Skip to main content


A small wooden boat with a white mast floats in a harbor, with a city skyline in the distance.
Hand-built wooden boats, or dhows, continue to sail the UAE’s coastal waters.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton
A person in a dress and hijab walks through paved walkways among dense palm trees.
Date farms are fed by an oasis and a falaj, an ancient irrigation system, in the city of Al Ain (“The Spring”).
Photo by Rebecca Fenton
Two women stand in a vast desert landscape, watching a girl kneeling in the sand attending to a falcon on a perch.
Ayesha Al Mansoori (center) teaches her daughter Osha (left) and student Iman the tradition of falconry, or hunting with birds of prey.
Photo by Rebecca Fenton
What makes the UAE a distinctive place?

Earlier generations’ intimate connection to the environment—land, sea, and sky—was essential to survival through changing seasons and nomadic journeys. Their knowledge continues to grow through stories, skills, art forms, and livelihoods that map the distinctive cultural landscapes of the UAE’s natural and urban zones.

How has the natural world shaped UAE culture and ways of human coexistence? How can people draw on cultural knowledge of the environment to meet our climate present and future?

At the Festival, participants demonstrated traditions linked to places and ecosystems, from the old work songs of pearl divers to ancient irrigation technology to beekeeping. Visitors learned about human-animal partnerships through falconry. In creative workshops and activities for families, visitors learned about the conservation of key species like dugongs and turtles as well as ecosystems like mangrove forests.

In addition to the local building traditions of coral-stone and areesh, or woven palm, an interactive installation introduced visitors to the modern built environment and a growing interest in adaptive reuse. As street art enlivens UAE cityscapes, we joined in the creation of an original mural that reflects the patterns and textures of everyday life in urban neighborhoods.

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.