Paddle Maritime Heritage Festival Abu Dhabi
Exhibits at Abu Dhabi's Maritime Heritage Festival Image Credit: Marwa Waheed/Special to Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi (TCAA), the 10-day Maritime Heritage Festival 2023 is now open to visitors, after opening on February 17. The community event is focussed on taking visitors back to the origins of Emirati coastal life and understanding the history of the country.

The festival held on the Abu Dhabi Corniche will end on February 26. Hundreds of visitors of different nationalities are expected at the festival daily, including tourists and residents.

The festival includes an exciting mix of educational and fun experiences, which include exhibitions of pearl diving, ancient sea life, meetings with marine experts, and listening to inspiring stories passed down through generations in the Heritage Guardians area, in addition to the usual festival highlights. Daily activities range from interactive games and workshops to markets and delicious sweets.

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Visitors can discover how the people in the city lived in harmony with the sea, building a sustainable and beautiful way of life, and cultivated skills that were passed down through the generations, such as fishing, trading and pearl diving.

Malallah Mohammed Ibrahim Alhammadi, who is one of oldest participants in the festival, was invited by TCAA to show the people the importance of the paddle. A well-crafted paddle is a must in a (mahmal) – a kind of wooden ship. Mr Mallah explained that back in the day they didn’t have engines or carbon-fibre body boats. They used a certain type of wood that was very light and could float easily. He added that although the wood used to build the traditional boat is important, the way you knot the sides of the boat and the paddle is even more important, as it could cost a sailor his life.

Ahmed Mohammed Alhammadi is another participant who is an expert in crafting fish cages or in other words ‘the sea jail’ (qarqoor).

Ahmed explained that when he was a teenager they didn’t have the tools and development we have today, so he crafted this cage with the type of wood that would sink to the seabed with a one-way door for fish to be trapped in.

The cage, he added, is one of the most important tools found in nearly every Emirati house located near the sea at that time because it was a tool for survival.

Ahmed also had different cages for different types of fish, such as the hammour or the grey mullet. He said the cage for the latter had a different design with a different trap door. Ahmed explained that this was because some fish were smarter than the others, and you couldn’t deceive them all the same way.

Saif Al Qubaisi, a social media activist, expressed his happiness at visiting the Maritime Heritage Festival exhibition in a statement to Gulf News, and expressed his great admiration for the contents and exhibits he saw dating back to the era before oil for UAE society. He said, "Whoever wants to understand an aspect of the heritage and history of the Emirates, especially the life of the people of the sea in the past, must visit this exhibition, which continues until the date of February 26."

Al Qubaisi added, "We have seen a lot of traditional marine equipment that the people of the sea and the people of the coast in the Emirates used in the past to fish, dive for pearls, and travel by wooden ships."

Tickets available

Visitors can buy tickets near the main gate or online. Tickets for adults are Dh30 while children can attend for Dh15. 

Dates and timing: 17-26 February, Sun-Thu 4pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-12am Location: Abu Dhabi Corniche, A'l Bahar