When tribe and technology meet, history holds sway
The traditional habits and heritage of the UAE are important in determining the nation's sense of history and identity. Understanding one's past, and protecting and preserving this heritage, is critical for future generations.
Time, technology and the rapid pace of change may be making this harder than ever. But tribe and family ties are pushing back.
The traditional habits and folklore of the Emirates have been shaped by the environment and surroundings that people live in. The deserts and the coastal areas have provided the nation with a setting to stage its songs and dances, games and crafts.
This physical connection to the land, manifested in the nation's art, is supported by a strong family and tribal network. Tribes are a key social unit, one that is translated into artistic expression. For instance, the songs and dances of the UAE's past are designed so that members of the tribe could participate.
Modern times have changed the basic structure of family and tribe, but people in the UAE still value their tribes as social units and express respect, dressing accordingly and observing the rites and decorum of their ancestors' ways of life in the desert.
Camel races and falconry are still popular, for example. And songs are still sung at social gatherings to show solidarity with the traditions of past Emirati communities.
But not all of our past is being passed on. Traditional games, long used to teach children solidarity and cooperation with others, are disappearing. Once seen as critical to provide young people with lessons about how to work in groups, unity and cooperation, traditional games now compete with video and computer games, cartoons and other modern toys for attention.
Traditional handicrafts also are facing extinction, as their market and the need for their wares has decreased. Concern is apparent as these skilled workers in handicrafts become older, and the knowledge they possess slowly disappears.
The knowledge and skills of the craftsmen were integral to the development of the UAE, and they are a valuable aspect of the nation's heritage. The Government and people should understand the role of games and handicrafts in their society, and seek ways to further encourage their continued presence and influence.
There is hope that cultural losses like these can be slowed. The people of the UAE put a great importance on their traditions. For instance, even with the dawn of modernism and the presence of foreign influences, Emiratis still choose to dress in robes of black and white.
The Government too has worked to preserve traditional ways of life. It has taken the initiative in preserving various heritage sites and promoting the culture and traditions of the UAE in various activities and festivals. The Liwa Date Festival, currently underway, is attracting many visitors to a historic and vital piece of this nation's past and present.
Games from our past may not be as popular as they once were, songs may seem outdated and traditional handicraft skills might be less understood and valued by the younger generation.
But all is not lost. Traditional habits reflect the social norms that have become prevalent in the way of life of the tribes. Since the times when tribes survived in groups in the deserts and coastal areas, they have come to identify with society and community and place importance on the social unit rather than narrowly focusing on one's family alone.
These bonds are strong, and not easily broken or forgotten.
There is a sense of solidarity and concern that extends to everyone who is part of the tribe and the community.
Technology and modernity are powerful forces. But when it comes to UAE heritage, our past is something that even outside and modern influences cannot so easily dilute.
Salem Humaid is an Emirati writer
Published: July 17, 2011 04:00 AM