In the Emirates, women perpetuate the art of traditional embroidery

Far from the glittering skyscrapers of Dubai, Mariam al-Kalbani introduces a young Emirati woman to the art of talli, a traditional embroidery skill listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and threatened with extinction in the Gulf country, AFP reports.

"This is the craft of our grandparents and parents, and if we don't take the initiative to follow this tradition, it will disappear", she explains, as part of a festival dedicated to local crafts in the Al-Ain region, in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

The apprenticeship, "can take one or two years (...) at the rate of one class a week", explains Mariam al-Kalbani, who has been weaving talli since she was a teenager.

Inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in 2022, talli is practiced in several of the emirates that make up the country, but its origin is difficult to determine, according to Mohammed Hassan Abdelhafez of the Charjah Heritage Institute.

However, UNESCO’s selection criteria require that the know-how has been passed down over several generations, "at least from grandparents to grandchildren", he stresses.

Once a desert, the United Arab Emirates have undergone a major social and economic transformation over the last fifty years, notably Dubai, an ultra-connected city that has become famous for its over-the-top projects.

But the oil-rich country, 90% of whose 10 million inhabitants are now expatriates, has always sought to preserve its traditions and way of life "even after the onslaught of modernity and the discovery of oil", stresses Mohammed Hassan Abdelhafez.

At the Al-Ain Festival of Crafts and Traditional Industries, the talli is not the only one in the spotlight. In the central square, men perform a dance called Ayalah, brandishing bamboo sticks or unloaded rifles, to the rhythm of folk songs.

A little further on, women are making sadu, a traditional fabric used for tents, carpets and camel saddles, and whose know-how has also been on UNESCO’s intangible heritage list since 2011, while others are selling clothes and various items.

According to Aisha al-Dhaheri, an official at the emirate's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Abu Dhabi authorities have taken a census of all the craftsmen to support them and help them to make themselves known to young people.

They have also set up training courses, especially for talli, "as it is considered endangered", she adds.

In her store, where bags, bracelets, keyrings and even incense burners are adorned with talli, Kalthoum al-Mansouri regrets that young girls are busy with "tablets and phones". They have to take over, says the octogenarian, because "how long do we have to live? /BGNES