• 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. 

SAVING THE WILD FALCON AND, WITH IT, A CENTURIES OLD TRADITION

For the Bedu, falconry was once a means of survival, of feeding the family, but it also taught patience and understanding of the desert. It has become a passion passed on from generation to generation for centuries.

Arabian falconry

At 92 years old, Anamar Agar is one of the world’s most elderly falconers. In his heavy woolly hat and traditional attire from his native Turkmenistan, Agar was a popular figure at the last International Falconry Festival that took place in Al Ain, in 2014. Falconers from all over the world are expecting to see him again this December, at the once-in-four-years festival in Abu Dhabi emirate.

The festival, which started as a falconry conference in 1976, was revived in 2011, bringing together falconers from all over the world, not only to discuss biodiversity and sustainable hunting, but also to celebrate one of Arabia’s – and the world’s – oldest heritage: falconry.

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LOUVRE ABU DHABI HAS SET THE DATE!

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Following a decade of planning – 10 years, 8 months and 250 days to be exact – Louvre Abu Dhabi has finally released its opening date: 11th November, 2017. On this day, the museum will reveal over 600 works of art that belong to its permanent collection, as well as loans from 13 major French cultural institutions, including the Louvre Museum, the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

The opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi marks the latest international cultural franchising deal, where big name museums and galleries lend their brand to overseas institutions. In the case of Louvre, its Abu Dhabi “branch” was the first such deal worldwide. When it was first announced, in 2007, it sparked protests and criticism in France that it sells out French culture (similar to the Guggenheim franchises being labelled ‘McGuggenheims’).

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ARAB INVENTIONS OF SLIGHTLY PECULIAR KIND

Aran inventions, Abbas ibn Firnas

The crankshaft, the pinhole camera, the toothbrush, the coffee are all Arab inventions from the dawns of Islamic civilisation to the final years of the Middle Ages. Yes, it is common knowledge that Muslims invented the “zero” and the algebra, but not many know that the first crystal glass came from the hands of an Arab.

A trip off history’s beaten path reveals some of the coolest, lesser-known Arab inventions. One revolves around the extraordinary story of Abbas ibn Firnas.

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ARABIC COFFEE, A DIFFERENT BREW ALTOGETHER

Discovered by goats, the subject of Turkish death penalty and used to solve Bedouin disputes, Arabic coffee is surrounded by myths and symbolism throughout its history

Arabic coffee merchants

 

The Arabs invented not only the three-course meal, but also the beverage to follow it: coffee. Ali ibn Nafi, aka Ziryab (Blackbird), was a singer, oud player, composer, poet and teacher, who lived and worked in Iraq and, later on, in Andalusia of the medieval Islamic period, in the 9th century. Here, he introduced the three-course meal served on leathern tablecloths, insisting that meals should be served in three separate courses consisting of soup, followed by a main dish of meat or fish, then fruit and nuts.

The first cup of coffee was served a few centuries later and it was poured in Yemen, although legend has it the coffee bean was actually discovered by a goat in the neighbouring continent. As the story goes, in the ninth century Ethiopia, a shepherd named Kaldi noticed that his goats became energized after eating leafs and berries from the coffee bean plants. He took the berries to the village imam, but the holy man disapproved of them, saying they are the work of the devil, and threw the berries into the fire. A nice aroma soon spread around and it is said that this was the first ever coffee beans roast.

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FROM ARIZONA TO UM ZOMOOL: THE RETURN JOURNEY OF ONCE EXTINCT ARABIAN ORYX

Extinct in the wild, the Arabian Oryx has made the biggest come back in the animal kingdom worldwide thanks to Operation Oryx!

Arabian Oryx in Um Zumool Sancturary
Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Um Zumool, near the United Arab Emirates’ border with Saudi Arabia
Photo by Karim Sahib

The safari-modified Land Cruiser stopped about 300 meters from the herd.

“You can get down and take some pictures, if you like, but don’t go any closer. They might attack you. Out of all four species of Oryx, the Arabian Oryx is the most aggressive one,” said Janine, our wildlife guide.

For several years she has been taking tourists and visitors on tours of Sir Bani Yas island’s wildlife park. Involved in its conservation for over four decades, the island is now home to nearly 750 Arabian Oryx.

“You can see them when taking a 4×4 safari tour or when exploring the park on horseback. The horse riding wildlife tour is very popular, but it’s only for the experienced riders. The horses in our stables are not arena trained, so you cannot tell them walk and they would walk; you have to take charge. And, if a situation arises when the Oryx would attack, the riders have to be able to gallop,” added Janine.

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DON’T HAVE A WEDDING VENUE? BUILD A HOTEL!

History stories from Hilton Al Ain, the oldest hotel in the UAE

Hilton Al Ain
Hilton Al Ain in 1971

 

Back in the days when waves of sand dunes rolled beyond the horizon in Al Ain oasis, a Japanese restaurant in the Bedouin city would have seemed amusing at best. An outdoor swimming pool wasn’t.

The oldest hotel in United Arab Emirates still standing, built before the country was actually established, Hilton Al Ain has inevitably become part of the Emirati heritage, not just for its historic value, but for the extraordinary stories that surrounds it. There is hardly anyone who knows those stories better than Adham El Sebaey, who, at some point, was a general manager of the hotel.

“The construction of the hotel began in 1968 and it finished in March 1971, when it was inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, now the President of the UAE. Nine months later, in December 1971, the UAE was formed and officially declared a sovereign federal state,” he said.

“Originally, Hilton Al Ain it was build to host the wedding of HH Sheikh Khalifa, as there was no other suitable venue, and ever since it has became a favourite with the local community. For decades, there was one Emirati person who came to the hotel every day since it opened. He would sit at the same table in the lobby cafe, have a coffee and read the paper.”

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AN ARABIAN JOURNEY: THE EIGHT OASES CITY OF AL AIN

AWAY FROM FLASHY SHOPPING MALLS, FIVE-STAR HOTELS AND GOURMET ESTABLISHMENTS, AL AIN IS BEST DESCRIBED BY AN OLD KHALIL GIBRAN QUOTE: “THE ROOT IS A FLOWER THAT DOESN’T LIKE FAME”

Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain

Summer temperatures often reach 50˚C across the Arab Peninsula, but it wasn’t the heat that folk from Abu Dhabi island used to run away from for nearly half a year. It was the humidity, which from May till October, along the coast, would be the envy of the mightiest steam saunas in the world.

In the old days, the ones before the discovery of oil in the 1950s that paved the way for urban development, Emirati families used to embark on often dangerous journeys across the desert from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain oases. Back then, it took one week to cross the 140 km desert on foot and camel back.

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THE ORCHARDS OF LIWA OASIS

In Liwa, the fresh dates season began in July!

Palm tree orchard in Liwa oasis in the dates season
Palm tree orchard in Liwa oasis

Hamad Al Mansouri may have been uprooted from his native village in the Liwa oasis and making a living in UAE’s capital city now, but every opportunity he gets, Hamad returns to his ancestral home.

His new majlis, the traditional Arab guest receiving room, with big glass walls, overlooks his palm orchard. Stretching to the horizon, there are lines of tall palms, heavy at this time of year with bunches of ripening dates.

“From July the ratab season starts, you know, the fresh, half ripened dates, and we already started harvesting some of the dates,” said Hamad.

“We have about 2,000 palm trees of different dates varieties – Bou Maan, Dabbas, Khallas. Some of them we sell to dates companies, some we use for feeding camels and goats and the best we keep for us.”

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Abu Dhabi’s Al Ayallah group in a rarely seen traditional Emirati performance during the Liwa Dates Festival, taking place at the heart of 100 km-long Liwa oasis (UAE) until July 29th.

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RATAB HARVEST BEGINS WITH LIWA DATES FESTIVAL

An 11-day fiesta of fresh, half-ripen dates (ratab) is about to unfold at the Liwa Dates Festival, in the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Taking place from the 19th till 29th July 2017, the festival marks the beginning of the ratab harvesting season in United Arab Emirates. It is also a unique opportunity to taste and buy top quality Emirati fresh dates. You’ll never find a better ratab anywhere else in the country!

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