Agarwood (Oud in Arabic), ambergris and perfumes are highly praised substances in Qatar. They are the symbol of generation-inherited hospitality, where a majlis (gathering at house) is unthinkable without the refreshing scents of these valuable essences.
Qatari women have a good taste for special perfumes. Oud is considered the best.
In addition, there are essential oils extracted from sandalwood, saffron, ambergris, musk, henna, jasmine, etc. These substances vary in usage as some are applied to clothes while others provide the body with a fresh odour.
Men and women alike use oud on different occasions, especially in holidays, weddings, feasts and during the holy month of Ramadan.
Umm Saeed, who is one of the most known local figures in making incenses, explained to Qatarinfo how such a process is carried out from putting together the right mixtures of substances to the usage of censers where the incenses are burnt and consumed.
According to this expert lady, oud which happens to be the most expensive wood in the world is a very valued substance in our society, and can even be passed over through generations. It is also an essential element in every Qatari house.
Qatari women are exceptionally gifted in recognizing good quality incenses. They have their own traditional ways in preparing good mixtures.
Dakhoun, for instance, is made of musk, oud and ambergris, and is prepared in the shape of small pucks.
Guests are usually welcomed with oud and burned incenses. While seated, they get their hands sprayed with rosewater from a copper-made ewer called ‘merash’ before coffee is served. Following which, they enjoy the oud dakhoun from a censer.
In special occasions, guests are served with dakhoun by one person, usually a member of the hosting family, but rarely the landlord himself. Usually, it is the oldest person in the gathering who is served first, following which the server starts from his right.
When dakhoun is served the house members only, the censer is put between the feet to allow the scents to waft through the clothes of the person. The censer, medkhan, is a concave quadruped cubic-like tool, sheathed with a metal foil to protect it from burning. Oud or other incenses are put over hot coal and slowly burns to waft away their scents.
Oud oil, mixed with raw ambergris and musk, is very useful in treating some diseases, assured Umm Saeed who seems to have some background also in traditional medicine.
Medkhan was usually in the past made of gypsum and pottery. Later, it was made of metal or wood. Nowadays, it is imported from other Arab and Asian countries as there are no traditional manufacturers in the region.
Oud has special storing gears. It is cherished as a valuable item and is always carefully guarded in special safes or boxes away from sunrays or moisture.
The odour of oud differs in strength according to the place where its tree grows. In mountain tops, it tends to be stronger, while weaker at the base and average in the plains.
Oud is formed in the trunk and roots of its tree when it is infected by fungi. The result of this immune protection is a resin that suppresses or retards fungal growth. A oud tree is about five metres tall and can last for 40 to 50 years. If infected by the fungus, the tree changes in colour and becomes darker and denser while gaining the special odour.
Black in colour, this liquid has a strong odour and is widely praised among men and women alike in the Gulf region.
Oud oil is usually used in winter, and less in Summer. A droplet in the wrist or the neck is sufficient to stick to the skin and provide a radiant aura around the person.
Incense, however, is a household exclusivity. It is never offered to guests, and only family members use it to perfume their clothes or the house in general. It is made out of oud remains mixed with musk and other perfumed plants.
Women used before to prepare these blends by mixing powders of these elements with water and sugar to increase their density and cohesion, following which concentrated perfumes were added. Once the mixture is perfect, it is divided into small balls and put to dry up under the sun.
Tools used for burning incenses are:
Mebkhar, smaller than the medkhan. Neither of the two is used in the place of the other and they are strictly dedicated to the type of incense of or perfume substance they’re intended to. Mebkhar is also made of wood, gypsum or copper, and is hardly decorated.
Mebkhara, is exclusively used to perfume clothes. It is pyramidal in shape and measures around 80 cm with four legs. The mebkhar is put under the mebkharah and fumes go through the cracks that separate the slabs.
Ambergris has been used for centuries to produce very expensive perfumes. It is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of colours varying between red, white and black. Women use it a lot in perfuming their clothes, especially abayas. It is always used in the composition of very expensive perfumes, and is preserved like other perfumes in flacons or metal flasks.
A perfume obtained originally from the strong-smelling substance secreted by a gland in the abdomen of the male musk deer, normally varying between brown and white, the first being better in quality.
It is usually in the shape of viscous powder that is applied in very small quantities to the skin, or else in liquid form, and is preserved in special bottles. It was in the past used in medicine as well.
Oud or other perfumeries are generally used in the Gulf region in different occasions. Religious gathering and family feasts are often opened by burning oud. Mosques are also treated with this pleasant-smelling substance. In the past, trade of such products was blooming besides pearl trade and other valuables. It is one of these very rare industries that have flourished instead of being extinct in the oil-era in which the Gulf is living nowadays.