Allan Villiers’ ‘Sons of Sinbad’ expo opens

KUWAIT: Dignitaries attend the exhibition. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Allan Villiers’ ‘Sons of Sinbad’ exhibition was inaugurated yesterday at Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah. The event is held under the auspices of the Australian Embassy in Kuwait, National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, Council for Australian-Arab Relations and the Australian National Maritime Museum. The opening was attended by Sheikha Hussa Al-Sabah and Australian Ambassador to Kuwait Jonathan Gilbert.

“It took almost two years to complete the collections of photographs and films from various museums – we got some from British, Canadian and Australian maritime museums,” Gilbert said. The event is held this year because 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of Allan Villiers’ journey to Kuwait and the Gulf. “[Villiers] sailed from the Gulf using a dhow through the east coast of Africa, then back to Kuwait, and stayed here for six months. We collected the photos and films that he took during his stay (in 1938-1939). It has never been shown or heard before – it’s the pre-oil history of the Kuwaiti people. We want to present this to the Kuwaiti people,” Gilbert said.
The collection can be viewed at Dar Al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (Amricani Cultural Centre) near the Evangelical Church in Kuwait City. They will be displayed there for two months before being transferred to the parliament next year.

“The realization of this exhibition has been the combination of hard work, determination and collective will by multiple parties to tell the remarkable story of Allan Villiers and Kuwait’s rich but sometimes forgotten maritime history and traditions,” Gilbert said. The ambassador also mentioned the presence of Villiers’ eldest son at the expo, who is visiting Kuwait for the first time and reliving his father’s extraordinary journey and connection to this country.

Allan Villiers was an author, adventurer, photographer and mariner. He was born in Australia and from an early age he was exposed to the docks of Port Melbourne and the square-rigged merchant ships that once sailed between Australia and Europe. He first went to sea at the age of 15 and spent most of his life sailing, writing and documenting its customs, practices and traditions. He wrote ‘Sons of Sinbad,’ his tribute to Captain Nejdi and the crew of Al-Bayan, but also to the merchant families of Kuwait whose hard work built Kuwait into the country it is today.
“‘Sons of Sinbad’ is a Kuwaiti story that happened to be witnessed and told through the eyes of an Australian. In his writing, Villiers’ fondness of this country and its people is apparent. He observed that Kuwait is a pleasant place where citizens live in peace, where the merchants take care of the poor and the sheikh is the father of them all,” Gilbert said.

He said that while the days of the great sailing dhows are long gone, he still hopes that with this exhibition, Australia can help preserve this memory for the greater benefit of future Kuwaitis and for all. “Australia is a maritime nation whose prosperity and security is deeply connected to the world’s ocean trading routes. This is something that both countries share and tonight we celebrate this,” he concluded.

By Ben Garcia