• The word "Bedouin" has its origins in the Arabic "badawaiy", meaning "inhabitants of the desert". Technically, the term "Bedouin" only applies to noble camel herding tribes. Desert nomads, on the other hand, refer to themselves as "arab". In the old days, as it is still now, lineage is traditionally the ID of the tribal society. A Bedouin identifies himself by naming two generations of male ancestors and then stating his tribe, e.g. Sultan son of Salem son of Mohammed of the Bait Kathis. In fact, birth certificates throughout Arabia still include up to 12 ancestral names.
  • One cannot help smiling at the thought of camel beauty shows, yet they are hugely popular among Bedouin folk in the Arab Peninsula. The biggest such show - Al Dhafra Festival in the western region of Abu Dhabi emirate - is over a decade old, annually attracting around 2,000 camel owners from the Gulf region and about 20,000 camels. These shows have become a major economic boost for rural communities, also encouraging them to take better care of their camels. A camel that wins a prize at Al Dhafra Festival would sell for a minimum of AED 2 millions. The highest amount ever fetched by a camel in the history of the festival is AED 15 millions!
  • Within minutes of being born, baby camels try to stand up and walk, aided by their mothers. Yet, in the first year of their lives, they would never leave their mother's side. For this reason, during camel auctions and shows, throughout Arabia, a young, under one year old camel is always presented along with its mother. Even if it is sold, the camel owner usually waits until the "baby" reaches an age when it can be on its own before sending it to the new owner.
  • The UAE spreads across 83,600 square kilometers, most of its land being desert. It is part of the Arabian Desert, the world's fourth largest, which includes the Rub Al Khali - the Empty Quarter - the world's largest continuous sand mass. The 650,000 square kilometers Rub Al Khali is also one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, yet it used to be inhabited by Bedouin tribes, constantly on the move in search of water and grazing bushes for their camels. The ever changing dunes, reaching 500 meters or more in height, start from Liwa, the oasis in south-west Abu Dhabi and roll over deep into Oman and Saudi Arabia.
  • Emirati brides used to take days to prepare for the wedding. Natural creams, home-mixed oil perfumes, baths and henna applications were always part of the ritual. The bride here just finished an hour long session for her natural henna "tattooing", applied by a henna artist using small brushes in a typical Emirati style design.
  • Luqaimat, the dumplings-like desert drizzled with dates "honey", a natural syrup extracted from dates (known as dibs), is widely regarded as the official sweet of the Emirates. Luqaimat is nowadays prepared fresh at any Emirati festival or event and served along with instantly recognisable Arabic coffee.
  • To this day, Arabic coffee remains the epitome of Bedouin hospitality. Traditionally, every guest was welcomed inside an Arab house (or tent) with Arabic coffee, water and dates. Only after the guest was comfortably refreshed, the host would inquire about his business. The coffee was served in a small round cup, only half full, and a refill was offered as soon as the guest finished drinking. It was considered impolite, though, to ask for more them three rounds.
  • “I started driving in the sand when I was 12. My brother was teaching me in a saloon car, a Datsun 120Y. I remember it was around 1985 in Al Ain area, between Al Yahar and Salamat. Back then, there were no houses or roads, only desert. Sometimes, we would drive as much as 20 kilometres offroad and, of course, there was no GPS navigation, no mobile phones, no recovery equipment, but we never got lost. For sure, we got stuck and we had to get the car out the hard way, by digging the sand. Sometimes we would have to leave the car there and go get more help. We would never drive just one car in the desert, there were at least two or three" - Ahmed Balouchi, expert off-roader, UAE Offroaders club.
  • Mystique, geometrical and practical, Arabian Gulf architecture was wondrous to behold ever since the 16 century world's first skyscrapers changed the skyline of Shebam (Yemen). Those five to 11 floors residential towers, nicknamed  the Manhattan of Yemen or the Chicago of the Desert, were built like much of the houses, palaces, forts and any other building in the Peninsula, out of mudbrick. Palm tree leaves and wood was usually added to the design as binding material or simply to create shade. Buildings in the oases or desert areas had a red hues due to the colour of the desert sand used in construction, while coastal buildings took on the white sandy beach shades and finding seashells in the walls was not uncommon. It was only after the discovery of oil (the first was Bahrain, in 1932) that cement paved its way into Arabian buildings. 

THE ROYAL CARPENTERS OF ABU DHABI: A MANDOOS STORY

Emirati mandoos chests
Yahya Al Maskary with some of his mandoos

The mandoos or wooden chest inlaid with copper was essential in every Emirati house, and Al Maskary family has been making them for generations.

Wood has been the passion of Al Maskary family for generations. In the family home in Abu Dhabi, a large carpentry workshop was set up decades ago and ever since, the sound of chisel, wood saws and wood polishing has never stopped.

“This is where we make the wooden chests for our Royal Mandoos shop,” says Yahya Al Maskary, General Manager of Royal Mandoos company.

A father of grown up children, Yahya learnt the craft of mandoos making from his father, who is still the master carpenter of the family.

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THE FIRST WOMEN WARRIORS OF UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

By 1990s, only a handful of Emirati women were taking up jobs that put them in contact with men. One of them was a friend of Sheikha Fatima, Hessa Al Khaledi, UAE’s first woman civil engineer. With Sheikh Zayed’s approval, Sheikha Fatima asked Hessa to recruit the country’s first female soldiers, along with the blessings of the religious authorities.

Arab women worriors

 

Heraclius the Byzantine has gathered a huge army: there are 200,000 amassed against the Muslims led by Khalid ibn Al Walid on the banks of Al Yarmuk river on the Syrian front. The battle is terrible and, eventually, starts to go bad for the Muslims. More and more withdrew, when, out of nowhere, a tall, imposing knight, enveloped all in black, with gleaming gray eyes, gallops into the fray, sword flying. Heads roll. The Muslims stop their retreat in awe at the reckless courage of this Arab warrior, penetrating the lines of the Byzantines, rushing right into their centre.

Three horsemen charge in behind the knight. One of them has slashed the head of a Greek and holds it high. Inspired, the Muslims turn to fight again. As one body, they raise their swords and follow the black knight into the smoky battle and soon the Byzantines have fallen or run away.

When the battle ends, Khalid walks up to the knight, asking who he is. The knight’s captains close in like a shield.

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Robert Padbrugge, who visited Muscat in 1672 as a representative of the Dutch East Indies Company, mentioned in his journal the rock carvings discovered on a gravestone in Ruus Al Jibal – now known as Musandam – believed to pre-date the Wahhabi revival in the 1700s. These carvings are thought to be the first historical evidence of the Arabian dagger, also known as khanjar in UAE and Oman or jambiyah in Yemen.

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CONQUERING SNAKE CANYON, THE DUNGEAONS OF OMANI MOUNTAINS

“As the rain was slowing down and the clouds were fading away, we did drive to the mouth of the Snake Canyon and despite the questionable weather and the late hour – 2 PM – a few of us ventured in…”

Snake Canyon, Oman

It is the peak of the outdoors season in Arabia, and where or how to spend the weekend will not remain without an answer for long if you have a cool friend like Yousef.

A little while back he popped the question if we want to join him into the Snake Canyon for an adventure trip. Forget about how fit you are! Just bring waterproof shoes, quick drying sporty – or comfy – clothes and your love for nature! And so we did.

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DUGONGS, THE GENTLE GIANTS OF ARABIAN SEA

Dugong grazing, Arabian Gulf, UAE
Dugong grazing, Arabian Gulf, UAE

 

It is said that Christopher Columbus, upon seeing three manatees, expressed his disappointment for the ugliness of “those sirens”.

Indeed, dugongs and their relatives, the manatees, have been taken for mermaids since mythological times all the way from the Arabian Gulf to the cold Irish seas.

In Western and Eastern folklore, these creatures are said to have fooled lonely sailors into mistaking them for mermaids. Since ancient times the Japanese believe dugongs are the keepers of balance between sea and human beings. According to stories and legends, they warned coastal villagers of impending tsunamis, but if fishermen showed no respect for the sea and abused its creatures, dugongs placed heavy curses upon them.

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THE BATTLE OF WORDS FOR MILLION’S POET TITLE HAS BEGAN

Million's Poet, 2018
Million’s Poet, 2018

Over 1,000 people gathered at Al Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night, January 16th, and hundreds of thousands more turned on the Baynounah and Al Emarat TV channels at 10 pm to watch the first episode of Million’s Poets 2018.

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THE BUSINESS OF CAMELS

“For hours, my father can go on reciting poetry about camels, which he learnt from his father or he composed himself while sitting under the stars, in the desert”

camels

Obaid Al Mansouri points to a spot just above his right ankle as he remembers an old scorpion bite. He was a young boy when it happened and his father quickly made a small cut just above the bite and sucked out the poised blood. To this day, Obaid carries a razor blade with him anytime he goes to the desert.

“Last night could have been worse,” he says.

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THE WHITE FORT OF ABU DHABI

‘From “a square fort of but little apparent strength”, as it was once described by a British resident, Qasr Al Hosn became “an imposing castle” in the eyes of American missionary, Rev. Samuel Zwemer, who visited Abu Dhabi in 1901’

Qasr Al Hosn
Qasr Al Hosn in its early days. Ronald Codrai © TCA Abu Dhabi

A slow, coming of age smile takes over Obaid Al Mansouri’s face as he remembers the happy days of his early childhood.

“Yes, there was a time when I went with my father to see Sheikh Zayed in the old palace. I think I was about five years old,” says the Emirati, now in his 60s.

“In those days it was pretty much the only building in Abu Dhabi; the rest were palm frond huts and some mud houses. Qasr Al Hosn was also the only building to have electricity, from a generator, so I loved going there.”

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THE COOKING ADVENTURES OF CHEF KHULOOD ATIQ

Chef Kholood Atiq
Chef Kholood Atiq

Long ago, before the days of black gold, air conditioning and running water, men and even teenage boys used to spend the long and steamy summers on board of dhows diving for pearls to earn a small income. While they were gone, for up to six months a year, their families used to travel with camel caravans from their coastal homes to the deserts of Al Ain or Liwa. It was cooler there. They would take with them the now famous maleh — fish preserved in salt that would keep for up to a year.

Back then, this was just staple food, but with the increasing interest in Emirati cuisine, the humble maleh is now brought into the attention of renown, even Michelin star chefs.

“My favourite, favourite, favourite dish is Tahta Maleh and that’s because in the past we didn’t have refrigerators or any kind of cold storage spaces, so we came up with this idea of preserving the fish with salt,” says chef Khulood Atiq.

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IN THE BEDOUIN WORLD OF AL DHAFRA

Bedouin, Al Dhafra Festival
A Bedouin and his camel

 

“When the Bedouin will stop caring for camels, the world will come to an end”. This may well sound like a wise Arabian proverb, but it is just what Salem Al Mansouri said, a Bedouin himself, sitting with his camels at Al Dhafra Festival.

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