x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Winds of change cannot be allowed to snuff out our culture

Change has been the theme of Emirati culture and society over the course of almost 40 years.

Change has been the theme of Emirati culture and society over the course of almost 40 years. Change has been happening to our freej (neighbourhood), to our ajyal (younger generation) and finally to our hayah (way of life). It comes as no surprise that as the UAE develops, change comes at a faster and faster pace with the passing of every year. It seems that with every new mobile phone model and fashion trend, an even hipper, more western-inspired generation emerges. And teenagers separate each other according to their own categories.

Rashid, my 18-year-old cousin, brought this to my attention just before Ramadan. "I can't believe the way these kids are dressed and behaving," he said, referring to a group of teenagers nearby. Hang on, Rashid; you're not so old yourself. But even among teenagers who are the same age, there are separate categories. There are the Emirati waftekher (Emirati and proud), who display all the characteristics of Emirati culture in the way they dress, talk and act. Then there are the metahadhreen (modernised), who have so many subcategories that a book could be written about them.

Over the past five years, the Government has focused its efforts to strengthen Emirati identity through several initiatives. A TV channel was launched that catered specifically to the Emirati public, an Emirati-focused youth volunteer programme was initiated, and competitions were revived that are based on Emirati heritage and culture. It seems that although globalisation has brought great progress and growth to the UAE, it also entails challenges in terms of national identity and the preservation of local culture and heritage. Watani, Al Meydan Competition, Sama Dubai, Takatof and Tawteen are all examples of initiatives that are trying to rebuild in the wake of the hurricane of globalisation. All of these projects are trying to keep alive the flame of a culture that many fear may be snuffed out during the process of modernising a nation.

@body arnhem:Emirati teenagers are constantly looking for the next best thing that makes them more hip, more modern, more flamboyant, and even more "cool". You could argue that this is the same phenomenon seen in any western society. The difference here is that these new trends come at the expense of Emirati culture and identity that is being pushed aside. It's not enough that the Emirati population is a minority; this invasion of our culture is slowly eroding our existence.

So many of our elders have gone, God rest their souls, and so few remain. They are the only connection to our original way of life, to our true Emirati character. Change has slowly pushed them into the background as a new hybrid culture emerges - in all its delightful colours and styles. There is nothing wrong with the new generations, it is just that over the course of the next 40 years, we may only see the traditional Emirati way of life in documentaries and museums.

During Ramadan this year, there was a programme on Abu Dhabi TV called Al Shara, which tested an Emirati audience on their culture and heritage. You would be surprised at how much I didn't know. The Emirati dialect is also at stake as most children are encouraged to focus on English at school, where they spend a good percentage of their time. Even some children of wealthy families would not be able to hold a conversation with one of their ancestors because of their poor mastery of the dialect.

So Rashid can continue judging his generation, or the generation that comes after him, but the fact remains: change is coming and it's coming as fast as a rocket. Unless we find a way to truly engage the younger generations in Emirati culture and heritage, it will perish along with our elders. For a society that depends heavily on an oral tradition to pass the torch of the culture, my worry is that torch will burn out with this last generation of Emirati elders. This must not happen because with it would perish an essential element of the Emirati spirit.

It is time that individuals, government initiatives and the private sector join hands across Emirati society to protect the flickering flame at the heart of our culture. Sarah Shaw is an Emiratisation professional who is currently working in Abu Dhabi Government