Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Annual Janadriyadh Festival Riyadh

We went to Janadriyah this year.  It is the largest festival on the Riyadh events calendar.  In fact, it may be the largest cultural event on the Saudi Arabian calendar.

It was great.

One of the things it is difficult to find in Riyadh (at least I've had trouble finding it) is something authentically Saudi. 

From architecture to souvenirs everything here is copied from somewhere else in the globe - possibly because Sauds were traders who mixed with a lot of travellers from abroad, but more likely a fall out from those in charge suddenly having loads of money, flying off to see the world and coming  back to build whatever examples of western life and living took their fancy - and it's all made by non-saudi's.  But it's at a cost to Saudis own identity which, I have to say, is more than Islam.

About the only activity I've found that comes close to truly local industry is the vegetables grown in outlying villages - but those have mostly Pakistani or Bangladeshi workers.

I've been looking for something authentically Saudi, made by Saudis. 

Jandriyah, I was told by some Saudi ladies I met, had lots of old things from the past.  They had no idea why anyone would be the least bit interested in how the people of  the peninsula used to live. 

Haya Tours was offering a bus ride to the festival and a guided tour once there.  Sounded perfect.  Having never been to Janadriyah I wasn't sure what to expect.

We were provided with a map of the festival area and Salwa, our tour guide, explained a little about what was on show.  It would have been good if the map also came with a timetable, but I don't believe the Janadriyah organisers had got that organised.

Basically the festival ground is divided into areas representing the different regions of Saudi Arabia.  Each region develops the area in a fashion most representative of who they are.  Every region had a house made in their local style.  Some were rock, others rope or fibre, others clay. 

And on display throughout Janadriyah were examples of a desert life. 

There were camels being utilsed for grinding grain and donkeys pulling wooden carts loaded with children wanting rides. 

There were numerous reminders that Saudi is surrounded by water, something one can forget when one lives in the middle of the desert, with fishing boats and nets and a man making crayfish pots.

And there were those items I have been searching for - authentically Saudi, home made items - sandles made from date palm, knives and swords, clay pots and camel hide mats and blankets.

What surprised me the most at the festival was the amount of music in each area.  For a country that isn't supposed to have public music, they had a lot.  And traditional dances.  We arrived at the Baha area in time for the mens dance.  Glenn loved it.  I was upstairs drinking qahwah.

Each area also had it's own version of a local market, and they were busy, bustling and occasionally bedlam.  On sale was food, food and more food - breads, honey, nuts and dates.

There were a number of water drinking stations with water kept cool in large clay pots.  You could also buy the plastic water bottle variety if you wanted to as there were also street vendors at the festival selling fast food and the usual cheap, disposable, made in China claptrap.

Also participtaing at the festival were the government agencies.  Glenn spent a bit of time going to see them hoping to make a few work related connections, while my friend and I spent a bit of time in the ladies section getting henna. 

The impression I got from visiting the festival was that it was a family affair - and a Saudi family affair at that.  It was nice to see so many Saudi families and young couples out enjoying themselves.

The funniest part of the festival was when a Saudi man asked one of our tour companions, a tall western bloke, to hold his son while he took a picture.  Why?  He wanted a picture of a tourist!

We really enjoyed the annual Janadriyah festival in Riyadh and will go again next year.

Ka Kite,

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