Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement

Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement
The abandoned town of Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra in the UAE is the subject of five short films. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 March 2021

Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement

Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement

DUBAI: Roughly 23 kilometers southwest of Ras Al-Khaimah city lies the abandoned town of Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra. The last surviving pearl diving and seafaring settlement in the country, its ghost-like appearance and traditional coral-stone architecture have proved a magnet for the curious over the years. Now an anthropological spotlight is being shone on the once-vibrant community, providing valuable insight into the lifestyles of those who used to live there.

A series of five short films are being screened in the town until April 3, each providing a glimpse of what life was like prior to its abandonment in the 1960s. Screening as part of the Ras Al-Khaimah Fine Arts Festival, which has been held at Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra since 2019, each film is an oral history, providing an invaluable window into life in the country’s best-preserved coastal community.

“We really wanted to capture the site and showcase all the work that has gone into Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra in recent years, while at the same time using it as a platform to promote modern and contemporary art in the emirate,” says David Dingus, a research associate at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, the festival’s organizer. “We received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but everyone wanted to know more about Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra.”




The film features first-hand accounts from people who grew up there, including Jamal Al-Ahmed and Abdullah Saeed Al-Zaabi. (Supplied)

The problem was, very little information was available, so the foundation began researching. It soon became apparent, however, that the only way to gather information would be to interview surviving inhabitants. That in turn would prove challenging, not only because many former residents have died, but because distance and COVID-19 made face-to-face interviews much more difficult.

Initially, respondents tended to be in their fifites, but they were too young to recall the intricacies of life prior to 1968, so the foundation continued searching for older inhabitants. Eventually they tracked down a number of men who were ideal, but not all would or could participate. And although a handful of women were found, none would agree to be filmed. In the end, five men were interviewed for the project.

One of them was Sultan Mohamed Al-Zaabi, who was born in the town and lived there until he was 22. His family had two houses — one in the market and one in the neighborhood of Al-Munakh — and by his late teens he was working as a fisherman, often spending hours at sea.




Sultan Mohamed Al-Zaabi was born in the town and lived there until he was 22. (Supplied)

“Our elders would announce that they would need seven or eight boys to man the ropes on the fishing boat,” Al-Zaabi says in his film. “They would send me out to sea… with 10 or 12 other men and I would man the rope all night long… until dawn. We would come back in the morning and sell the fish for around 20 or 30 or 50 rupees maximum. We would come back tired from being at sea all night. This was the life of working at sea.”

Pearl diving and fishing were the main sources of income, but there were merchants, too, and others who owned livestock or collected firewood from the desert. The town had a large market and shopkeepers would bring rice, flour and sugar from Dubai or Umm Al-Quwain. These merchants were an integral part of the community, providing families with anything they needed until the pearlers or fishermen returned home and paid their dues.

“Living in Al-Jazirah was a blessing,” Hasan Jamal Al-Ahmed remembers fondly. Friends and neighbors would play games including Al-Yarba, Al-Gabba and Al-Zaboot and participate in traditional dances such as Al-Ayyala and Razif. On Thursdays and Fridays, two or three large trays of regag bread would be passed around in the street, he recalls, and during weddings meals would be prepared for the entire neighborhood.




“Living in Al-Jazirah was a blessing,” Hasan Jamal Al-Ahmed remembers fondly. (Supplied)

Life was tough, though. Breakfast consisted of dates and coffee, and maybe some bread if you were lucky, and rice and fish would be served for dinner. Medical care consisted largely of traditional remedies and there was no drinking water. The latter had to be brought in by donkey every day before dawn. “One big bottle of water was usually enough for one day or two,” recalls Abdullah Saeed Al-Zaabi. “The water would be poured into the well. As for washing and showering, seawater was used. Every house was near to the sea.”

“Whoever had fish and dates back then lived comfortably,” says Al-Ahmed. “Our house had three stores (rooms), a well, a kitchen, and a majlis. It was not very big, but it was not small either. It was a decent house. Most of Al-Jazirah was built with stones, but a few of the homes were built using palm fronds. Plaster was also a common building material. It would be burned, crushed, and then made. A house would hold up to 10 people. One store was enough for parents and their children to sleep in. There was no electricity, only lanterns.”




“One big bottle of water was usually enough for one day or two,” recalls Abdullah Saeed Al-Zaabi. (Supplied)

Even lanterns were rare. Families would often use masrai — bottles with cotton wicks (the cotton would contain dates and the bottle would contain gas) — for lighting and those who didn’t have electricity would use car batteries to power any electrical devices they might have. There were no telephones either, only a few radios, and when televisions first arrived in the 1960s electricity would be available for only a few hours a day.

In the summer, everybody would leave. For Ibrahim Mousa Al-Zaabi, who was taught to dive with a rock tied around his leg, that meant travelling to Fujairah with his grandfather. “He had a farm with plenty of palm trees,” he recalls. “We would stay for five or six months and then come back, bringing dates on ships. Dates used to be distributed every two days. Every pack of dates had a mark on it. Out of trust between each other, people would go into each house, put the dates down, and leave the house.”




A series of five short films are being screened in the town until April 3. (Supplied)

Left untouched for years, the abandoned town has been the subject of restoration work since 2015, when Ras Al-Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums initiated the Jazirah Al-Hamra Conservation Project. Since then the focus has been on turning the town into a national heritage site, complete with workshops, museum and visitors center.

The challenge now for Dingus is to find a permanent home for the foundation’s oral history project. Whether that will take the form of a permanent fixture at the National Museum of Ras Al-Khaimah or within Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra itself, is uncertain. What Dingus does know, however, is that it’s important to record how its inhabitants used to live.

“We’re losing something with every generation,” he says. “There’s less reinforcement of these stories and their history tends to get lost over time. So we just want to make sure that it isn’t lost and forgotten and that the really unique and rich culture and heritage that was in Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra is remembered.”


Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 
Updated 21 September 2021

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

DUBAI: Emirati visual artist Aisha Juma is showcasing her work at an exhibition titled “Beyond Belief” in Berlin, Germany. 

Supported by Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), Juma is taking part in the exhibition that brings together a variety of artworks from more than 35 artists. 

Aisha Juma is an Emirati visual artist. (aishajuma.com)

Open until Nov. 21, “Beyond Belief” explores the rise of modern-day spirituality, its origins, diverse manifestations and unique contemporary attributes. 

Juma, on her Instagram account, shared images of her drawings that are “inspired by the concept of art and spirituality.

“So happy to be part of this fundamental creative conversation,” she wrote. 

The inauguration of the event was attended by Hafsa Al-Ulama, the UAE ambassador to Germany. 

In her speech at the event, Al-Ulama praised the strong cultural ties between the UAE and Germany, and commended ADF’s commitment to participating in art exhibitions and festivals in Germany. 

She added that the festival’s sponsorship of “Beyond Belief” reflects Abu Dhabi’s role in promoting art worldwide. 


Bahraini label Noon by Noor lights up London Fashion Week

Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled ‘Light.’ (Supplied)
Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled ‘Light.’ (Supplied)
Updated 21 September 2021

Bahraini label Noon by Noor lights up London Fashion Week

Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled ‘Light.’ (Supplied)

DUBAI: Bahraini label Noon by Noor showed off its Spring 2022 collection at London Fashion Week this weekend, debuting a line of lighter-than-air separates and dainty dresses.

Designers Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa and Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa presented a collection titled “Light” at East London’s Rochelle School, which specializes in art and architecture.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Noon By Noor (@noonbynoor)

The label, which is a regular on the New York Fashion Week circuit, drew crowds to its London showcase, with a host of industry insiders and influencers taking to social media to show off the new collection.

The brand, which was established in 2008, showed off a floral-tinged offering. (Supplied)

The brand, which was established in 2008, showed off a floral-tinged offering, with sprigs of color, as well as white-on-white looks complete with traditional mirror work embroidery.

“We selected our fabrics, mixing different scales of checks from ginghams to madras, alongside bold stripes in lime-ivory, pink-ivory and grey-ivory,” designer Shaikha Noor Al-Khalifa said in a released statement.

“A photograph of Bahraini pearl divers in their sarongs gently gathered and tied at the waist, mixed with dreams of summer sunshine, holiday memories and flowers was the start of our spring collection development,” she added.

Her cousin and co-designer Shaikha Haya Al-Khalifa shed further light on the materials chosen for the collection.

“Beautiful poplins, jersey, washed cottons, coated linens, silk voiles, organza, tulle and canvas all reflect the idea of light. Sometimes two or three of these fabrics are combined into one garment,” she said.


Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars

Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars
Updated 21 September 2021

Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars

Expo 2020 Dubai releases official song featuring regional stars

DUBAI: Expo 2020 Dubai, which will kick off on Oct. 1, released its official song titled “This is our Time” on Tuesday. 

The English and Arabic language song, now available on YouTube, features Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jassmi, who is Expo 2020’s ambassador, along with US-Lebanese Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Mayssa Karaa, who is the artistic director of Expo’s all-female Firdaus Orchestra. 

“This is our Time” also features 21-year-old Emirati singer-songwriter Almas, named in Spotify’s list of best female talent in the Middle East.

“‘This is our Time’ is a tribute to the UAE for all it has been, is today and will achieve in the years to come,” Al-Jassmi said in a released statement. “It’s a song about pride, faith and unity, and I hope that it brings a smile to the faces of everyone who hears it, wherever they may be in the world. Being a part of such an iconic event in the UAE’s history is extremely exciting and rewarding.”

Meanwhile, Karaa said that she feels honored to have collaborated on the song. “Expo 2020 is a significant moment for the entire Arab world and for Arabs around the rest of the world. Through this song, I hope we can inspire people of all ages and from all walks of life to follow their dreams – the possibilities are endless,” she said. 

The youngest of the trio, Almas, said that the song is an “embodiment of hope and the belief that collaboration will yield a better future for all.”

“I’m so proud to be Emirati and play a role in a moment that will be forever part of my country’s history,” she added. 

The six-month event, which was postponed due to COVID-19, will run until March 31, 2022. 


Bella Hadid celebrates niece Khai’s birthday with never-before-seen snaps

US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)
US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 20 September 2021

Bella Hadid celebrates niece Khai’s birthday with never-before-seen snaps

US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid took to Instagram on Sunday to celebrate her niece’s first birthday, and paid special tribute to Gigi Hadid and her partner Zayn Malik on their daughter’s big day.

“Happy Birthday to the greatest gift our family has ever been blessed with… I didn’t know my heart could grow this big!!!” Bella posted on Instagram, alongside a carousel of photos featuring the now-one-year-old.

Although baby Khai’s face was blocked by emoji stickers in all the shots, for privacy reasons, Bella managed to gush over the family’s bundle of joy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

“You make me smile when I’m sad and make me cry of happiness just because (you’re) alive. I can’t wait to watch you grow into the most perfect specimen of all. @gigihadid @zayn thank you for my forever best friend,” the model aunt added.

The couple announced the birth of their daughter in September 2020, with Gigi sharing the exciting news with her 58.5 million Instagram followers.

“Our girl joined us Earth-side this weekend and she’s already changed our world,” she said at the time.

For his part, proud father and British signer Malik write: “Our baby girl is here, healthy and beautiful. To try put into words how I am feeling right now would be an impossible task.”

“The love I feel for this tiny human is beyond my understanding. Grateful to know her, proud to call her mine, and thankful for the life we will have together,” he added.


Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend
Updated 20 September 2021

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

Review: ‘Schumacher’ is a touching, if unsatisfying, portrait of a legend

LONDON: Michael Schumacher will always be an iconic figure in Formula 1 — widely regarded as one of the most gifted racers of all time, with a work ethic hitherto unseen in the sport, and a drive for perfection that left his rivals staggered by his laser focus. And while this documentary, created with the blessing and cooperation of the Schumacher family, offers an incredible look at the personal and private life of the German driver, it does little to expand on what most people already know about the seven-times world champion.

Now streaming on Netflix, a procession of famous faces from the world of F1 — Ross Brawn, Flavio Briatore, Jean Todt, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and many others — offer their recollections of Michael, and those interviews are expertly combined with archival material from Schumacher himself, home videos released by the family, and interviews with his wife and children.

Michael Schumacher’s documentary offers a look at the personal and private life of the German driver. (Motorsport Images)

But while directors Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech do a skilled job of stitching everything together, they rarely take the chance to take “Schumacher” into new territory. Subjects such as Schumacher’s aggression-fueled lapses in racing judgement, or his insistence that he simply couldn’t be in the wrong in any crash, get little more than lip service — perhaps understandably, given that the film was created in such close cooperation with his family. But it does beg the question of what “Schumacher” hopes to achieve. Anyone who follows F1 knows that his was a generation-defining talent, and hearing that same sentiment reflected by a series of notable interviewees simply rings a little hollow.

What’s more, the movie steers clear of offering up any glimpse of Schumacher today. At the end of 2013, Michael suffered a significant brain injury during a skiing trip and hasn’t been seen since. He is, his family insists, continuing to live his life as privately as possible. And while that privacy is important, and absolutely his right, it makes for a strange juxtaposition with a film billed as offering such an intimate portrait of a racing legend.