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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival wows crowds with the old – and the new

Attractions include games, a laser show on a fountain and an international circus

While women shake yoghurt in goat skin to make butter, a fountain dances and neon lasers shoot bright patterns across the water — this is where the modern UAE meets the traditional at the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival.

The annual festival, which showcases UAE heritage and its oldest professions, opened last week and is taking place in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi, until January 26,

This year the festival has expanded to also include international and modern touches, aiming to demonstrate the country’s tolerance of all cultures and its status in the modern world.

Mouza Al Mansouri wraps coloured threads around a small spindle-rod. With a swift movement, she taps the rod against her thigh and then rotates it. The process is repeated until all the threads have been intertwined. She then places them on metal bars in the shape of a square to create a traditional material known as sadow.

Local Emiratis showing how to design a fabric at Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism pavilion at the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. Leslie Pableo for The National
Local Emiratis showing how to design a fabric at Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism pavilion at the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. Leslie Pableo for The National

“They used this to decorate the inside of tents or to create partitions between men and women before they had bricks to build walls,” says the 46-year-old.

“I learnt this from my mother, and now I am teaching my daughters.”

Sadow can be used to make bags, cushions and decorative pieces to hang inside the house.

“In the past, they didn’t have paintings to hang on the walls."

Ms Al Mansouri holds one of the decorative pieces and points to how the coloured threads have been mixed to show perfectly shaped triangular patterns.

“My mother made this, machines can’t do this detail," she says.

“My mother wasn’t educated, she inherited this talent and I am not educated either; educated girls can’t do this.”

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While the profession no longer brings an income, and Mrs Al Mansouri mainly exhibits at heritage festivals, she said they continue to produce sadow at home on a daily basis.

“If we stop we will forget how to do it, and we don’t want to find ourselves one day without sadow if it disappears from the market. This is our heritage and we want it to live,” she says.

Next to her sat another local woman shaking a container made of goat leather.

“After they take the milk from the goat, they keep it in a bowl for one day until it turns into yoghurt. Then they place it inside this, add salt and shake it for an hour,” says Hamda Al Ketbi, local professions supervisor at the festival.

Once the shaking is done, they open a tip shaped like an animal’s mouth to release butter and yoghurt in separate forms.

“They separated during the shaking process,” she says.

A very modern fountain and light show at the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. Leslie Pableo for The National
A very modern fountain and light show at the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. Leslie Pableo for The National

A short walk from the heritage corner, the modern attractions include a theme park and a circus stage with a pool of water for aquatic spectacles.

“It will be an international show featuring artists from all around the world,” says Cezar Balasoiu, the owner of the circus, which has been brought for the first time to the heritage festival.

The 40-minuite show includes 14 performers and nine acts, and will run every day at 8.15pm throughout the festival period.

“The clown is from Mexico, the jugglers from Romania, aerial artists from Russia, the light and fire shows will be led by artists from Ukraine,” says Mr Balasoiu.

Away from the circus, a young girl learns to create colourful bath bomb.

Her mother, Mariam Al Rumaithi, is hosting a soap lab where children can mix bath bombs, colour them and place “toy surprises” inside.

Young Emiratis show their culture through dance. Leslie Pableo for The National
Young Emiratis show their culture through dance. Leslie Pableo for The National

In her soap boutique, there are natural glycerine soaps in different shapes and scents,

“I am specialised in brand scents — this is Escada and this is Boss,” she says, holding flower- and heart-shaped soap bars.

“I have a small workshop at home and I get the scents from Italy.”

The 42-year-old decided to start her soap-making business, The Soap Boutique, after her husband developed an allergy from regular soap. He could only tolerate purely natural soap made of glycerine.

“I used to teach IT and business at the Higher Colleges of Technology. I taught students how to star their own business. As my family started to grow, I resigned and decided to start a business from my hobby,” she explained.