Liwa Date Festival celebrates best of Emirati heritage

Sunday 30/07/2017
Colourful celebration. Emirati check dates displayed in baskets at the Liwa Date Festival in Al Dhafra. (AFP)

Al Dhafra - “This is a magic place. What we have here is a charming festival that can pride itself on dif­ferent colours and sin­gular tastes,” said Anna, a 46-year-old British national.
She said that her yearning for a dif­ferent experience led her to “the fabulous city of Liwa at the fringe of the Empty Quarter” in the United Arab Emirates.
Anna was one of thousands of tourists and visitors who gathered for the Liwa Date Festival to experi­ence the excitement and enjoy Emi­rati heritage at its best.
The annual festival, which cel­ebrates the status of palm trees in Emirati culture, was organised by the Cultural Programmes and Her­itage Festivals Committee — Abu Dhabi. During ten days of non-stop activities, it became an ideal occa­sion to learn about the cultivation and preservation of palm trees.
The season of al ratab — half-ripe dates — begins in summer. After growing the dates, farmers harvest and store their crops in accordance with time-tested methods. Before harvest season ends in autumn, celebrations and festivals occur throughout the country.
“The Liwa Date Festival is one of the most famous of festivals in the country but we also have Al-Dhaid Dates Festival and the Liwa Ajman Dates Festival,” said Mohammed al- Ameri, a young Emirati visitor.
“In our country, people love to celebrate the dates season and they regard the palm tree as a symbol of culture and history.”
In its 13th edition, the Liwa Date Festival featured various competi­tions, including the Mazayna — con­tests for the best dates, including several varieties — the Model Farm Award and the Best Heritage Model competition.
The varieties of the Mazayna in­clude: Dabbas, Khallas, Bou Maan, Farth, Kunaizi, Al Dhafra’s Nukhba, Liwa’s Nukhba, Biggest Etheg, and this edition’s newcomer, the shishi.
An estimated 2,500 farmers com­peted for a total of $1.4 million in prizes, with more than 60,000 dates in six varieties placed before the judging panel, according to the Cul­tural Programmes and Heritage Fes­tivals Committee.
The festival is not just about dates, which has been cultivated in the country for more than 5,000 years. There are competitions for the best mangoes and lemons as well as the Fruits of the House competition.
Associated activities included the organisation of the Traditional Mar­ket, with the participation of more than 200 Emirati families, the Chil­dren’s Village, the Dates’ Market, awareness programmes and exhibi­tions by businesses.
The products at the Traditional Market provided an insight into the traditions of Emiratis. On display were Al Surood, a round mat made of palm leaves; Al Mukhrafa, a bas­ket made of palm leaves; Al Jahfeer, another type of basket; floor mats; Al Meshab, a table-mat; Al Yrab, a large bag used to conserve dry dates. Visitors had an opportunity to taste pastries made of dates and date sauce in addition to different varieties of al ratab.
The cultural programme was marked by seminars and special­ised workshops. The activities were aimed at promoting the best meth­ods to improve production without resorting to chemical fertilisers. Participants in the seminars and workshops also learned about cat­egories and varieties of dates.
Emirati Rashed Abdulla won the prize for the heaviest branch at the festival. Now, he prides himself on being the number one farmer in the country. According to the jury, the branch presented by Abdullah weighed about 106 kilograms.
In most competitions, the jury may take hours to decide on a winner. The appearance and pres­entation are not the only factors. The jury classifies dates by qual­ity and dedicates 30% of the grade to the status of the farm, includ­ing the standards of hygiene and quality of maintenance.
As the UAE is moving to brand its dates internationally, a growing em­phasis has been placed on organic farming and sustainable irriga­tion.
In recent years, farmers have noticed that dates were ripening earlier than average and they attributed this phenomenon to climate change and intense heat in the region. To cope with the problem, many of the farmers turned to the cultivation of some varieties that require less irrigation.
In 2014, UN figures indicated that the UAE has planted about 130 mil­lion trees, including 22 million palm trees that constitute 20% of the total number of palm trees in the world.
The UAE also occupies a leading position, among more than 40 countries, in production capacity and export volume.
Faith Salama
is a Lebanese