An Emirati potter at Heritage Village
An Emirati potter at Heritage Village Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Festival is highlighting Emirati cultural heritage as part of its main objective to preserve national identity.

A series of events, attractions and pavilions at the Festival place special emphasis on Emirati traditions. Chief among these is the Heritage Village, located at the heart of the Festival grounds. It showcases the UAE’s heritage through a replica of the four main environments where Emirati civilisation settled and flourished: the marine environment, the desert environment, the mountain environment, and the agricultural environment.

Each replica gives visitors glimpses of early life in the UAE through life-sized mock-ups that were created to reflect the realities of those environments.

Welcoming of all

The Heritage Village bears a large sign of ‘Hayakom’ (which means ‘welcome’ in Emirati dialect) built under local design principles. The gates to the area are models of ancient military building designs that were used to protect from outside threats. Through its installations, the area transports visitors away from the present world, and transports them to the simplicity of life in early times, with their mud and palm leaf houses that evoke nostalgia and conjures interest in the roots of UAE culture.

The Village has been built collaboratively by several government bodies that aim to preserve and showcase Emirati culture to the public, including the General Women’s Union (GWU), the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, and the Emirates Falconers Club, the Arabian Saluki Centre, and the Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club.

Weaving arts

The GWU provides women’s workshops by several female experts in traditional handicrafts, using yarn mills and weaving to produce a variety of textiles like Al Sadu, Talli, wool and weaving carpets. In addition, there are many other traditional crafts in the village that will remind new generations of life back in the old days. The Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation focuses on showcasing products made by Emirati families.

Materials from the date palm tree are used to make a variety of Emirati household wares
Materials from the date palm tree are used to make a variety of Emirati household wares Image Credit: Supplied

Coffee making

The Emirates Heritage Club also brings back the Al Hadeera, where a group of senior citizens, or Al Showab in Emirati dialect, prepare traditional coffee in the traditional manner while surrounded by a wall made of palm leaves, known as Leptadenia in Emirati dialect. Other trees such as Acacia tortilis and Ghaf are also used to stabilise the wall of the construction and counter strong winds.

The Al Hadeera is open from one side that is not facing the wind to protect the seated people from dust and sand. The seating area was considered a sanctuary in winter to build a bonfire and prepare coffee, which was also the place where stories were told and memories were made. Al Tawa – a flat, heavy pan - and Al Mehmas are the main tools used for roasting coffee. Al Tawa is made of iron. Al Mehmas is a kind of spatula made of iron or copper, and is used for mixing the coffee grains while roasting the coffee, or to lift bread from a hot surface.

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Falconry and hunting

The Emirates Falconers Club, on the other hand, present the art of falconry, with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of it as heritage that prioritises sustainable hunting methods and ethics.

The Arabian Saluki Centre, the first of its kind in the Arabian Gulf region and the Middle East, showcases greyhound, or Saluki, breeds with the aim of reviving the hunting sport and training greyhounds for hunting, as well as educating people about their role in falconry, maintaining the purity of the gene pools of superior breeds, and providing those interested with the necessary knowledge on how to care for and train them.

The Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club showcases models of boats in the heart of the village in a bid to instill passion for marine sports, and an appreciation for both traditional and modern boats.

Studio and shop

The Village features a UAE Heritage Studio that allows tourists and visitors to take memorable photos in traditional Emirati clothing. The studio also offers a traditional grocery shop – Al Dukan – that features all kinds of old foods that are nostalgic to Emiratis, and a henna tinting station where visitors can experience application of the oldest and most common cosmetic substance that is still in use today.