Recollections of old Doha

These personal accounts of life in Doha in the mid-twentieth century paint an evocative picture of life in the capital. If you have similar memories of Doha we would love to hear them.

“In 1949 Doha was really no more than a large village with a population of about 12,000. The village was long and narrow, hugging the banks of a tidal inlet which led into the bay. The people preferred to live near the shoreline, both because the sea breezes brought relief from the hot and humid desert climate and because most of the village community depended on the sea for their livelihood as fishermen or pearl divers.

Doha was a maze of narrow winding alleyways leading to countless little nooks and crannies created by new additions to clusters of buildings housing extended family groupings…Most of the population lived in simple buildings made of stones and mud which mushroomed in tight little clusters, both because of the tight family structure of the society, and because building a new room onto existing buildings saved the cost of one wall. The white gypsum which effectively coated the whole village was produced from limestone found in abundance on the outskirts of Doha. Piles of limestone were subjected to intense heat under a pyramid wood fire and then beaten into the white powdery form necessary for building. The houses were simple one-storey buildings with sparsely furnished multi-purpose rooms.”

 Nasser Mohammad Al Othman describes his recollections of living in Doha in the mid 20th century in his book With Their Bare Hands: The Story of the Oil Industry in Qatar.

“People in the neighbourhood lived like one large family. Women united to help a friend if she was in need of money, food or clothes…when the men were away diving, some women helped each other build houses. If one woman, say, had to build a small room adjacent to the house and found no man to do the job, she would invite her neighbours to breakfast – an indication of her desire for their assistance – and after breakfast she would talk to them about what she intended to do, and they all helped her.

Mariam, an elderly Qatari lady, describes Doha in the first half of the 20th century in Abu Saud account of Doha Qatari Women: Past and Present.

“Doha was a big village in which everyone knew one another. There was no telephone, and very few people even had radios. There was hardly enough water for washing or cooking, and the little there was came from wells in the desert, which we used to boil and filter. There was no electricity, and of course no air-conditioning. Women didn’t go to work, and there was no formal education except for the Koranic schools.”

Aziza Plant, wife of British Advisor, was a resident in Doha 1950-53 and describes the town.

1947 oblique

Doha from the air in 1947

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