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Maritime dictionary preserves heritage

Enthusiast compiles an encyclopaedia and lexicon of the region's rich marine tradition.

DUBAI // These days, if an old fisherman starts talking to a young Arabic speaker about a tabaa, they will probably know he is using an antiquated word for dhow. But if he hastens to add that he wants to sail it maali, he is likely to draw a blank. That is because in modern usage maali roughly means upper or higher, but a generation ago Emirati sailors also commonly used the word to describe countries north of the UAE such as Kuwait and Bahrain.

It is small pieces of the Gulf's rich nautical history such as this that Juma al Humairi, a professional diver and underwater photographer, is determined to preserve for future generations. For the past six years, Mr al Humairi has been compiling an encyclopaedia and lexicon of the region's rich marine tradition. The 270-page encyclopaedia, containing 1,055 terms, old and current, relating to marine life, and 250 photographs depicting the traditional ways of divers and underwater life, was launched yesterday in a ceremony at Heritage Village on the Dubai Creek.

"I was surprised that the new generation don't even know the simplest terms from the past," Mr al Humairi said. He said there were thousands of words referring to every aspect of marine life; from the word to describe a moving ship, to the terms used for catching fish. "Ninety-five per cent of the terms are commonly used within the GCC countries but there is about five per cent which are only used in the UAE."

His book will be distributed to all government schools and included in their core curricula, through Arabic, science or social studies. "The first stage is to introduce it into all government schools, and the second stage will see it being introduced into all private schools which have the Arabic curriculum," said Taha al Hamri, the director of services for the Dubai School Agency. "Our forefathers depended on the sea for a living, and so it is vital for the youth to understand their heritage and culture.

"Modernisation has caused a loss of identity as a result of the changes in the way of life, so it is important for people to understand the essence of marine life to our culture. It is a duty to contain this knowledge and it pass it down through the generations." The school agency is part of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority. nsamaha@thenational.ae

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