A look back to the past of Emirati women through photographer Ronald Codrai – in pictures

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Embedded in the photographs of Ronald Codrai are small tales that together create a much bigger picture of life in the Emirates as it was once lived.

Here a woman uses the spinning tool known as al sadu. The wool is white, meaning it comes from a sheep. For black, she would have used goat, for brown, camel. Here, born of necessity, are the three colours that would later be woven into the distinct colours and designs that survive to this day.

In another photograph, a girl from Liwa poses with the family saluki in 1953. Like young girls everywhere, she is proud of her new dress, a gift from her father who has just returned from Abu Dhabi. Ronald Codrai, whose day job was working for the oil exploration concession, was a talented and prolific amateur photographer who turned his lens on what is now the UAE from the late-1940s to the mid-1950s.

In one photograph, a boatload of girls crosses Dubai Creek. They are new graduates at their tawmina, following the completion of their class on the Quran, now seeking donations for their teachers, who were otherwise unpaid.

The girls pose happily in their mothers’ gold jewellery, loaned for the occasion. The mothers would never be able to wear the necklaces and headpieces in public.

Here the women of the family raise water for their goat herd, traditionally a female task. And in Dubai in 1949, a woman sells charcoal in the street, watched by a child. We do not know if this is her daughter.

Codrai took thousands of photographs in his days here. They survive as a unique record of the lives of women and girls in times that could be harsh, but also joyous.