If you go to the malls in Kuwait you can see hundreds of perfume shops. Perfume is a big deal here, as it is in the wider Arab world, and people take it very seriously.
Perfumes began to be made in ancient Egypt, and refined by the Romans and the Arabs (Wikipedia), so it should not be surprising that they are so popular, and so widely used for different purposes. There are perfumes - oil based liquids, and woods which are burned in an incense burner. Both are used for personal beauty, for welcoming people into the house, for cleansing a room of cooking smells particularly fish, and for celebrating special occasions such as weddings.
So the other day a Kuwaiti friend came over to visit, and she very generously brought with her some gifts of perfume, woods and all the gear required for burning oils. She sat with us and told us lots of interesting things about perfumes and incenses.
She told us that most perfumes, in the world, not just the Arab world, use one of 4 main ingredients:
1. oud - oud is the Arabic word for agar, which is the Indian word for a very rare and expensive dark resinous heartwood. When it becomes infected with mold, the wood produces the resin which is agar. Modern perfume brands such as Tom Ford and Gucci often use oud and other Arabian perfumes as a base for their scents.
2. musk - and here is what I found out about musk from Wikipedia. I added it because I had no idea what musk was - I just remember sweets called pink musk sticks from my childhood!
Musk is a class of aromatic substances commonly used as base notes in perfumery. They include glandular secretions from animals such as the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odors. Musk was a name originally given to a substance with a penetrating odor obtained from agland of the male musk deer. The substance has been used as a popular perfume fixative since ancient times and is one of the most expensive animal products in the world. The name, originated from Sanskrit muṣká meaning "testicle," has come to encompass a wide variety of substances with somewhat similar odors although many of them are quite different in their chemical structures.
Until the late 19th century, natural musk was used extensively in perfumery until economic and ethical motives led to the adoption of synthetic musk, which is now used almost exclusively. The organic compound primarily responsible for the characteristic odor of musk is muscone
3.ward (ta'afi) which comes from a flower from Saudi Arabia
4. amber (Arabic word is anbar) - a fossilised tree resin, also used as a healing agent.
Perfume is bought by weight, using a measurement called tola. If perfume is to be sprinkled on people's hands, as a welcome, a ma'rash is used - a special receptacle.
She mentioned 4 well known perfumiers who are very popular here in Kuwait, and whose shops can easily be found in shopping malls and souqs.
1. Al Qarashi - a very famous perfumier family from Saudi Arabia
2. Shya - in Kuwait
3. J'need - very famous in Bahrain and Mecca.
4. Marshoud - famous in Kuwait.
My friend also brought some wood for burning. The burner is called a mubkhar, and the charcoal is burned in the mubkhar, to 'open' the bokhur or wood. There are some very expensive woods (bokhur) that come particularly from India and are used for very special occasions.