Camels at the Al Marmoum Heritage Festival at Dubai Camel Racing Club on Al Ain road. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE has successfully added camel racing and the aflaj irrigation system on the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation’s (UNESCO) Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) announced that these two submissions represented key elements of the UAE’s heritage, and pointed out that the submissions were jointly made by the Ministry of Culture and Youth and DCT Abu Dhabi to showcase the UAE’s rich cultural heritage internationally and to preserve traditions for future generations.

Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said: "The inclusion of aflaj and camel Races on Unesco’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is a great achievement that reinforces our country’s position as an incubator of rich heritage and national pride. DCT Abu Dhabi is honoured to support the great efforts behind these campaigns, as part of our extensive work to preserve the cultural traditions and practices of the Emirate and the UAE as a whole."

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1981. A TV van driving alongside the track, giving live coverage of a camel race in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Buiding a Nation/Gulf News

The traditional aflaj system of water channels was used for farm irrigation in Al, while the camel races have been submitted jointly with the Sultanate of Oman.

The inclusion of these two items of cultural heritage on the Representative List will be awarded to the UAE at the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, held virtually at its headquarters in Paris from 14 to 19 December.

To date, the UAE has successfully registered 11 cultural activities and traditions on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity through joint national, regional, and international submissions, strengthening the country’s position as an active member in the committee.

The UAE is currently working to include Arabic calligraphy, camel footwear and harees (a dish of ground wheat) in the next edition of the Unesco Representative List.

Harees is a mixture of boiled, cracked, or coarsely-ground wheat and boned meat - either lamb or beef - which is cooked on a slow fire with ghee made from camel or lamb milk.

Made to highlight intangible heritage, the list helps to demonstrate the diversity of cultural heritage and raise awareness about its importance, while helping ensure recognition of these national traditions and emphasising societies’ expertise.

Traditional irrigation system

The latest inclusions on the list, the aflaj (singular: falaj), highlights the significance, knowledge and skills relating to the construction and maintenance of the UAE’s traditional irrigation network system, which aimed to ensure a fair distribution of water.

Camel races

The second inclusion, camel races, focuses on the art of racing and is regarded as a festive social practice embodying Arab heritage. Camel racing is considered to be a very popular activity among UAE community members.

The heritage of camel racing was regularly promoted by the late Shaikh Zayed and is still enjoyed to this day under the patronage of the current rulers of the country. In 2002, the UAE banned the use of child jockeys in commercial camel racing and has used robot jockeys ever since.

An 8km camel race was held on December 7, 2020 at Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi:

Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Acting Undersecretary of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said: "Abu Dhabi's incomparable appeal as a destination is backed by a wide array of traditional cultural practices that enrich our lives. Our precious intangible heritage is an essential element of our appeal for both our visitors and residents alike.

“Including aflaj and camel Races in the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List is a shared achievement that we cherish on a national and human level," he added.