Bahrain's threatened crafts date back to a time long before the beginning of the country's "oil era," which opened in 1934 with the first commercial production of crude. Before then, natural pearls were the island's most prominent export, and maritime trade, agriculture and fishing accounted for the rest of Bahrain's income.
Imported goods and the vastly wider opportunities offered by a modern money economy left many of Bahrain's traditional craftsmen with diminished markets and, in the space of one generation, with few apprentices to learn and carry on their skills — skills that had been essential to make the island's modest resources yield a living for its people.
Today, the craftsmen and their knowledge are still available; the threat of their disappearance is not yet quite realized, thanks in part to support from Bahrain's government and its people. But what of the future?
Fuad Noor, a researcher for the Ministry of Information's Directorate of Heritage, believes that three additional steps are necessary to preserve the handicrafts and the culture they represent. The government should pay craftsmen a small salary, he says, and should establish a handicraft center where the craftsmen can work and be seen. Above all, Bahrain's young people must be taught that working at the traditional crafts is a matter of national pride, and be encouraged to learn, practice and teach the skills of their forefathers.
Wendy Levine worked as a commercial advertising photographer in the United States, then lived for three years in Saudi Arabia. She is now pursuing a master's degree in photojournalism.