• 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. 

A camel gets a lift into a truck, ready to travel to a camel beauty show!

A beauty contest winning camel may easily sell for AED 3,000,000! To get her look her best, she is kept on a diet of honey, milk and olive oil, as well as top quality grass. Some Emirati Bedouin spend as much as AED 12,000 daily just on food for a camel.

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THE LARGEST BEDOUIN GATHERING ON THE PLANET AT AL DHAFRA FESTIVAL 2017

Al Dhafra Festival
Al Dhafra Festival

For days now, camel caravans have been traveling from as far as Riyadh, Dhofar and Al Jahra to make it to the 11th Al Dhafra Festival about to start on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi emirate’s Madinat Zayed. This is the largest Bedouin gathering on the planet! On the edge of the mighty Empty Quarters, camel caravans are setting up tents and camel pens for one of the most impressive annual celebration of desert living. This year, Al Dhafra Festival is taking place from 14th till 28th December, and it’s been planned to be a memorable one!

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Al Dhafra Festival
Al Dhafra Festival, 2008

The most expensive camel ever sold in the UAE was AED 10,000,000! It was bought in 2008, at Al Dhafra camel beauty festival in Abu Dhabi emirate, by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. During the event, the Crown Prince bought camels worth AED 16.5 million ($4.49 million), including a female camel for AED 10 million ($2.72 million). At Al Dhafra Festival 2017, this 14th – 28th December, some 1,500 camel owners and 20,000 camels are expected to participate.

 

 

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100 dirham note, 1973

The name Dirham derives from the Greek word Drachmae, literally meaning “handful”, from Latin. Due to centuries of old trade and usage of the currency, dirham survived through the Ottoman Empire. The UAE dirham was introduced on 19th May 1973. It replaced the Qatar and Dubai riyal, which had circulated since 1966 in all of the emirates except Abu Dhabi, where the dirham replaced the Bahraini dinar. Before 1966, the seven emirates that were to form the UAE used the Gulf rupee. As in Qatar, the Emirates briefly adopted the Saudi riyal during the transition from the Gulf rupee to the Qatar and Dubai riyal.

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Abu Dhabi airport, 1968!
In those early, pre-tarmac days, the sand was hardened with water, to make it possible for airplanes to take off and land!  The airport was initially built in Al Bateen area, in 1960, then moved 30 km outside the city, where it is today, and inaugurated in 1982.

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The oldest pearl in the world belongs to the UAE! It originated between 5547 and 5235 BC, it is fully intact and it has two millimeters in diameter.
It was discovered by French archeologists in Umm Al Quwain, in a grave site, five years ago. Their findings revealed that pearls were often placed on the deceased’s face, usually above the upper lip!world's oldest pearl

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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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HAPPY 46, UAE! THE EMIRATES OF YESTERYEARS


Sheikh Zayed, UAE

 

Long before the recorded history of the young nation we know today as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bedouin tribes would preserve their past, their beliefs and their wisdom in poetic verses. They were passed down, unaltered, from generation to generation. Even today, poetry is at the heart of Arab being, delivered in the dowry chest of each Emirati, poetry of love, passions, belonging, struggle that mould the spirit of each man and woman born of this land.

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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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UAE’S SAND PEOPLE. AN OFFROADING STORY

Offroading in Liwa, UAE
Liwa, the ultimate offroading destination

“A UAE off-roader was killed in a UAE desert with a piece of off-road equipment. Who was it? Where was it? And how did they do it? To find out, join the Cluedo trip….”

Of course, no one died, but Jenny Drayton, a marshal with UAE Offroaders club, runs this Sherlock Holmes-style desert driving to have a bit of extra fun and to teach a few sand bashing tips to new off-roaders, such as how to lift a car to fix a flat tyre in the sand without having a jack plate. Participants who managed to work out these tricky tasks were rewarded with clues to solve the murder.

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