x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Past, present and future are bound by a common thread

Heritage is like a fortress - it protects the identity of people who are beset by change.

Nations are measured by their heritage. A nation without heritage is a nation without a land to live on, or a shore to reach before getting lost in the ocean

Sheikh Zayed

 

The founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had a clear vision regarding heritage as a necessity in the lives of the people. He stressed the importance and the vitality of the past as a springboard for the morals and values of the present, which constitute a base for a promising and prosperous future.

In part, heritage can be considered as a fortress, protecting the identity of people who are beset by change on every side. It is also one of the most important moral agents in terms of cultural continuity.

Today, the UAE is in the grip of enormous changes. Technologies, such as the internet, satellite channels and other communications media, have played a huge role in shaping the nation. The question has been raised among Emirati youth: why embrace the deep roots of past heritage when the UAE is rushing into the future so fast?

In spite of the acknowledged importance of heritage, the Ministry of Culture and other institutions, both public and private, have not protected it satisfactorily. Individual efforts have been limited and lacked strategic cohesion. As a result, incoming cultural influences have had more effect than they should.

The UAE has embraced huge economic and social openness in the last four decades. The influx of more than four million people seeking employment opportunities has created a cosmopolitan country where the local culture is preserved only in pockets. And the assimilation of the local culture into the larger entity of incoming residents raises significant questions about how long the special character of the local society can stand in the way of overwhelming change.

How can this country adhere to its ancestral culture when the UAE is in a race to make its mark on the new world map? How can we foster the importance of heritage in the minds of the younger generations?

The best approach is to educate the younger generations about the richness of the past and the history of the nation. This will require well-planned intellectual and social guidelines to foster an awareness of past heritage and a strong connection to the spirit of the Arab nation. This will also open a window for young people to feel the myriad of experiences of their ancestors and formulate their own characters to face the challenges of the present.

We must strengthen the ties of each individual with his or her homeland, enrich the spirit of unity and appreciate the culture of the ancestors. Knowledge of the past and its continuation in all its richness will create a new experience for this generation and a bridge to the broader Arab cultures.

Consumerism has been one of the hallmarks of Emirati society in recent decades. This trend has greatly affected the social, cultural and economic structure of this society.

The massive lifestyle changes have compelled many to give up social, moral and behavioural codes. New standards of behaviour have been influenced both by external influences and the relatively recent oil-driven wealth.

Even intellectual trends have reflected these new facets of life and, unintentionally, strayed from the bedrock of heritage. In truth, the past provides the structure for the society, is the wellspring of creativity and advances progress and prosperity.

Studying the heritage of the UAE is a tribute to earlier generations of Emiratis who laid down the building blocks of society and enriched it with their creative works. It should be a moral commitment for the current generation and cultural institutions to preserve and respect the legacy of their predecessors.

 

Dr Salem Humaid is an Emirati writer and researcher in cultural and anthropological studies based in Dubai