Among the first to ripen among date varieties are Al Naghal and Al Khatri Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: As the summer begins in the UAE, it brings along the “ripening of the first date palm fruits”, known locally as “Tabasheer Al Rutab”, a moment that Emiratis eagerly anticipate when the harvest season begins.

These feelings reflect a long history of reverence between the UAE people and the date palm, a symbol that remains as significant in their lives today as it was for their ancestors.

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Markets become hives of vibrancy with the first harvest arriving from local farms, attracting date enthusiasts in early June. The earliest-ripening varieties such as Al Naghal and Al Khatri signal the upcoming ripening of other varieties, such as Al Khnizi, Al Khalas and Al Jabri, with the season continuing until August, ending with varieties that include Al Khasab and Al Hilali.

In the past, dates were crucial for every Emirati household, ensuring yearlong food security, as they can sustain various methods of storage and preservation. Despite the monumental developments in the UAE society today, dates still hold a special place in the collective memory, as it is interwoven with Emirati customs and the nation’s unique food culture. This is how the beginning of summer (harvest season) came to signify renewed optimism and blessings.

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For the people of the UAE, the date palm symbolises limitless giving and blessings, offering not just its delectable fruits but also its various parts such as fronds and branches, which were traditionally used to create essential tools for daily life both at home and outdoors. The palm tree is also a cornerstone of Emirati heritage, given its significant social and cultural value.

Recognising its significance in Emirati heritage and collective memory, the country’s special attention to it has elevated its status further, with focus placed on cultivating palm trees, establishing relevant research centres, conducting studies, and organising festivals and awards to encourage farmers and spread awareness of this unique tree. These steps all align with the vision of the UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who showed a strong commitment to promoting the date palm by developing and expanding its cultivation, activities that took place under his direct supervision.

In the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi, Tabasheer Al Rutab holds a variety of connotations. Besides signalling the approaching harvest, it also marks the approach of the one of the region’s most important festivals celebrating the date palm. Celebrated in Liwa city, Abu Dhabi, the annual Liwa Date Festival, which will hold its 20th edition from July 15 to 28, under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President, Deputy Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Presidential Court, is organised by the Abu Dhabi Heritage Authority.

The Festival stands as a beacon of heritage in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, drawing tourists from far and wide to celebrate the profound significance of the date palm and its luscious fruits in Emirati culture. This vibrant event not only showcases the palm tree’s cultural and historical importance but also underscores its vital role in the economy. Visitors are immersed in a rich tapestry of tradition, discovering the diverse varieties of dates cultivated in the UAE and appreciating their significance.

In Abu Dhabi, the palm sector is more than just an agricultural cornerstone; it is a linchpin in the food security framework and a guardian of the ecosystem. The cultivation and celebration of date palms underscore their critical role in sustaining both the environment and the heritage of the UAE, making them an indispensable element of the nation’s identity and sustainability efforts.