x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

In the 1960s, saleswomen brought the market to homes

Before the unification of the seven emirates, she was a common sight among the communities of the Trucial Coast: a female trader, her goods piled high on her head, selling her wares from house to house.

A lailam making her rounds.
A lailam making her rounds.

Once upon a time, before the unification of the seven emirates, this was a common sight among the communities of the Trucial Coast - home shopping, "Lailam" style: a female trader, her goods piled high on her head, selling her wares from house to house. 

Such a sight would be unimaginable today - indeed, a few years ago it became illegal - but back in the Sixties, when this photograph was taken, social norms were different. 

Women, busy with housework and looking after the children, had little time to go to market, and so the sellers, or lailam, would come to them, carrying their goods in bags to every home in the neighbourhood. 

Before the wealth of oil began flowing through the land, this was a time when every aspect of life was simpler; even the smallest plaything would make a child happy, and such toys were among the goods that could be found in the seller's bag. They would come every day, either in the morning or late afternoon, knocking on doors and calling out "Lailam, lailam". 

Once welcomed into a home, the women, mainly from Pakistan or Afghanistan, would open their bags and spread out the goods - which could include everything from harmonicas, hair accessories, fabrics and scarves to creams made in China, ribbons, safety pins and, of course, toys.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Each week it features an image from the archives of both prominent institutions and private collections. Readers are also invited to submit ideas and photographs to yourpics@thenational.ae