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Purification of drinking water in the past



Purification of Water

Social practices and rituals involving the purification of drinking water

The purification of drinking water is absolutely essential, as water is the lifeblood of this planet, and everyone is in dire need of it, which is why preserving it is of utmost importance. Narrator Shamsa Al Shamsi points out that Arabs in the past were not overcome by anything despite the circumstances they faced. With regard to purification of drinking water, she mentions that there were several varied sources of drinking water, including sharia water, falaj water, tawy water and valley water.

The narrator, Umm Saeed Al Shamsi, also mentions that they would dig tuwayan1 after ensuring that there was water underneath, then they would remove2 the dirty water from the well, one bucket after another, so they could have access to crisp pure water, especially after getting rid of the dirt and mud from the well. Only after this water remained still and flat could they obtain water that was suitable for drinking and consumption3. Fatima Al Kindi concurs, saying: When digging wells and reaching the water level at the bottom, the extracted water would be full of dirt and impurities, so by repetition of the process and continuous extraction of water, it would become purified and the dirt would stagnate at the bottom of the well, thereby obtaining clean water.4

After completing the process of extracting water from the well, it would be poured into a container if the water was clear and did not need to be filtered and would then be used for many purposes. However, if some impurities still remained as huwail, a ghutra or a piece of cloth, comprised of black fabric ‘khelqa’ would be placed at the lid of the container, and the water would then be poured. It would be discarded whenever it became unclean.5

The narrator Umm Saeed also references the valley water and how it was purified. She explains that rapidly flowing valley water was not suitable for drinking or purification because of the dust and dirt that it would carry along its way, making the water impure. After a while, as the flow of the valley would lost its haste, the water would become purer and clearer. She explains that she was familiar with the location of the pools of water (ghabba)6 that would form from the flow of the valleys and springs. She would dig at the edge of the ghabba a few meters away, because the main ghabba would be unclean “impure”, and because it would be used in watering the sheep and camels. Therefore, we would dig holes, in which the water, especially spring water, would collect. We would then pour that clean water and make use of it for drinking.7

The narrator, Fatima Al Kindi, explains that drinking water was mainly filtered in one commonly utilized method. It consisted of filtering the water with a piece of cloth, usually a sheila, where the woman would place a piece of cloth at the lid of the container in which the water was to be placed. The cloth was directed slightly inwards, and the water was poured while firmly grasping the sheila and thereby obtaining clean filtered water.

The second way of purifying drinking water was by letting the water stand still after pouring it into the bottom of s container or any other instrument for a short period of time, so that the huwail “dust, dirt, or impurities” would precipitate at the bottom of the container or pot, thereby utilizing the water at the top, while discarding the water at the bottom of the container.

When purifying water using a sa’an, a sheila would be placed at the lid of the sa’an, that was slightly lowered, thereby pouring the water and filtering it with ease.8

With these simple, primitive methods, our ancestors were successful in purifying drinking water and making use of it.


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