The Failaka Period

Tareq was responsible for the establishment of the first National Museum of Kuwait in the old palace that had been built by Sheikh Khazal on land gifted to him by the Sheikh of Kuwait. The first National Museum was a beautiful building and Tareq and Jehan’s three children spent so much time there with him, that it almost felt like their own home. At this time, the Kuwaiti government invited a Danish archaeological team that had been excavating the remains of the Dilmun civilisation in Bahrain, to come to Kuwait and investigate sites of Archaeological significance. Tareq was heavily involved in the excavations that followed as part of the Kuwaiti side of team. The time that both Tareq and Jehan spent on Failaka Island between 1959 and 1967 were truly their golden years and the pair spent many excavation seasons living on the island with their children. For Jehan, it was the first time that she was able to work, unlike on the mainland where social norms of the time prevented her from working and from enjoying simple pleasures like walking. Failaka would remain Jehan’s favourite place and experience during her life in Kuwait. For Tareq, he was thrust into his element of being outdoors, excavating, uncovering treasures and unravelling the mysteries of the island. The pair were both present for the unearthing of the famous Failaka stele, which proved the existence of a Greek colony on the island from the 4th Century BC. This was one of the events that really stood out in Jehan’s memory from that time. During the morning, in early 1960, Jehan was told that something important had been found and so, she made her way to the entrance of the Temple of Artemis, where everyone was watched the archaeologists in hushed silence. As they brushed off the large dedication stone, Greek script came to light and Jehan often described the moment that one of the archaeologists, a Greek specialist, started translating the emerging script. Other parts of the stele were scattered nearby, with one of them being discovered by Tareq. This discovery attracted the attention of the world press. Around this time in 1962, their third child, Nader, was born in the American Mission Hospital, which is today, the Amricani Cultural Centre.

Part of the enjoyment of going to Failaka for the whole Rajab family at this time was the trip to the harbour by Seif Palace. The trip to Failaka was made on a boat belonging to the Ministry of Education, during which, the sailors would make lunch. In those days, the harbour was bustling with activity and was full of Dhow from all over the Gulf and Indian Ocean. During this eight year period, Tareq also constructed the archaeological museum on Failaka. He, along with his colleagues and the Failaka islanders built the building with their bare hands and it was used to display the Bronze Age and Greek finds from the excavations. Afterwards, he also built the Ethnographical Museum on the island. For this, he requested from Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir permission to convert the summer house of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Jabir, which had fallen into disuse, into a museum. In order to collect artefacts for this new museum, Tareq and Jehan visited the homes of the Failaka islanders, who were all too keen to sell items that were in daily use, such as Bohemian and Persian decorated bottles, ploughs, mills and so on. It was truly a beautiful museum. Before the Ethnographic museum was built, Tareq, Jehan and their three children; Nur, Ziad and Nader lived in tents close to the excavation sites. However, after the Ethnographic museum was built, they all slept on the roof, under the stars; something the whole family had fond memories of. During the excavations on Failaka, Jehan volunteered to help with anything, and beyond excavating on the sites themselves, would prepare archaeological reports for the Danish team, clean finds and organise pottery shards as they were unearthed. Some of Jehan’s most memorable memories from that time were when the archaeologists would gather around a fire on a beach in the evening and listen to olf Failachawi’s, like Haji Ibrahim and Essa Khalfan, tell old folk tales from Failaka.

During the excavations on Failaka, Tareq got to know the famous Danish and British archaeologists Professor Glob and Geoffery Bibbly very well. In 1960, he was sent to Denmark, to a town called Arhus, with his family for one year, to study Museum studies and Archaeology. The two archaeologists who themselves, were based in Arhus, took Tareq under their wing. However, after his time in Denmark and while excavations on Failaka were still underway, he fell out of favour with the Danes after they had tried to take a number of artefacts from Failaka back to Denmark. Tareq blocked them from taking anything, going to Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jabir, who was the Minister, and bringing about a decision whereby Kuwait had the right to keep all the items found on Failaka, which could only be taken to Denmark for study and temporary display.

By the late 1960s, things started to come to a head at the Ministry for Tareq. He was forced to endure a number of dissapointments, which included a failure to save the old merchant houses on the seafront from destruction. He and his colleagues tried very hard to rescue as many as they could, but were only able to save Al-Badr house and Behbehani house next door, which they had originally bought from the Al-Badrs in the 1930s. However, his final decision to resign from his post as Director of Museums and Antiquities came a bit later, when the Ministry of Public Works wanted to demolish the ‘Behaita’, which was an archaeological Tell or mound, that likely housed many mysteries and evidence of Kuwait’s history. In fact, Tareq’s mother, Aisha, lived on the Behaita when she was a little girl and told a story of how a floor of a room in her house collapsed, revealing a chamber underneath, which was no doubt, part of a house from a previous era. Tareq approached the Ministry of Public Works to stop the demolition plans and to allow the Department of Antiquities to excavate the Tell. However, while the Ministry did approve Tareq’s proposal, they only gave him 24 hours to excavate, after which, they demolished the entire Tell, losing priceless evidence of Kuwait’s history forever. This was the final straw for Tareq and he immediately resigned. After this, he took a job at Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) for one year, where he worked as Director of the Display Centre and Museum. However, by now, Tareq realised that it was time he went it alone and focused on his own business activities.

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