How Do You Keep Your Culture Alive?
Updated on 04 March 2019

By: Salamah Ghudayer

Keeping culture alive is a decision we make daily. To those that care, the coffee service is not about little cups and a tangy, light colored coffee. It is not in the way we fill and hand the little, round finyan. It is from unroasted bean, to the clanging of a mortal and pestle over the scent of fire, to the warmth in a guest’s face that the entire ceremony is beyond a refreshment for a visitor. The United Nations has protected the Emirati coffee service as an Intangible Cultural Asset, yet in a high-ranking office this summer the question was raised; “Do your kids know how to serve coffee correctly?” Like the coffee, it was a statement beyond the serving ability of one’s children. Have you taught them their ancestry, their manners, the rights of others and of their own dignity?

Lately, I visited the ancestral date palm orchards in Al Ain. It would be hard to find a more stunning area in the Emirates. Hidden behind a simple gate raised by a guard, certain people can drive through, others walk. The roadway is narrow and the walls dividing the different family plots are all unified now under the shower of green branches. Beautiful wooden gates lead to each randomly shaped orchard and a falaj system connects them all, watering the ancient palms. Here trees flourish and are cared for. Years ago, Sheikh Zayed decided the land was sacrosanct – they belong to the families that planted the trees, but they are not necessarily owned and cannot be bought or sold. The families don’t need these dates for eating, but for something more important.

Move to the grounds of a fort and you will find a different story. The palms are alive, but not tended to. However, date palms are not just any tree. There are male and female. The female gains shoots from where her trunk meets the earth. Once they are strong, they can be taken off of her and planted to become a tall tree in itself. Deserted orchards appear not as individual trees, but bushes of date stalks growing, angled and not thriving. Depending on the male to female ratio, some trees will not bear fruit and others too much. Nobody has been around to prune and pollinate by hand. Yet, a date orchard, eighty years ago meant shade, stability and comfort of body, mind and pocket. Someone poured life into these trees for future generations. Their ancestors are where? They are near most definitely; these old days were not that long ago. If it was a corporation no doubt they would be caring about its fair division. Instead, not just the dates and trees are being left for the earth to do as she wills, but the ‘sadaqa’ the charity, is being wasted as they fall to the ground drop by drop.

Just as the two orchards, we can see the differences in homes and families. There is a term called sown and it is quite similar to the English term. It’s the act of determination to care and nurture something for the sake of others beyond you. For some culture is the holidays, the fashion and even now the ‘fusion food.’ For others, it’s more and deeper. It’s the tilt of the nose, to the sway of the shoulders and the rise of the body when an elder walks in, giving them their deference by right in a constitution that needs not be written. It’s the ‘why’ behind what is done or what should be done by the individual for the society. There is a richness in tradition and in these ‘whys’ that some value to the point of identity; that define the Emirati.

With thanks to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

Call 04-3536666 or visit

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