My Dubai Expo: The craftswoman bringing Emirati tradition to the world

Umm Muhammad travels from Ras Al Khaimah to the world's fair every day to celebrate the deep roots of the Emirates

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The future feels almost tangible at Expo 2020 Dubai. The world's fair hums with new technology, from the rotating 'Energy Trees' outside the Sustainability pavilion, to the Hyperloop cargo pod at the DP World pavilion and the roaming robots greeting guests.

However, the organisers were also keen to reflect the history of the UAE – to look back on its heritage as the nation celebrates its Golden Jubilee.

Umm Muhammad is a figurehead for that ambition, an Emirati woman helping to preserve the culture of her country with her handicrafts.

I hope our current and future generations [appreciate] the customs, traditions and heritage of our ancestors
Umm Muhammad

Every morning, after her early fajr prayer, Umm Muhammad travels 100 kilometres from Ras Al Khaimah to Expo 2020 Dubai, to be an ambassador of Emirati heritage.

She sits on Mangrove Avenue, near the Sustainability pavilion and weaves wicker objects, alongside the other Emirati mothers who are preserving the UAE's heritage.

These women specialise in traditional handicrafts such as talli (braiding), henna (intricate hand painting) and safeefah (weaving palm fronds to create baskets).

When visitors stop to talk to them, they explain the Arab customs and traditions, hoping to bequeath these to future generations around the world.

Armed with palms leaves, wicker and the dyes she uses to colour her creations, Umm Muhammad weaves the same artefacts that have been made in the UAE for generations.

“My mother helped me master traditional handicraft by training me well to prepare wicker and palm leaves for making various traditional Emirati items like baskets, different kinds of bags for both adults and children, mashab [decorate mats] and items that the ancestors used in their daily lives," said Umm Muhammad, who has been doing this kind of craftwork since she was 10.

The Design and Crafts programme is designed to introduce visitors to local culture and is run by the Emirati Design Platform Menasa, which seeks to empower local women and encourage them to demonstrate their skills.

Umm Muhammad said she was eager to take part in the world's fair to show Emirati culture to the world.

"Participating at Expo 2020 Dubai is a great honour and a matter of great pride to me. I hope our current and future generations [appreciate] the customs, traditions and heritage of our ancestors," she said.

Updated: November 23rd 2021, 11:48 AM