x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Traditional trades have purpose yet

The UAE must use its traditional crafts to aid its development as so many other countries have done.

A country that prides itself on tradition is in danger of losing the industries that have shaped its history. In dhow making, fishing and camel herding, the struggle is the same, as we report today. Modernisation has been a double-edged sword for many artisans, who have seen a decline in demand for their wares as technology offers cheaper alternatives. Wooden dhow makers in particular have suffered from the rise of fibreglass boats.

But rather than accept the demise of dwindling trades, they can be refashioned to cater to new sources of demand. The pearl industry has already shown how this can be done. Dubai has managed to make itself a centre of pearl trading despite the virtual extinction of traditional pearl-diving, with the establishment of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre and the Dubai Pearl Forum. Al Nassma, which produces luxury chocolates from camel milk, is another model of a creative brand that has revived demand for a traditional industry: camel herding. Plans to open up tours to the Al Ain camel farm from which the company sources its milk are reported to be in the works. This would be a boon to both tourism and trade.

Craft fairs that encourage basket-weaving and date-related products have also become more frequent throughout the Emirates as local sellers seek to display their wares to a growing tourist population. Gatherings such as the Al Dhafra Festival also encourage local businesses and have created a marketplace for such goods. Just as silk, olive oil and cheese have become prized exports for countries whose economies have diversified beyond traditional industries, so too has the UAE begun to envision a future for its artisans. While it's true that trades such as dhow making aren't as easily revived as camel milk or pearls, the key to establishing a vibrant economy is finding new ways to build on past achievements. The craftsmen of wooden boats may find their trade dwindling, but the artistry of their hands endures. How they will continue to put them to use is not just a question vital to the preservation of the country's heritage but also to its future development.