They range from camels, falcons and Arabian steeds to dhow-building, traditional wedding ceremonies and the ancient finds of archaeological digs. Dozens of the priceless treasures of Emirati culture are recorded and celebrated in words, photographs, sound and video on the free "e-book" we are giving away with today's edition to mark National Day.
For the past year, in its weekly UAE Heritage feature, The National has been documenting many aspects of the nation's rich cultural heritage. Now those articles, together with bonus photographs and video and audio recordings, have been brought together in A Journey Through the Sands of Time, an interactive CD-Rom that can be read and played on any computer. On it you will meet many men and women who have dedicated their time, energy and passion to ensuring that some aspect of the old way of life is not forgotten, and that the lessons of the past are not swept away by the wave of development that has carried the nation and its people forward at such a pace.
Among them is Brig Saeed Laha, who as a boy used to rush down to the shore to hear the songs of the fishermen in the seaside village of Galileh, cradled between the Hajjar Mountains and the turquoise waters of the Gulf. The fishermen are gone but he and his friends ensure the songs, and the lessons of the way of life they recall, are not forgotten. In 2004, Brig Laha opened what is today one of the largest private museums in the UAE, the Zayed Heritage Village.
"I decided to teach our people how was our life before Sheikh Zayed took over, how we are living in this country," he says. "We were a very poor country. We used to work everywhere, Saudi Arabia and Oman, everywhere, looking for food. But when Sheikh Zayed took over the life changed." Many of the articles recall the tough, simple way of life endured for countless generations before the discovery of oil transformed the fortunes of an entire people: the life-or-death reliance on the date and the camel; the absence of schools and hospitals and all but the most primitive and traditional forms of medicine; the savage demands of fishing and pearling, industries that for centuries stood between so many and destitution.
The collection also serves as a timely reminder of how far the nation has come in so few years. In less than half a lifetime, it has gone from fledging state to regional and global powerhouse, a key player in major events on the world stage. The first oil was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962, but the UAE has not been content to sit back and rest on the natural resources that fuelled its rapid development.
Today, as the world grapples with the life-threatening challenges of global warming, Abu Dhabi is trying to reinvent itself as a centre of renewable energy research. Home to the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city and to the new headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency and, next month, host to the World Future Energy Summit, the emirate is demonstrating that the same vision and passion that inspired Sheikh Zayed to bring together the seven emirates as the UAE on December 2, 1971, can bring together the great minds and leaders of the world to solve mankind's most pressing problem.
It is a philosophy of responsibility and stewardship of nature born out of a deep connection with the land and, ultimately, the planet, echoed in the words of Brig Laha. "My father used to all the time say think about your background, think about your history, think about who you are, think about your country. All the time he said 'You are nothing without land, without ground, without your country. Your country is your house. Your government is your father and mother. Take care of them'."