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These are the traditional handicrafts of the UAE

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These are the traditional handicrafts of the UAE

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Learn the way of the land…

Like any other part of the world, the practice of handicrafts in the UAE is based on the raw materials and tools that were easily available in and around the region. These techniques are often called intangible heritage and tell us much about the way of life that was before ours.

Emirati history is a wonderful Pandora’s Box of cultural elements we don’t see as much anymore. The UAE has grown by leaps and bounds, but the traditional crafts and skills of the people remain just as special and have shaped the community to be what it is right now. It’s only right that we learn more about the place we call home.

Al Khous

One of the oldest human crafts, Al Khous has been a significant part of the UAE’s ancestral heritage and is a tradition that has been practiced since time immemorial. The palm tree is a local gold mine and has provided great benefit to the Emirati people, who have made use of each of its parts.

Al Khous involves the weaving of the palm fronds to create a variety of products – baskets and utensils of various sizes and utility, tablecloths, mats, hats, bags, hand fans, brooms, food containers and date basket covers. These handwoven palm leaves can even be dyed in different colours. The leaves are first dried in the sun and then sliced length-wise to be soaked in water until they soften enough to bend without breaking.

Al Sadu

 

Al Sadu is another form of weaving, but this craft results in the textile we’ve seen widely around us, in majlises and other soft furnishings. The typical colours are mostly red, black and white and that length-wise pattern with geometric shapes is easily recognisable. The fabric is essentially made of yarn, harvested from sheep wool, and spun on a drop spindle, then dyed, then woven on a floor loom using a warp-faced plain weave.

As much as a craft, this practice was also a social activity, where groups of women would get together to weave, exchange news and chat. The mordenisation of life has seen a sharp decline in the practice of Al Sadu, and the skill has been classified by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.

Al Talli

This traditional embroidery technique is practiced in various parts of the country and is especially in high demand before festivals and celebrations like Eid and weddings. The design is usually created with a combination of six cotton threads separated by a silver thread in the middle. These are skilfully woven into colourful shapes with symbolic meanings tied to life in the desert and at sea.

Like Al Sadu, Al Talli was also very much a social activity, giving women the chance to convene, interact, exchange information and teach each other the craft. These meetings also served as cultural forums to share folk tales, proverbs and other verbal forms of the country’s intangible cultural heritage.

Dallah making

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The dallah – the coffee pot of the Middle East – is a symbol of traditional identity and Gulf hospitality. Displayed proudly in homes as the centrepiece, it’s a major part of the guest and service culture here, even being stamped on the Dhs1 coin for eternity. The coffee pots can be made of brass, steel, silver and even 24k gold, for special occasions and royalty to enjoy Gahwa or Arabic coffee.

These pots used to be made by hand back in the day, before the advent of machinery and mass production. Like any handmade item, they held immense value, and still do in local homes as a reminder of the heritage and history of their ancestors.

Learning these crafts today

If you’re keen to discover more about these crafts and want to get hands on with learning how to make them, there are a number of places that offer workshops and sessions that will teach you about them. Head over to Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi, where these techniques come alive in the most traditional way. The Al Reef Handicrafts Training Centre, also in Abu Dhabi, is also a great place to get started.

@qasralhosn

Images: Socials 

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