Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 May 2019

Al Drour - an ancient Gulf calendar that tells you when to plant, fish and pearl dive

Understanding the traditional Emirati calendar Al Drour, and the advice it can give us about gardening in the UAE.
It's taken for granted that our days are defined by some kind of calendar, where a day is an amount of time determined by the motion and ­appearances of celestial bodies. Depending on which calendar you follow, it can change your whole concept of time - and even your direction in life.

One ancient, near-forgotten calendar is Al Drour, one of the Arabian Gulf's oldest calendars. The legendary Arab navigator Ahmad Ibn Majid - believed to have been born in either Julfar, Ras Al Khaimah or Sohar, Oman - referred to it more than 500 years ago.

While Bedouins in the desert used different stars and calculations than the inhabitants of mountain settlements and those living along the coast, all of them, to some extent, depended on Al Drour, which charted four different seasons that were divided by the stars and their heliacal risings and settings.

Al Drour is a 365-day calendar, divided into four main sections representing seasons. There are three seasons of 100 days and one of 60 days. The remaining days are known as Al Khams Al Masrouqa, or the five stolen days.

The first 100 days of the calendar represent the autumn, known as Al Safri, followed by 100 days of winter, or Sheta, then 100 days of Rabee or spring. This is followed by 60 days of summer, Saif, and, because this is the Gulf, a second, really hot summer period known as Al Qaiz. The last five stolen days represent turbulent and unpredictable weather.

Each group of 100 days consists of 10 sets of 10, and each of these sets is called a der, the plural of which is drour. The fourth, 60-day period comprises six drour. The total number of days equals 360, with the remaining five supplementing the 365-day calendar. Each der is named after the Arabic numeral system. The first der is called der Al Aashar (10th der), the second is der Al Aashreen (20th der) and so on until the last set of 10 days, der Al Ma'ah (100th der), is reached.

Each season is associated with certain weather cycles, as well as certain harvests, migratory patterns for birds and fish, and other information that has been key to Gulf settlers through history. They could - and still can - consult Al Drour to find out the best times to plant and harvest certain crops, to fish for specific fish and plan pearl diving ­expeditions.

Al Taqweem Al Hijri (Islamic calendar) book for 2014 and 2015, written by three authors including Sakher Abdullah Saif, who features a special section dedicated to Al Drour. Here are some excerpts, should you wish to plan your planting according to this time-tested tradition.

June: The summer equinox ­begins in this month. Temperatures increase and no rain is expected. This marks the time that pearl divers would sail out to begin their pearl-hunting season.

Agriculture: All plants need lots of water, and there's nothing specific to be planted during this time.

July: There's a continuation of hot weather, with humidity at its highest. Very rarely would rain be expected during this time.

Agriculture: Dates are collected, especially from Al Ain and Liwa. You can also collect whatever else has been harvested, such as cucumber, courgette and squash. The only things recommended for planting are corn, spinach and Armenian cucumber.

August: Before the Suhail (Canopus) star appears, temperatures remain hot and humidity stays high, during the period known as Al Qaiz, or extreme hot weather. There are storms at sea. The star appears in the sky in mid-August every year and will remain visible until late winter in the Arabian Peninsula; its ­appearance signifies the end of the hot season and the beginning of a more moderate climate.

A local legend says that Suhail killed a star out of jealousy and so this star ran away to the southern hemisphere; this is why it ­remains there all on its own.

Agriculture: This is the best time to plant red and black eggplant seeds, onions, watermelon, capsicum and lettuce. By the end of August, dates will be in ­abundance.

September: Hot ­weather continues and humidity ­increases. At the end of the Virgo horoscope, strong Shamal winds hit, continuing into the first days of the Libra horoscope. Autumn equinox occurs.

Agriculture: There's a need to ­increase the watering of all plants. In this period, it's best to plant onions, black-eyed peas/beans and bananas. The earth should be ploughed.

October: The extreme hot weather begins to break, with small, irregular windstorms here and there throughout the month. There's no or very little rain expected. It's around this time that birds migrate to the Gulf.

Agriculture: The harvest of mushroom truffles starts. Pomegranate sweetens around this time. It's a good time to plant peas, carrots, wheat (spelt), lemon, corn, ginger, quince, cumin, purple lettuce and radicchio. Beware of the locusts of the palm tree.

November: The weather starts to cool, with the occurrence of Darbat Al Uhaymir (irregular winds with random directions). In the past, pearl divers would come home around this time, ending the pearl diving season.

Agriculture: Local trees such as the palm are cut, to avoid decay. There's no need to water your plants much, because it's quite humid. It's the best time to plant vegetables such as tomatoes, ­varieties from the pea family such as chickpeas and beans, and it's a good time for tree pollination.

December: Rainfall is expected to begin, from light to medium intensity, and the weather officially cools off.

Agriculture: This is the best season for figs, radish and coriander. Prune local trees, such as palms, to maintain good health.

January: Rainfall known as Al Wasmi, which started at the end of December, continues, with Shamal Gharbi (north-­westerly winds) hitting the land from time to time.

Agriculture: This is flowering season for local plants, and less planting is recommended during this time, with perhaps the cantaloupe and carrot as possibilities.

February: Rainy season continues with the same Shamal Gharbi winds at medium speed.

Agriculture: This is the time to prune grapes. A number of vegetables can be planted during this period, such as okra, mango, potato, cucumbers, spinach, ­almonds and coconut.

March: The Bard Al Ajouz, or old man's cold, strikes, starting at the end of February and ending in mid-March, and brings strong Shamal (northerly) winds in its wake. The spring equinox occurs towards the end of month.

Agriculture: Plant palm and other trees, as well as okra, eggplant, beans, mint and flowers.

April: Early gales occur, followed by a short period of dry, hot weather. This is followed by strong storms, with unexpected winds moving in unexpected directions, and then the "delayed" or "belated" gale.

Agriculture: You can plant peas, alfalfa, corn and fruit trees.

May: Thuraya disappears. This is the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. The year's biggest storms come right before the summer season, just before the cluster disappears.

Agriculture: Maintain whatever has been planted earlier, with lots of watering, but don't plant anything new. Dates ripen.

rghazal@thenational.ae

Updated: May 31, 2015 04:00 AM

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