Last year was dedicated to the UAE's National Heritage, encouraging much soul-searching on the part of younger Emiratis as to how much was known of their country's past. This also prompted many questions about the country's future.
The National Centre for Documentation and Research (NCDR), Abu Dhabi's national archive, is hosting a three-day event that ends today entitled "Memoirs of the Emirates" in an attempt to improve these understandings. This move is a tacit, and welcome, acknowledgment of the vital need to preserve the country's history and to provide the public with access to it.
"Awareness of history in general and oral narratives in particular were one of the most distinctive traits of the late Sheikh Zayed," said the minister of justice Dr Hadef bin Jua'an al Dhaheri, adding that the UAE's founder strongly believed that "a nation which has no past has neither a present nor future".
A shared narrative is critical in forging a cohesive national identity, but it must be brought to life for those Emiratis coming of age today. The task is all the more urgent as the number of Emiratis from the country's founding generation grow fewer each year. The country cannot afford to allow them to take the nation's sacred history with them.
The lessons of the UAE's tribal past also have a direct bearing upon present relationships and political trajectories. Enlivening a nation's history needn't be a divisive effort. Rather, delicate pasts can still be woven into a cohesive national identity in a way that all Emiratis can learn from and appreciate.
Attempts to establish an oral history archive have already been undertaken by research institutions in the UAE. And as with all histories, the quieter voices can sometimes get drowned out. For those Emiratis whose ancestral memoirs have not been fully recorded in official archives, a golden opportunity now exists for them to share their past.
There remains work to be done. The archives are still not fully accessible but work on a fully digitised library is under way. There remain few comprehensive works on UAE history, with many providing incomplete or conflicting accounts. The NCDR's move towards openness should bring Sheikh Zayed's dream of a society with strong historical roots one step closer to becoming a reality.