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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Emirati fisherman hopes to keep tradition alive

Abdullah Al Ali puts his heritage village to good use, passing on a lifetime of traditional boat-building skills to the next generation.
Abdullah Al Ali, 70, displays a mummified shark at his heritage village in Fujairah. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Abdullah Al Ali, 70, displays a mummified shark at his heritage village in Fujairah. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

FUJAIRAH // Keeping traditions and heritage alive is one of Abdullah Al Ali’s main goals.

The fisherman, who owns a heritage village, is one of the few remaining traditional builders of the shashah boat, which is made from palm fronds and was used in fishing and racing for centuries before the discovery of oil and unification of the country.

“In the old days, about 60 years ago, our source of living was either fishing or farming and my father and grandfather were fishermen who used to build their own boats and fishing tools themselves,” said Mr Al Ali.

The 70-year-old Emirati has been fishing since he was 7 and learnt traditional boat-building skills from his father.

“I used to see my father and help him in building a shashah and it wasn’t an easy process because it required time and skill, but I insisted on learning and I passed it on to my own sons,” he said.

To build a shashah boat, palm fronds should be soaked in salt water for about a week, so they are flexible enough to be bent into shape, while ropes made out of the date palm sheath are used to bind the fronds together. Mr Al Ali taught his children many things about their heritage in an attempt to keep them connected to their roots and to help to preserve Emirati traditions.

“It’s important to keep traditions and it’s one of my main goals. Therefore I created my own heritage village 15 years ago with the help of my sons,” he said.

Abdullah Al Ali Heritage Village is near the historic Fujairah fort and has several rooms in which are displayed many traditional fishing tools, boats and crafts.

“We worked so hard on creating this village. I can’t work like the old days and my hands fail me sometimes.

“Now my children do most of the work under my supervision,” said Mr Al Ali, who has 13 children, four of whom work at the heritage village with him.

“We weave fishing nets from pure cotton in different sizes, depending on the catch made, and fishing cages from palm fronds using traditional tools. New fishing tools have replaced the old ones but people like to own such things and display them in their homes,” he said.

School pupils and tourists visit his heritage village twice a week and he makes sure to be there so he can describe how each tool is used and how each exhibit was built.

Another string to Mr Al Ali’s bow is his knowledge of traditional Emirati techniques in preserving and mummifying unique fish using salt and hay.

“I mummified Al Deebah [the mako shark], which attacked the fishermen four months ago, by cleaning it from the inside, salting it and letting it dry for a few days,” he said.

“After that I placed hay inside it to keep its structure and it’s now displayed in my village.”

Mr Al Ali said that he always took part in traditional events to showcase his collection and crafts.

He also said that gaining the support of authorities and the community would definitely help in improving his heritage village.

Published: May 12, 2016 04:00 AM


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