UAE: Henna to be nominated to Unesco cultural heritage list

Henna is 'a manifestation of celebration, a tool for expressing joy and special moments', says undersecretary of Ministry of Culture and Youth


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 12:54 PM

Last updated: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 1:18 PM

With henna set to be nominated to Unesco's list of intangible cultural heritage next year, culture and tourism authorities in Abu Dhabi gathered Arab countries to help prepare for the submission.

The Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) — in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Arab Organisation for Education, Culture and Science (ALECSO) — recently hosted representatives from 16 Arab countries to discuss the inclusion of henna in the Unesco list.

Held from September 5 to 8 in Abu Dhabi, the gathering is the latest of several meetings held in preparation for submitting the henna nomination file on March 31, 2023. It demonstrates the UAE’s leading role in driving nomination files for many elements of intangible cultural heritage.

“The UAE attaches great importance to highlighting the practices of our Emirati identity and showcasing them to the world," said Mubarak Al Nakhi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Youth.

"It is our responsibility to protect and perpetuate our cultural authenticity. The inclusion of this element of our heritage on Unesco's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage is an important step in highlighting the role of henna to the Arab and Gulf culture and identity, which is shared by many other cultures of the world."

The UAE's efforts began with the success of the international falconry file in 2010, and were followed by additional inclusions on the Unesco List including Al-Taghrooda, Al-Ayyala, Al-Razfa, Majlis, Gahwa, palm tree, camel racing, and Arabic calligraphy.

“The uses of henna in our societies has varied between the fields of medicine and decoration," Al Nakhi said. "It is a special symbol for social occasions, a manifestation of celebration and a special tool for expressing joy and special moments.”

Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, undersecretary at DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “We are proud of our heritage and cultural practices. We value this close cooperation with the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth to lead a coalition of Arab countries in advocating for henna – a treasured element of our shared intangible heritage – to be included on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This is part of DCT Abu Dhabi’s ongoing efforts to preserve our cultural heritage and ensure that the legacy of our ancestors is passed on to future generations. The cultural and historical ties between Arab countries run deep, and it is by working together with our neighbours that our efforts to preserve and record our customs and traditions are strengthened and amplified.”

The UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage filings is a crucial element of DCT Abu Dhabi’s efforts to ensure the safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage. The department works continuously to facilitate this by strengthening cooperation with UNESCO, ALECSO, and other authorities and partners concerned with heritage locally, regionally and around the world.


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