Bin Jelmood House is one of four heritage houses in downtown Doha that collectively form the Msheireb Museums, opened to shine a light on the traditional Qatari lifestyle. Bin Jelmood stands out from the others, however. It is dedicated to raising awareness of human bondage, and celebrating human resilience in the face of unthinkable hardship.
The exhibition highlights the role that slavery has played in the development of civilizations throughout human history. Bin Jelmood House does not shy away from acknowledging that Qatar and other Gulf countries were not innocent bystanders. Indeed, Bin Jelmood House was an apt choice for the exhibition, as this house, like many others, once employed slaves.
The exhibition invites visitors to view the world through the eyes of those that fell victim to the slave trade. Harrowing tales bring to life the inner and outer struggle of those in bondage whose humanity was denied and repressed. From servants to pearl divers, resilience is the inner force that guides their existence.
As history unfolds as you make your way through the museum, the emphasis shifts to the various efforts that eventually led to emancipation and the abolition of slavery. Yet, this is not a journey with a happy ending, as the exhibit ends with a display of modern forms of globalized slavery, encompassing human trafficking, bonded labour, and the current practice of “contract slavery” still in existence in the Gulf and elsewhere. The message is loud and clear: We are all complicit, and it will take a collective effort to rid the world of this plague.
Not all countries are willing to acknowledge the role they have played in the slave trade through the centuries, and the role that slavery played in their development. With Bin Jelmood House, Qatar is confronting its dark past, rather than turning a blind eye on how the country came to be.