Have you seen today’s Google doodle?
There is a significant element of today’s doodle. Aside from the UAE flag’s colors in it, they have included Qasr Al Hosn to celebrate the UAE National Day. For any viewer, it is safe to assume that the structure in the doodle is a museum or one of the old establishments in the UAE.
I was few days old in the UAE in 2008 (time flies!) when I first passed by the Qasr Al Hosn. I have always been intrigued what is beyond those walls. Few years later, I started to learn some Arabic words and realized that ‘qasr’ means ‘palace/ fort’. Then I started calling it in my mind as the ‘white palace.’ Until we finally had the chance to properly visit it in early 2014 during the festival as the mighty Cavalia show (here is the link one of the videos I took) was showcased then.
History covered by modern symbolisms
Qasr Al Hosn is the symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi, UAE. Hence, it is aptly picked by Google for the UAE’s National day. It is said to have started out as a round watch tower defending the only freshwater well in Abu Dhabi in 1761. (Well, freshwater is relatively more expensive than oil in this region.) It also became the permanent residence of the ruling Al Nahyan sheikdom and remained the royal palace and seat of the government until 1966.
(In 1963, the first post office was opened, the number of battery-operated radios increased and the telephone system has been installed.)
Our visit was like looking at the mirror and seeing two faces at the same time. Inside the qasr/ fort is a made up environment intended to replicate the humble beginnings of the UAE (the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in particular). As we looked a bit up, the fort is surrounded by commercial and residential towers made up of materials largely disparate from the bedouin days architecture.
Unknown to many, UAE had a rags to riches history. It even took time to transform the riches after the discovery of oil reserves.
“The Gulf was one of the most prolific pearl producing areas in the world. In fact it was pearls which initially attracted foreign traders and invaders to the area. By the 19th century it had become the lifeblood of the people who lived in this harshly beautiful yet unforgiving lands.” – From Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi, 1995
I particularly liked this photo of the camel intensely looking at the fort. They played a key role for the Emiratis in those days wherein there was limited channels of transportation and had provided a stable source of produce, and until now and will always have emerging ways of utilizing them – some are exciting and trivial, e.g. the chocolate bars made of camel milk, camel burger.
An expat like me normally gets these honest and random quizzical/ trivial statements whether here or outside the UAE: “Where is Abu Dhabi? Is that in Dubai?”, “What do you mean by UAE? Ah, that is Dubai!”, “I didn’t know there are beaches in the UAE!”, “Are you sure there’s winter?”, and more. I think that being a resident (I should have started earlier) it is very important to be aware of these supposedly general information once one decides to stay here either on a short or long-term basis. First, do it (learning Arabic is another thing) for your self-awareness and satisfaction — we will pick up a treasure from the governance model and personal style of the late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan (the first president of the UAE), and then to be able to share information with a fellow resident, a tourist or anyone.
With the limited entertainment in the past, the hair and sword dancing remain as a colorful part of their tradition. The swords are sometimes replaced by camel sticks.
The first time I watched the hair dancing in person, I was like “are they not going to get sooo dizzy?!” because the motion partly resembled the head banging. Then, I realized that I was wrong because it is poles part from head banging (the concert-like). But the girls moved to the beat harmoniously and gracefully. That as we carefully watched their innocent faces, we felt that they were enjoying it.
The sword in the Al Ardha dance can be replaced by camel sticks. (Here is a link to the video I took of the UAE National day pre-celebration). Among all the handicrafts displayed in the festival, we bought only a couple of these sticks. These were reminiscent of the humble beginnings of UAE and at the same time of the ‘tungkod’ (stick used by oldies to guide themselves as they
rheumatically walk and to beat scare the stubborn ones, hehe.)
Each time the pleasant wind of 2nd of December approaches, I could not help but wonder what could have been if Qatar and Oman agreed to the proposal of the late Sheikh Zayed to join the federation of the sheikdoms (i.e. the existing 7 emirates compromising the UAE). Well, I guess I still have a hang over of From Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi. A very insightful book that I keep re-visiting for random reasons.
Happy 43rd birthday, UAE!
Qasar Al Hosn is along Sheikh Zayed the First Street (Abu Dhabi) in the same compound as the Cultural Foundation.