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UAE history told by those who lived it

posted on 29/11/2010: 1441 views



With nostalgia in his eyes, Faraj bin Butti al Muhairbi remembered an adventure from his younger days: riding a small sailboat with his father and colleagues to a diving site on Delma Island.

During the dive, one of the men began to drown, and Mr al Muhairbi's father rescued the man from the harsh waters.

"At that time, we didn't have all the fancy medical equipment we had today," said Mr al Muhairbi, now 72.

"We had to turn the man upside down and literally shake the water out of him. When that failed, we used a sail as a blanket and wrapped him with it to keep him warm and try to improve his blood circulation."

After realising they had no choice, the crew decided to sail to Qatar so the man could receive medical treatment. "It was a slow and long ride, but on the way there, our efforts came through and the man woke up and all was fine."

Mr al Muhairbi, now chairman of the Emirates Diving Association, was one of several speakers yesterday to begin the three-day seminar Memoirs of the Emirates Through Oral Narratives.

The event at the National Centre for Documentation and Research (NCDR) in Abu Dhabi, allowed visitors and speakers to take a trip down memory lane, recalling events that led to the UAE's establishment in 1971.

Stressing the need for passing down the culture through oral history, the words of Sheikh Zayed, the founding president of the UAE, were projected at the event for all to see: "Nothing lasts forever. Man isn't immortal. Money isn't constant. Nothing is eternal but one's country."

The event, days before the UAE celebrates its 39th birthday, was hosted under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the minister of presidential affairs and the NCDR chairman, who did not attend.

Dr Hadef bin Jua'an al Dhaheri, the Minister of Justice, spoke on behalf of Sheikh Mansour at the conference.

"Awareness of history in general and oral narratives in particular," he said, "were one of the most distinctive traits of the late Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation. He believed that a nation which has no past has neither a present nor future."

Dr Dhaheri explained that under Sheikh Zayed's directives, the NCDR was formed in 1968 with "the mandate to collect, index and preserve the documents and oral history relating to the history and heritage of the country, and make them available to historians, scholars and researchers".

The seminar began with the inauguration of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Exhibition Hall, where visitors could view preserved artefacts - from letters and maps to rifles and swords dating back as early as the 16th century.

Lord Wright of Richmond, the deputy political resident of Bahrain in 1971, began the seminar by summarising the British involvement in the Emirates as help for the UAE rulers' "master plan to make the UAE a hub of culture".

Political representatives who participated in the country's independence shared their experiences.

"In 1971 we had no benefit of the internet, word processors, e-mails, et cetera," Lord Wright said. "Treaties had to be [manually] exchanged and translated into Arabic."

Speakers emphasised that while there have been dramatic strides in industrial and technological progress, the country's kind and giving culture still blooms.

Julian Walker, a political agent at the British Consul in Dubai in 1971, described the UAE prior to its founding: "The only thing that remains intact is the genuine friendliness of the local citizen."

For his part in the nation's formation, Mr al Muhairbi began both his ambition and career as an expert diver and pearl merchant when he was only 14.

He explained that in the 1970s, the pearl was a main source of income for the UAE.

"At that time, we could survive even if we didn't have oil," he said. "The pearl helped buy all household items; anything we'd ever need."

Mr al Muhairbi, who witnessed the UAE rise from the sand, commended his nation on its achievements.

"With hard work, the UAE has done remarkable achievements in setting up the infrastructure for modernisation," he said.

He also shared another story from the 1970s, an apparent warning.

"While we were testing the speedboat on UAE shores, the boat was going so fast that it crashed and fell into the waves," he said. "These days, everything is moving too quickly, whether it's cars, motorbikes, … And the quicker we move, the more dangerous it [gets]." – The National

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