The unique Nadba performance is a characteristic of Al Shohouh tribesmen who gather and march in the mountains. Image Credit: Aftab Kazmi/Gulf News

Al Ain: Al Shohouh tribesmen, once the UAE’s fearsome mountain warriors, are on a new mission — to conquer the hearts and minds of people by sharing with them their little-known culture and heritage.

Gathering under the umbrella of Al Shohouh National Heritage Society, these mountain dwellers organised the UAE’s first Mountain Day on December 12 — a day after the world marked International Mountain Day.

Set up on the foothills of Jebel Hafeet in the Green Mubazarra Resort, the tribe showcased its people’s lifestyle, culture and heritage and raised awareness about the importance of the mountains. The tribe’s centuries-old history and culture is deeply shrouded in the mysteries of the rugged mountain valleys in the north of country — mainly in Ras Al Khaimah.

The event was organised with the cooperation of the Department of Geology at the UAE University (UAEU) and Al Ain Municipality. A exhibition of items used by people living in the mountains was also displayed.

Dr Ahmad Ali Murad, Vice-Dean of the Department of Geology at the UAEU, said celebrating Mountain Day was an important initiative.

“The day helped us educate people about the mountains, their inhabitants and their peculiar lifestyle,” he said.

One such peculiarity of the Al Shohouh tribe is their custom of yelling in the mountains. They demonstrated this tradition in the resort with shrieks that shattered the silence around the mountains. Visitors looked towards a small hill and saw another group of Emiratis waving their arms and yelling. The group later marched down the hill and joined the rest of the tribesmen for cultural and traditional dance performances.

“It’s Nadb’a, a typical folk custom of the Al Shohouh tribe,” Abdullah Rashid Bin Laquoos Al Shahi, Chairman of the Al Shohouh National Heritage Society, told Gulf News.

The yells, cries and some words uttered by the tribesmen were in a local dialect that was difficult to understand.

Scaring off enemies

Nadb’a, said Al Shahi, is a custom unique to Al Shohouh tribesmen. A man stands in a circle of young tribesmen and utters the first shriek raising his arm. He also utters a flurry of words, with the mix of yells and words resembling a wolf howling.

“It’s our centuries-old way to warn the tribesmen of an attack in the mountain valleys,” said Ahmad Al Shahi, a member of the group.

The noise, he said, was also used to scare the enemy in days gone by. This tradition has now been adopted as a gesture of joy and thanks, he said. Nadb’a is now performed mainly at wedding receptions.

Abdullah Al Shahi said that it was the first time the day had been celebrated in the UAE.

“The idea behind the day is to educate people on the importance of mountains and the life and culture they preserve in their valleys,” he said.

Many people still depend on mountains and their resources to live, he said.

He said the Al Shohouh National Heritage Society, established in 1992, has an office in Ras Al Khaimah and its head office is located in Abu Dhabi. Its main focus is on the promotion of culture, tradition, and history of people living in the UAE’s mountains.

The late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan paid special attention to the country’s mountains and its dwellers and a similar approach is being taken by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The society, said Al Shahi, has some 940 members, membership opened to women in 2006. The society enjoys close working relations with a number of UAE and foreign organisations and organises cultural and traditional performances such as Al Eyaleh, Al Nadb’a, Al Dawah, and Al Harbya all over the country.