Skills associated with traditional handicraft


Wood engraving

The craft of wood engraving or carpentry has existed in the United Arab Emirates since ancient times.

It was practised by men and closely related to the rural pastoral life, marine life, as well as urban life. In the past, the people of the UAE would gather wood from the surrounding trees, especially the wood available in the desert environment. They were able to adapt wood in making many instruments, tools, and utensils that were characterized by their sturdiness, and could endure their constant travels in search of water and pasture. 

Initially, the craft of wood engraving and carpentry was restricted to the manufacture of tables, seats, closets and traditional beds. Many skilled carpenters emerged in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi during the 1960s in well-known carpentry shops in which a small number of citizens worked. The majority of people working in these shops were from Pakistan and neighbouring countries. Modern engraved wood products, including beautifully decorated beds and wooden cabinets, were reserved for the wealthy only, and most of them were imported from India.

There are many wooden products that are related to animal husbandry, especially camel gear, as well as tools for racing and other related activities. The most prominent of these products are the saddlery on which the rider would sit, such as the shaddad, which is the wooden part that is made in the shape of a camel's hump, usually placed on a patterned piece of woven wool, known as the pieces of the shaddad. Its purpose was to stabilize the rider and make them comfortable.

In addition, this craft was used in making the utensils in which animal fodder and water were placed. This craft also played a role in producing household items commonly used by Emirati families, such as the jafna or yafna, which is a wooden dish that came in different sizes and was used for serving food. Other large dishes and bowls, such as the qadah, were also produced, using wood from tree trunks. The qadah is a large, round dish of gradual depth used for serving food to families and guests at banquets on special occasions, such as weddings and during the month of Ramadan. The minhaz is another item of the essential wooden utensils that were found in Emirati households. It is a huge hollow tree trunk, in which different types of grains and spices were poured, crushed and powdered, as a (haun) mortar, with a heavy stick of wood as a pestle.

In addition, these wooden products included the madkhan, which was used to burn incense after placing embers and teeb (perfume) on it. The mabkhar is another of these wooden products. It is a pyramidal hanger on which clothes would be placed to saturate them, with the scents of incense emanating from the bottom. It is made from palm jareed after removing the fronds and thorns. It has hexagonal openings to allow the scent of incense to pass. Stoves were also made, known as "sridan". These were stoves that would be found in majalis, in which a fire would be lit to prepare coffee. They were embossed and decorated with different colours and sometimes they would be decorated with iron nails. They would also make the ladder that was used to climb up to bed from tree stems and branches.

Wooden boxes known as mandoos were also made. They are beautiful boxes made of engraved and decorated wood, in which various valuable things were placed, the most important of which are the bride's clothes, valuables and perfumes. They also made another type of engraved wooden boxes, known as "bashtakhta". They were used by captains and pearl merchants (tawawesh) on ships during the heyday of the pearl-diving profession to store pearls and money. Carpentry was also closely related to the sea, as boats and ships were made of wood. The profession of building wooden boats and ships is called jalafa, while people working in this field are known as "jallaf”

Not only that, but the most notable musical percussion instruments were also made of wood, including the “daf”, which is a circular-framed drum made of wood, with tanned leather attached to one side of it. The rahmani instrument was used for the famous Emirati ayyala dance and other artforms, such as the haban, the liwa and the harbiyya. Other instruments include the jasser drum, which is a small drum, the sema’ drum, which was used in religious chants as well as in Sufi and therapeutic ritual music, as well as the shnido and musindo drums. All these drums were made of wood. Some modern musical instruments were also made of wood such as the oud, violin and others. They were engraved with various decorations and designs. 

Nowadays, wood engraving or carpentry is also linked to urban life. This can be seen in the roofs of houses, doors and windows, and most furniture, such as engraved beds and couches, in addition to chairs, closets and cabinets used for storing clothes and valuables. Many agricultural tools, school supplies, and other products are also made of wood.

Recently, the craft of wood engraving has been flourishing. It can be found in every Emirati city, where there are hundreds of carpentry shops that specialize in making home furniture, engraved doors and windows and various paintings and murals that decorate homes and offices with their exquisite inscriptions and ornaments. This occurs despite the fact that wood products have also begun to be imported from China and other countries.



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