How can we learn about sustainability through the Emirati culture?
By Abdulrahman Alzaabi
Why are the date palms trees so important for Emiratis?
Well, to answer that, we have to look into the history of how the date palms benefited the Emirati people and helped shape their culture. Thus, I’ll share a brief historical background of the nature and how these elements helped push people to use nature to their benefit in cleaver ways.
The UAE’s area was historically ruled by different Arabian tribes that roamed the desert and controlled seawater bays that acted as natural harbors. Trade was mainly on simple natural items from pearls to taxation of other natural resource like freshwater wells that were close enough for visiting sailors to refill before carrying on their journeys. The scarcity of natural resources and harsh environment pushed people to live within their means. Being a fisherman or a pearl diver was as profitable as it gets for the average household. Or you could pull resources together and become a trader travelling the seas to trade in India and beyond.
The date palm is something of a wonder for the Arabian Peninsula and its inhabitants. Despite the harsh environment, its uniqueness lies in managing to grow and even fruit during the summer season. Therefore, needless to say, people have been using it for sustenance for centuries. Their knowledge of how it can be used in this fashion has grown too. From cultivating to farming during its peak season and competing in high yield types in modern times.
Dates for consumption
When it comes to the consumption of dates, people have found so many ingenious ways to work around preserving the date fruit for the rest of the year. Date products are various and come in many forms.
You can find fresh dates mainly in local markets, farms and some households that own a number of date palms. They are distinct because they are not as sweet in the beginning as one may think. In fact, when you first harvest them, they are usually yellow in color and somewhat bitter. However, after a bit of time, they become sweet and palatable.
Dates are mostly harvested in the summer but the exact time of the years varies depending on the type of date palm tree. There are plenty of types but the most famous one is Khalas. Mina Date Market is the best but my favorite is Foaa. The best place to visit would be Al Ain Oasis
Dried dates are the most common type. Such dates can be found at the supermarket and other specialized shops. The reason they are common is because they can be preserved and used over a long period of time without compromising flavor and nutritional value. In fact, people prefer them because the sweetness gets concentrated and thus, they become a tasty and delicious treat.
Locally, the people in this region perfected the use of the date fruit, one of the byproducts of dates is Dhibs. Or what could be translated roughly to date molasses. Dhibs is a syrup-y, thin liquid that is used in local cuisine and especially in local desserts. Moreover, we’ve recently seen modern uses dates in date jams, date ice cream and so on.
Palm date tree for construction, fishing and everyday household items purposes
The use of the date palm doesn’t stop at consuming its fruit though, people of this region have found use for the tree in construction, fishing and everyday household items.
In the olden days, the UAE people constructed houses out of the closest construction material they could find. When they couldn’t find rocks, mud, or dead corals, they constructed their houses using palm tree fronds. From the roof of the house to the outer boundaries the acted both as a wall and a layer of privacy for the household. On the hotter months, the walls might be opened slightly to allow more air to circle throughout the house.
When sturdier materials couldn’t be found, locals would string together palm fronds to form what’s called a Shishi. Simply a bundle boat that can board a couple of fishermen and can last for a couple of days. Apart from that, the palm leaves have also been netted to form fishing nets to catch fish.
People used palm leaves to form so many different household tools. They were netted to form hand-held brooms, food covers, mats, air fans, dates sachets, bedding, etc. Even kids would use the palm fronds as sticks to play different games. You get the idea, everything that you can imagine basically.
Therefore, as you see, the date palms hold so much meaning to the Emiratis. It has infiltrated their lives in so many different ways. It pushed them to be creative and work within their natural means. The date palm was definitely a more sustainable option since it is biodegradable material. However, needless to say, modern technology has evolved so far that the traditional methods are no longer viable. But we should not forget this!
Abdulrahman is a tour guide / video creator from Abu Dhabi where he shares his interesting content on Instagram and YouTube. His videos and posts usually cover Abu Dhabi-based topics and Emirati cultural aspects that are seemingly out of reach for both locals and expats living in the city. Follow him for more interesting insights into what the city has to offer @adaywithabdul