Sharjah: A farmer making his way up the trunk of a date palm tree, using only an Al Habool — a broad climbing belt — for support. Men gathering dates while women are engaged in Safeefah or palm frond weaving. In the background, roosters are crowing and bulls can be heard bellowing.
The scene is part of the ‘Agriculture Environment’, showcasing the agrarian life of Emiratis in the past in the ‘Heart of Sharjah’, where the 18th edition of Sharjah Heritage Days (SHD) is currently underway.
Dedicated sections at SHD introduce visitors and guests to the ingenious ways in which Emiratis of yesteryears thrived in the arid desert climate and despite an acute scarcity of water and natural resources. The ‘Agriculture Environment’ is one of the four major landscapes of the UAE represented at SHD. The others being ‘Coastal Environment’, ‘Bedouin’ and ‘Mountainous’.
The harsh desert environment did not deter the people of this land from adapting to a more settled life, primarily around the oases where water sources and irrigation allowed for farming of dates and vegetables. Everything around them was used for daily life, such as Ghaf trees for shelter and wood and desert plants for building homes.
They also devised ingenious solutions such as Al Falaj, or irrigation system, to have access to underground water sources. They practised herding and agriculture and made use of whatever they had access to, in order to survive.
They also practised palm tree cultivation. Every part of this essential tree, revered within Arab and Islamic cultures, was put to good use. Apart from trade in dates, the palm tree also produced a demand for handmade products crafted from its leaves, sheath and other parts.
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Craft of palm frond weaving
At the ‘Agriculture Environment’, women are engaged in the Emirati craft of palm frond weaving, or ‘Safeefah’, producing baskets of varying sizes, food covers, rugs and mats. Men, on the other hand, are seen weaving stronger and larger bags to pack ripe dates while also fashioning ropes and cords from the coarse sheath.
Also on display at SHD are earlier agricultural implements, including a variety of axes used for splitting wood, digging pits and cutting fronds. Farmers also display their skills climbing a date palm using Al Habool.