x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Tradition fuels gun ownership in RAK

In popular culture, guns are used for crime, protection and war. But in Ras al Khaimah, locals say they play a role in tradition as wedding fireworks.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // In popular culture, guns are used for crime, protection and war.

But in Ras al Khaimah, locals say they play a much more traditional and innocuous role: wedding fireworks. Tribesmen use them to greet each other along with call-and-response yells. At night, the rifles become props in an elaborate dance, whirled into the air or, if too heavy, used as accessories. These gunfire greetings were banned in the last six years. Most young tribesmen have since retired their rifles.

But others hang onto their firearms in the hopes of using them in celebration once more. "It was like you couldn't hear anything because of the sound," a 21-year-old Emirati from the mountains said. "At one time there was 90 to 100 people shooting, but nobody got hurt. We use it when we have a wedding, for tradition only. We play with it." The man, who wished to remain anonymous, is a young, educated businessman. And, like many of his cousins, he is the proud owner of three guns: a hunting rifle, an M-16 and a Kalashnikov assault rifle that his brother gave him as a gift four years ago. He has not used a gun since a wedding six years ago.

Like most of his tribe, he has never tried to register his firearms. He will keep them in case of a "special wedding". If he tries to register the firearms, he is sure they will be taken. "Nobody uses guns now," he said. "If they use it [at a wedding], somebody will take it and the police will take the groom to prison." The decree marked a loss of tribal tradition, but people quickly complied. Occasionally, people still carry their firearms to mountain weddings to amplify the celebrations.

Twenty-five years ago, he said, it was easy to purchase firearms in RAK. "Before, it was a normal thing but even if it was allowed, then you would not see the weapons on the street," he said. Permits are hard to come by. "Nobody has a permit - you must have a big reason to have it," he said.

azacharias@thenational.ae