Emirati storytellers keeping their country’s heritage alive

Rashid Al Zari, 65, regularly travels around the country, sharing his stories and giving an insight into what life in the UAE was like. Last month, the father of 14 took part in the Annual Narrator Forum in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // Tales of perilous pearl diving expeditions, long voyages out to sea and exciting camel races are some of the stories Rashid Al Zari has memorised, passed by his father and through the generations.

The Emirati is keen to preserve the tradition of oral history, of telling stories of past deeds and events to help keep the UAE’s heritage and culture alive.

“Over the years, our grandparents told our fathers these stories and they in turn passed them on to us when we were young,” said the 65-year-old. “I passed them to my children and to everyone who was willing to listen to the old tales of the people of this country.”

Mr Al Zari regularly travels around the country, sharing his stories and giving an insight into what life in the UAE was like. Last month, the father of 14 took part in the Annual Narrator Forum in Sharjah.

Traditional storytellers from more than 20 countries, including Morocco, Palestine, Jordan, India, the Philippines, Ukraine, Spain and Romania, attended the event at the Sharjah Heritage Institute.

Events such as this are important, said the retired government employee.

“Our job as a narrator is to preserve and transfer the knowledge we have and traditions which we were raised on to the young generation. As a storyteller, I visit schools to tell my stories, in gatherings and events in the hope of intriguing more Emiratis and others in our history and share the stories we tell to everyone to keep the heritage and culture alive,” he said.

At his home in Sharjah, Mr Al Zari has created a small museum where he keeps old documents, coins and radios to help with his storytelling.

In years gone by, families would live under one roof, with mothers, fathers, sons, their wives and children, all together. Everyone would sit and eat as a group and share stories. However, Mr Al Zari said that nowadays “the majority live separately and these stories are lost due to the distance between family members”.

Khalifah Saif bin Qasmawi is another Emirati who took part in the five-day event. The 75-year-old never learned to read or write.

However, through his stories he shares the knowledge and morals he learned from his ancestors to his children, extended family and friends. “We used to gather after maghrib prayers and sit in the old Khan area in Sharjah. We shared stories about camel racing and travels, we also shared our experiences with each other in fishing and the seasons as well as hunting.

“These stories are a valuable window into learning how our grandparents lived,” Mr bin Qasmawi said. However, these kind of gatherings no longer interest the younger generation.

“Young Emiratis now are disconnected. They are always using their mobile phones and occupying themselves with things that we old people might consider silly or not worthy.”

Although the forum attracted lots of different nationalities, all keen to hear the stories, Mr bin Qasmawi wants more Emiratis to join their elders to learn from their experiences, and their tales. “The young of today need to keep connected to their roots and heritage and to keep traditions alive,” he said.

tzriqat@thenational.ae