in three commercial outlets being shut down, while 41 violators were given penalties for ignoring health regulations.

The municipality of Asir also carried out 3,348 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities during the Eid holidays. The authorities closed three commercial outlets, while many other violators were given penalties.

The violations included noncompliance with social distancing and mask wearing, leniency in measuring the temperature of customers, overcrowding issues, and a failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app.

The municipalities urged all commercial facilities to abide by regulations to ensure public safety and prevent the virus from spreading.

Officials have urged the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or contacting authorities through the Balady app.


Saudi aid agency KSrelief completes food project in Bangladesh

Saudi aid agency KSrelief completes food project in Bangladesh
Updated 23 July 2021

Saudi aid agency KSrelief completes food project in Bangladesh

Saudi aid agency KSrelief completes food project in Bangladesh
  • Joint teams of KSrelief and the MLW reached more than 80 distribution points inside Bangladesh refugee camps 

DHAKA: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief), in cooperation with the Muslim World League (MWL), has concluded the distribution of 80,000 food baskets for Rohingya refugees and the communities hosting them in Bangladesh.

The project lasted for two months, benefiting 500,000 people in the Cox’s Bazar, Dhaka, Jessore, Rajshahi, Chittagong, and Panchi Sur island regions.

The joint teams of KSrelief and the MLW reached more than 80 distribution points inside the refugee camps and in various regions of Bangladesh.

The field teams traveled thousands of kilometers to reach the neediest families in Bangladesh in response to repeated global calls to contribute to alleviating the suffering of refugees and in support of the UN rapid response plan to the humanitarian crisis.

KSrelief received many certificates of quality and achievement from the authorities for adhering to high levels and standards in implementation, the most important of which is the application of social distancing in the areas of distribution and following COVID-19 precautionary measures.