Emirati women weave traditional handicrafts from palm leaves at the Liwa Date Festival in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: She sits quietly braiding palm leaves into various shapes. Her friends and neighbours, who are sharing the stand, are talking and laughing while they too work on their handicrafts. She occasionally joins in, but is mostly content focusing on the task at hand.

Aisha Mohammad Saeed Al Khubaisi, a resident of Liwa, is one of several Emirati women who are creating traditional items at the sixth annual Liwa Date Festival, which is held under the patronage of Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach).

"I enjoy coming to these festivals because everyone who participates lives so far away from each other ... these events give us a wonderful chance to meet and catch up on each other's news. I even make some new friends," Aisha said smiling.

The weaver, who does not know her age or birth date, has never left Liwa, even to travel to neighbouring towns or cities.

"I like the quietness of our farm...it reminds me of my childhood when life was simpler. We didn't need much to entertain us as children but at the same time it was harsher back then because we were always travelling before we finally settled down," she said. "I remember watching my mother and grandmother weaving palm leaves, creating things such as mats and baskets for both our homes and smaller ones that were placed on camels when the men travelled," she added.

When Aisha was considered old enough, she was taught the techniques of weaving that have been passed down mother to daughter for generations.

"Depending on what I am making, sometimes it will take days to complete something like a basket. We have to always make sure to collect leaves that are enough but also which are still flexible enough to be woven. These are partially dried out before we begin using them. If they are still supple then, as they dry out, the shape may alter and if they are too dry then they crack and are useless," she explained, as she deftly dipped her fingers into a small bowl of water, moistening the palm leaf strips and maintaining her weaving rhythm.

She grew up with change around her as the United Arab Emirates was formed. Aisha's face lit up when she spoke about Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his son, President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

"Shaikh Zayed, peace be upon his soul, his son Shaikh Khalifa and the government as a whole have done great things to help and support us...Shaikh Zayed came and visited us and then we were provided with houses and electricity...it was such a shock when we first encountered an electrical light bulb!" she said, laughing. "Now, everything is so advanced...we have television, telephones, refrigerators...we even have cars to travel around...it's just so different," she added.

Aisha noted that while she is proud of what the young country has achieved since all seven emirates have united, she is also concerned about how young Emiratis are distancing themselves from their history and roots.

"I don't know how to read and write ... but I'm content ... the younger generation of Emirati men and women are well educated and have many opportunities that we would never have thought would be possible. But at the same time, I'm worried that many of our traditions, such as weaving, will die out after a few generations," she said.

Get there

WHAT: Liwa Date Festival

WHEN: Saturday, July 17 - Saturday, July 24

TIME: 10am - 10pm

TRAVEL: Buses leave from Abu Dhabi Mall and Marina Mall at 9am. There are no other scheduled buses.

INFORMATION: For schedules and further information, please contact 02-6576094 or visit www.liwadatesfestival.ae or http://www.adach.ae/en/