x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

National Day rewind: futuristic celebrations at Masdar Institute

As the 41st National Day approaches, we look back on some of the best of The National’s coverage of festivities in recent years — ahead of Masdar's 3rd National Day event, we look back at the first.

A group of men perform Harbiya, a traditional Emirati dance at the Masdar Institute's eco-friendly campus near Abu Dhabi in. Their display was part of the institute's first annual National Day festivities in 2010. This year's event will take place on Thursday. Lee Hoagland/ The National
A group of men perform Harbiya, a traditional Emirati dance at the Masdar Institute's eco-friendly campus near Abu Dhabi in. Their display was part of the institute's first annual National Day festivities in 2010. This year's event will take place on Thursday. Lee Hoagland/ The National

As the 41st National Day approaches, we look back on some of the best of The National’s coverage of festivities in recent years — ahead of Masdar's 3rd National Day event, we look back at the first.

ABU DHABI // Amid fluttering UAE flags and the wafting smell of freshly fried foods, a handful of men danced with swords in honour of the National Day.

Children compared festive jewellery and attire, henna artists adorned hands in a tent and falcons perched on their trainers' arms.

But instead of looking up into the sky as they sang during the traditional yolla dance, the men instead stared up into the 45-metre high wind tower soaring over Masdar Institute's solar panels and laboratories.

This is how the university has celebrated National Day for the past two years, together with familiar festivities such as camel rides, traditional foods and vendors peddling celebratory paraphernalia. This year's event, the third, takes place on Thursday.

The first event was in 2010 and The National was there to get the reactions of those who attended.

Wearing a scarf with a print of the UAE flag, Laura Stupin stood in the university's courtyard admiring the contrast between the modern design of the campus and the ancient customs on display.

"It is so interesting to see traditional dancers in such a futuristic environment," said Ms Stupin, an American graduate student who is studying systems engineering.

"It is so symbolic of the UAE's tendency to move forward with technology and yet hold on to old traditions," she said.

Noura Al Dhaheri, a graduate student from Al Ain, helped plan the institute's first National Day celebration in after she was approached by the school's faculty.

"It is nice to see that everyone is so curious and asking me to explain the dance rituals, to explain why women cover their faces and why older women dress different than younger women," she said at the time as she ate khmer, a savoury pancake. "It is nice to see that the faculty and the students are taking in the culture and really showing an appreciation for it."

About one in three of the university's 170 students are Emirati, which makes it important to showcase the country's history and heritage, said Monika Counts, Masdar's director of student affairs.

"We want to make this one of the biggest annual celebrations on campus, and wanted to do it in such a way that new international students would get a good taste of how important the National Day is and what it encompasses," she said.

Ragini Kalapatapu, a graduate student from India who is studying mechanical engineering, came to the event from her villa in Khalifa City, despite having a day off from classes. She bought a hijab, drank Arabic tea, rode on a camel and planned to get a henna tattoo before the day ended.

"I've seen the Grand Mosque, Heritage Village and the Emirates Palace hotel, but I thought it was important to get this official introduction," said Ms Kalapatapu.

For Andreas Henschel, a postdoctoral computer sciences student from Germany, the event was a rare glimpse into the life of Emiratis. "It is sad to say that at Masdar, and even in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it is a very international environment and locals are a minority," he said while eating a cake iced with the country's national colours as he watched the yolla dancers swing swords in a mock battle.

"It is not often that you get a chance to spend a lot of time with them or learn what their traditions are, like this dancing - it is not something you often see."

newsdesk@thenational.ae