Abu Dhabi festival takes you back to pre-oil UAE life
Emirati men demonstrate traditional skills at Qasr Al Hosn festival in Abu Dhabi. - Photo by Ryan LimSilvia. Photo By Ryan Lim
Abu Dhabi - Qasr Al Hosn festival: Celebration of culture and heritage in full swing at five zones.
The scene is from Qasr Al Hosn festival. A young woman in a bright coloured dress is seen waiting to get her hands covered in henna tattoos by her friends and relatives.
A tradition, which the Emirati girls still follow before their weddings, was getting a portrayal there at the bridal tent on the sidelines of the Qasr Al Hosn Festival.
"The bridal tent is in the Abu Dhabi Island zone, one of the most popular areas of the festival. It re-enacts the coastal living in the emirate as it was in the 1950s," said Rawda Omar bin Haider, programme manager at the cultural sector of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA).
Taking place from February 3-13, on the grounds adjacent to Qasr Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi's oldest and most iconic building, the annual festival is organised by the TCA to celebrate Emirati culture, traditions, heritage and history.
The festival brings back life as it used to be before the discovery of oil at five different zones - Abu Dhabi Island, Desert, Oasis, Marine and Qasr Al Hosn, spanning across 47,000 square metres space. Altogether, 630 cast and demonstration experts are working in these zones.
One exception is the police officers, in the Old Police House flying the red and white flag, which used to be Abu Dhabi emirate's flag before the union was formed. They are dressed up in the old police uniforms, but are real police officers.
Cafes on site
This year, the festival has 11 cafes on site, all serving Emirati dishes and beverages.
The traditional souqs and the Emirati cooking classes at the festival has made the Abu Dhabi Island zone very popular with live cooking at the Desert and Oasis zones.
While Emirati ladies prepare traditional sweets, men are in charge of brewing fresh ghahwa, the aromatic Arabic coffee, all available for tasting. "Here we are preparing siqa, a type of fresh sweet cheese, similar to ricotta," said Mariam Al Amri, a festival demonstrator.
"We fill this goat skin bag with milk, which is shaken until churned. Some women used to know when the butter is ready just by feeling the bag, others would have to open it and taste the butter, she said. The siqa was then prepared from this butter and served with dates paste. As in the previous years, a traditional dhow - wooden boat - is built by fisherman in the Marine zone.
"They are working daily throughout the festival to make sure the boat is finished by the last day of the festival," said Rawda Omar bin Haider, programme manager at the cultural sector of TCA.
"Also in the Marine zone we have an oyster opening activity for visitors. It is free of charge, but if someone finds a pearl inside, they can pay Dh40 and keep it," she added.
Some even have demonstrations on how food is being prepared. The Fisherman Grill is one of them.
Saleh Abdullah Al Tunaiji, a fisherman and owner of Hamir Al Chabah Emirati cafe in Abu Dhabi, along with his team have made five holes in the ground, where they placed five metal drums to prepare the fish grill.
"In the very old days, people used clay pots, but since the 70s they changed to metal drums. Of course, nowadays it's done in the oven," said Saleh.
After the demonstration, Saleh sells the grilled fish to his visitors for Dh40 for one portion, which comes with rice and salad.
Altogether, the festival this year has 55 learning experiences. There are hree cultural performances in the Cultural Foundation's open air amphitheatre, seven exhibitions, including video recollections about the Cultural Foundation, another of Abu Dhabi 's iconic buildings, three shows at the open air Festival Stage, which includes a birds show from Al Ain Zoo and a Night Safari, as well as a special light and sound show in the courtyard ofh Qasr Al Hosn, which also tells the story of the fort.
Emirati man demonstrate traditional rope making during the fourth Annual Qasr Al Hosn Festival runs February 3-13 in Abu Dhabi. Photo By Ryan Lim