Dubai: Proverbs have been part of human culture for hundreds of years. Abdullah Hamdan Bin Dalmook, CEO of Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center (HHC), says they are like “lungs from where heritage breathes”.
In time for the UAE’s golden jubilee anniversary, he has launched the second edition of ‘Al Mtwassef’, an expanded collection of 534 Emirati proverbs. The book was researched and collected by Bin Dalmook based on oral tradition, interviews and collecting passages of wisdom from Emirati elders.
‘Al Mtwassef’, written in both Arabic and English, is also a proof that the UAE may be just 50 years old, but its heritage dates back way beyond the country’s formation in 1971.
Bin Dalmook noted: “The Arabian Gulf was a centre of civilisation, an important trade hub and a vital passageway that survived through various historical epochs. What is regrettable is that some members of the new generation lack knowledge about the customs and past traditions.”
It is for this reason that ‘Al Mtwassef’ was born — out of Bin Dalmook’s keenness to revive the UAE’s oral tradition. He noted: “The Emirati proverbs represent the essence of the experiences of our forefathers and reflect their wisdom. By collecting and collating them, I convey the present and future generations excerpts of our heritage. I also infuse them with a longing for the past as a source of inspiration and where we can draw lessons from.”
Bin Dalmook began collecting the proverbs in 1990. He started by listening to older people around him and he was particularly inspired by an oft-repeated proverb shared by his father whenever he sought advice: ‘If you grasped a fist of blessing, grasp ten fists of humility’.”
He also visited various heritage and diving villages in Dubai, reviewed various Emirati folklores, referenced Nabataean poetry and conducted interviews to shed further light on the proverbs.
Bin Dalmook noted: “It would be impossible to define the period when popular proverbs began to circulate in the UAE. However, we may identify the period of flourishing and evolution of the popular proverbs in the period preceding the advent of oil in the UAE.”
He said some proverbs were based on Quranic verses and Hadiths. An example is the proverb ‘One who consults others shall not regret it’ is based on the Prophetic Hadith: ‘He does not falter one who trusts in God in His choice, and one who consults others shall not regret it, and one who economises shall not be impoverished’.”
According to Bin Dalmook, Emirati society is composed mainly of three population groups — desert Bedouins, urban dwellers and the inhabitants in the mountains and rural areas. There is a slight difference in pronouncing the proverbs from one area to another, particularly between the inhabitants in coastal and urban areas and those living in the mountains.
“While Bedouin dialect is influenced by classical Arabic, urban dwellers and those living in coastal areas are influenced by other languages as a result of trade that enabled the seepage of some non-Arab terms into the Emirati dialect that were derived from British, Indian and Persian words. And those neighbouring Oman were influenced by Omani or Yemeni dialect,” Bin Dalmook explained.
He added: “The version of the popular proverb could sometimes change from one area to another and from one tribe to another, depending on the environment, tradition, custom, belief and languages. But it serves the same purpose for which the proverb was originally uttered and it makes the same impact on the listener or the one evoking it.”
Bin Dalmook said Emirati proverbs are characterised by their “eloquence, brevity, widespread use, simile, linguistic beauty, firmness and metaphorical use”. There are proverbs on particular occasions to express an idea or phenomenon and some proverbs are in the imperative form such as: ‘Discipline your son even if this angers his mother’.”
Emirati proverbs also reflect the country’s environment — its desert, coastal and mountain areas — and the livelihood of the people, as reflected in these two proverbs: ‘The one who neglects his thirsty camel, may lose it,’ and ‘A rotten fish rots all the other fish’.
Bin Dalmook started working in the Police Department at the Ministry of Interior in 1988. He was entrusted with the task of running the Diving and Heritage Village in Dubai’s Al Shindagha area, where he became the director in 1996. In 2004, he was appointed executive manager of The Crown Prince Championships Office and he remained there until 2013, when Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Executive Council, issued an Act to establish the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center and Bin Dalmook was appointed as its CEO.
Emirati proverbs offer counsel: ‘Do good deeds and cast them in the sea.’ It means that one must make good deeds for the sake of Allah and not seek a consideration or appreciation from other people. There is also a proverb on patience and diligence: ‘Never stop your trials, as one of them may hit success,’ and about the ideals of men — ‘Men are their actions not their words.’ Several Emirati proverbs reference dates, such as: ‘Unripe dates in the wide sea are sweet’ and ‘A dry date cannot stick to another dry date,’ which respectively means, ‘However trivial a thing is, it is of value in times of need,’ and ‘A stingy person who works with another stingy person will not succeed as they will not benefit from each other.’
How to overcome the harsh UAE environment and utilise its limited natural resources is likewise highlighted in the proverb ‘A drop by drop form a pool,’ which also teaches people the value of saving.
The simple life of Emirati people was transformed in the post-oil era into an existence characterised by accelerated development. Bin Dalmook observed: “This was a new experience for the people of the UAE, and the popular heritage became intertwined with many foreign cultural influences. But despite the boom, the government has been attentive to the necessity of safeguarding the heritage.”
By collecting the proverbs, Bin Dalmook said: “I discovered there is a great need to pay attention to our Emirati heritage and to link our young generation to our past and inspire them. We can use new media and technology to preserve our oral tradition by presenting folklores in an attractive and a new way that does not deprive it of its originality.”
Some popular Emirati proverbs translated:
‘A dry date cannot stick to another dry date’
‘A drop by drop form a pool’
‘A heart which is full love, cannot get full of hatred’
‘A rotten fish rots all the other fish’
‘Be more cautious than a deer’
‘Discipline your son even if this angers his mother’
‘Do good deeds and cast them in the sea’
‘Do not assign work to an already busy man’
‘Do not squander even if you are scooping from the sea’
‘Each stick of firewood has smoke’
‘Everything that is cheap is invaluable in the eyes of people’
‘He has the height of a palm tree, but a mind of a goat’
‘If you grasped a fist of blessing, grasp ten fists of humility’
‘If your judge is a ruler, to whom will you take recourse’
‘Keep accompanying happy people, and you will be happy’
‘Men are their actions not their words’
‘Never stop your trials, as one of them may hit success’
‘Refraining from sins is better than remedying their consequences’
‘The rain that does not wet you, is of no concern to you’
‘Wealth perishes but friendship lasts’
‘Whoever shows his teeth reveals what is in the heart’