History of Tents in Saudi Arabia

Introduction

Tents are one of the materials that have been part of human life for many years. In many parts of the world, they apply to provide shelter and a dwelling place. Some of the characteristic features of tents used in Saudi Arabia include flexibility and lightweight.1. Tents apply as temporary and mobile structures, thus the reason they should be easy to carry and build different designs. Depending on the cultural background of various users and varying geographical factors in the places they are used, the designs of tents have changed a lot over the years. Saudi Arabia has one of the most common cities in the world, called Mina or Tent City. Mina is a small town in Mecca in the western part of Saudi Arabia. The city has gained prominence over the years due to its continued culture of using air-conditioned tents during the Hajj pilgrimage observed by Muslims every year.2. The tents apply in providing shelter to people attending the festival during the day, as well as accommodation to those that come from various parts of the world. The Hajj pilgrimage has had a huge influence with regard to the history of tents in Saudi Arabia. Since the annual trip to the holy city was very costly to the pilgrims who had to carry their own food and cater for their accommodation, the city of tents was created to provide a cost-effective option that ensures their comfort and safety.3.

Discussion

The history of tents in Saudi Arabia started several years ago when the number of Muslims attending Hajj pilgrimage started mushrooming. The tents used in Mina are all air-conditioned, fireproof, as well as fitted with a kitchen and bathroom.4. Saudi Arabian authorities have received a lot of criticism in the recent past for their failure to accommodate Syrians running from the violence in their country, yet most of the tents at Mina remain unused for the most part of the year.5. In 2015, there were more than 100,000 free tents at Mina that had the capacity of providing accommodation to all the people that displaced by the Syrian conflicts. The main reason behind the decision by Saudi Arabian authorities not to allow the Syrian refugees to occupy the tents was that it would compromise the religious attachment that Muslims have developed with the city over the years.6

According to the rules of the Islamic religion, every adult Muslim should make an effort to attend the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.7. There are millions of Muslims in the world, and the Saudi Arabian authorities considered it necessary not to allow refugees to accommodate the tents because they would compromise the stay of people making their maiden trip to the holy city of Mecca for the annual event. The tent city often accommodates approximately three million pilgrims annually.8. Over the years, the Saudi Arabian authorities have made numerous efforts to increase the safety levels in the city, as well as increasing the convenience of people with regard to accessing various facilities. The tents used at Mina have special designs giving into consideration the topography of the city, which is located in a valley.

There are numerous types of tents used in Saudi Arabia to meet varying needs. Notably, the Bedouin of the Arabian Desert is commonly associated with a tent design called House of Hair.9. The tent is usually black in colour and made of sheep wool and goat hair. The hair is woven to form strips of cloth that are rough to touch and low quality because they lack refinement. The colour of the animal hair is often retained during the weaving process, thus making the tent to have a streaked appearance. The size of the tents depends on crucial factors such as their purpose, the size of the family using them for accommodation, as well as the socio-economic class of the user.10

Tents designed for average families often use thinner strips compared to those made for community leaders such as tribal sheikh. The tent designed for a sheikh usually has a more imposing stature that denotes his position in the society. One of the factors considered when designing the tents is their portability.11. They should be rectangular in shape and light for ease of transportation from one place to another. Poles, commonly known as Hamdan, often support the rectangular tents. The tents are partitioned using curtains, where the section occupied by a woman should be bigger than that reserved for the man. In addition, the man should not access the woman’s side. The tents are mainly used as a shade from the sun rays, as well as acting as insulators during the night in the desert when the nights are usually very cold.

Most tent designs have a ruaq, which refers to the downward hanging materials attached to the sides for purposes of enclosing the tent. The average lifespan of the materials used to make tents in Saudi Arabia is five years. However, there are certain parts that are renewed as soon as they start wearing out.12. Women design the House of Hair tents and have the responsibility of carrying them when their community decides to relocate. It is a highly skilled assignment and requires a lot of dedication in order to maintain quality standards. Since the goat hair used to make the tents is usually black in colour, the women develop designs that allow the high heat absorbed inside to disperse easily.13

However, for the sake of rainy days, the fine cords of twisted fibres are designed in such a manner that they swell up to close the holes in the weaves in order to prevent water from leaking. In addition, the oily nature of goats’ hair plays a crucial role in preventing the tents from leaking because the rain droplets often repel against the surface of the tent.14. The roof of the tent is often flat in order to prevent any damages during extreme weather conditions such as strong winds because Saudi Arabia is mainly a desert area.15. During the pitching of tents, the long side often faces the direction where the wind comes from in order to achieve stability. Although women have had a huge influence in the history of tents in Saudi Arabia, men act as the heads of families and often the choice of location for pitching a tent is always their preserve.

Over the years, tents used in Saudi Arabia have applied simple furnishing techniques. The common elements found in every tent used for accommodation purposes include a carpet, mattress, pillows that guests can sit on, and a camel saddle.16. Spaces designed for women often have cooking utensils, foodstuffs, spindles, and camel litters. However, the tents erected at Mina have most of these things, apart from foodstuffs because cooking does not happen in the tents after several occasions of fire outbreaks.17. Election of the tents happens in different camps segregated by a perimeter wall. However, the camps are interconnected using pathways for the sake of mobility and access to various services. For the sake of order and ease of identification, each camp has tents with a coded colour depending on the occupants’ country.

In addition, people residing in a particular camp receive numbered badges of the same colour as their tents for ease of identification18. This element applied very effectively during a stampede that happened in 2004 at the three pillars. At the time, very many pilgrims were moving to the three pillars in the ceremony of stoning the devil. The stampede resulted in the death of 250 people whose identification depended on their badges.19. The mina tents have played a crucial role in making the Hajj pilgrimage a success over the years because they provide the pilgrims with good accommodation. It is important to note that the only way that the pilgrims move around during the festival is through walking. This often leaves them physically exhausted due to the hot climatic conditions in Saudi Arabia, and many would suffer a lot if they did not have reliable accommodation.

Due to the honour that the city of tents has brought to the people of Saudi Arabia, the government has made numerous efforts to improve its infrastructure. Since the turn of the century, the pressure subjected to the city’s infrastructure has been on a steady increase owing to the high number of people that attend the annual pilgrimage that takes place from the 8th to 13th of February.20. One of the tragedies that have hit the tent city thus far is the 1997 incident when a fire broke out and ended up destroying almost the entire camp. The fire spread very fast owing to the fact that the tents used at the time were made of cotton, a material that is highly flammable. In response to the 1997 fire tragedy, the government has developed a contemporary fire safety system that entails a water sprinkler that can sense heat and raise the alarm21.

The government is also in the process of making the city’s roads more spacious and better marked following the stampede that happened in 2015. The unfortunate incident resulted in over 2,000 people losing their lives, while close to 1,000 others suffered various degrees of injuries. The phenomenon, which has been termed as the deadliest stampede of the 21st Century threatened to affect the number of people visiting the tent city, although the government has made the necessary intervention measures. Mina is a large city divided into numerous sections that create convenience for its numerous users. The Saudi Arabian government has invested numerous resources towards improving the safety status of the city. Due to the severe planning and administration errors that happened when the city was young, the government took more than a decade to the right the wrongs and ended the occasional accidents that happened during the Hajj pilgrimage.22.

Conclusion

Mina is one of the main elements that characterize the rich history of tents in Saudi Arabia. Although the city commonly known as the Tents City has received a lot of negative global attention due to the fate of Syrian refugees seeking a place to stay, its contribution to the development of tents in the country is very high. People have used tents in Saudi Arabia for several years to provide shades and offer accommodation. The size and designs of tents have changed over the years. The main factors that influence the two crucial elements of tents used in Saudi Arabia include the family size, the purpose of electing a tent, its location, and the social status of the user. Tribal sheikhs are community leaders held in high esteem. Thus their tents are often bigger in size as a depiction of their status. Some of the factors considered when making tents in Saudi Arabia include their portability, flexibility, and extreme weather conditions. After electing a tent, partitioning happens using a curtain because a man and a woman should not share a bed. The tents have well-furnished interiors with a carpet, a mattress, and pillows that visitors can sit on.

Works Cited

Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.

Feuerer, Mark. Destination Tent City. New York: Coffee Town Press, 2011. Print.

Haroon, Anwar. History of Saudi Arabia & Wahabism. New Jersey: Xlibris Corporation, 2014. Print.

Howell, Kellan. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 Air-Conditioned Tents Sitting Empty, Still Won’t Take Syrian Refugees. 2015. Web.

Jones, Toby. Desert kingdom. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.

Wynbrandt, James. A Brief History of Saudi Arabia. New York: Info Base Publishing, 2014. Print.

Footnotes

  1. Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
  2. Jones, Toby. Desert kingdom. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.
  3. Jones, Toby. Desert kingdom. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.
  4. Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
  5. Howell, Kellan. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 Air-Conditioned Tents Sitting Empty, Still Won’t Take Syrian Refugees. 2015. Web.
  6. Howell, Kellan. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 Air-Conditioned Tents Sitting Empty, Still Won’t Take Syrian Refugees. 2015. Web.
  7. Jones, Toby. Desert kingdom. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.
  8. Howell, Kellan. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 Air-Conditioned Tents Sitting Empty, Still Won’t Take Syrian Refugees. 2015. Web.
  9. Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
  10. Haroon, Anwar. History of Saudi Arabia & Wahabism. New Jersey: Xlibris Corporation, 2014. Print.
  11. Jones, Toby. Desert kingdom. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.
  12. Wynbrandt, James. A Brief History of Saudi Arabia. New York: Info Base Publishing, 2014. Print.
  13. Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
  14. Haroon, Anwar. History of Saudi Arabia & Wahabism. New Jersey: Xlibris Corporation, 2014. Print.
  15. Wynbrandt, James. A Brief History of Saudi Arabia. New York: Info Base Publishing, 2014. Print.
  16. Jones, Toby. Desert kingdom. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.
  17. Haroon, Anwar. History of Saudi Arabia & Wahabism. New Jersey: Xlibris Corporation, 2014. Print.
  18. Feuerer, Mark. Destination Tent City. New York: Coffee Town Press, 2011. Print.
  19. Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
  20. Feuerer, Mark. Destination Tent City. New York: Coffee Town Press, 2011. Print.
  21. Bowen, Wayne. The History of Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.
  22. Feuerer, Mark. Destination Tent City. New York: Coffee Town Press, 2011. Print.

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