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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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 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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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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PEEPING THROUGH EMIRATI HERITAGE: AL AIN PALACE MUSEUM

Al Ain Palace Museum
Al Ain Palace Museum

Like the man himself, Sheikh Zayed’s palace in Al Ain, known by most as Al Ain Palace Museum, is an oasis of calm and simplicity. Its red mud brick arches and walls, reflecting the colour of nearby quartz and iron rich sand dunes, amid lush green palm and mango trees, bring back memories of Andalusia’s beautiful gardens and old palaces. Peeping through tiny windows or small carved wooden doors, Spartan rooms fitted with modest furniture reveal life as it used to be all these years ago.

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FROM BEDOUIN HOMES TO ROYAL MUD CASTLES: THE STORY OF QASR AL MUWAIJI

Qasr Al Muwaij, Al Ain
Qasr Al Muwaij

“A root is a flower that doesn’t like fame,” said once Khalil Gibran, a saying that seems particularly true of Al Ain. The second largest city of Abu Dhabi emirate is one of United Arab Emirates’ most precious heritage gems. Lesser known to foreign and home tourists, the oasis city is home to 7,000 years old archaeological discoveries and 19th century forts that bear witness of the history of the families inhabiting the area for centuries.

The first houses built in Abu Dhabi emirate in the pre-oil era were called Al Arish, the traditional summer dwellings. They were more of a shelter made of palm tree leaves. Al Arish had two parts: the main area, usually 2×4 metres, used for sitting and sleeping; and a smaller space, about 2×2 metres, used for cooking, storage and rising of animals. The Bedouins considered Al Arish their second home after the tent.

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FROM SUMMER HOME TO ARMY BARRACKS AND AN ICONIC BUILDING OF A CITY: THE STORY OF AL JAHILI FORT

Strategically located, Al Jahili is the largest of Al Ain forts and one of the oldest historical monuments of UAE, each of its landlords and occupants adding something to the building, hence its unique architecture.

Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain

Although not as big in shopping malls, five star hotels and gourmet cafes as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Al Ain has the charm of an old Arabian city, traditional in lifestyle and rich in heritage. Palm tree orchards spreading as far as the eye can see, boulevards lined with ever-green trees, a flower garden that won international awards, over 70 parks and grassy plains surrounding hot springs are all good reasons for Al Ain’s nickname: the Green City.

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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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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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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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