At this time – July is a burning hot season in Abu Dhabi which the temperature could go over 50-degree Celsius. But every year, one of the most vibrant and important festivals to take place far away in a desert, and it is called the Liwa Date Festival.
If you are curious about Abu Dhabi’s culture, I can tell you that this city is not only about skyscrapers, but they are people who honor traditional cultural values.
Indeed, you can easily think of Ferrari World park, the modern Louvre museum. But they also have interesting traditional things like camel racing, camel beauty festival (contest), falconry, the date festival and more.
Did I just keep repeating myself the word “traditional” many time?
This article will show you what this Liwa date festival is about, how the date was initially grown in the UAE then became an essential part of day-to-day life to the Bedouin (“people of the desert” in English) who lived in the past and today’s life.
What is the Liwa Date Festival?
Liwa is the name of a small town in Al Dhafra, a western region belongs to the emirates of Abu Dhabi that is about 2 hours away from the main city. It’s where a tribal group – Al Bu Falah, the original Emirati Bedouin used to live more than 300 years ago before they moved to Abu Dhabi island.
When mention Liwa, you should know about Rub Al Khali ( or “the Empty Quarter”) desert, the biggest desert in the Arabian Peninsula, which is shared between UAE, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman.
Liwa Oasis was one of the first places people grew date trees and from July to October is the harvesting season.
A brief history of date cultivation in UAE
The date palm is one of the nutritious fruits that can survive in such an environment in the UAE and it is believed to be grown over 7000 years ago.
The fruit is rich in fiber, good to maintain a healthy digestive system, contain potassium and iron as well as Vitamins A, E and C.
The tree, interestingly, there are genders: male and female. And It also had many useful uses in creating everyday objects of Bedouin people, such as palm fronds could make houses, fishing boats, basket, fish trap, food cover…farmer can even make a long rope from the tree’s fiber to collect the dates.
Did you know? You can find many of our cosmetics and soap made in the UAE which is made of date-seed oil!
If you want to see some of the very old architecture with palm trees materials, I would recommend you to visit Heritage Village in Corniche road (near Marina Mall)
Nowadays, the date palm is still providing a significant source of income for the country. In 2009, the UAE held a GUINNESS World record for the largest number of the date palm trees in the world with over 44 million trees.
Date beauty contest – the main component of the festival
To honor the importance of dates in the history of locals as it’s part of the national identity, a date beauty contest is held. And in 2020, it’s been the 16th edition of Liwa date festival. There are more than 200 farmers from different Emirates to participate in.
Their dates must be produced in the same year and grown locally with some other strict criteria. The prize pool for the contest varies every year, but in 2020 it’s increased to 8 million dirhams.
Did you know? The UAE also has another unique contest called “Camel beauty contest” too?
Liwa date contest in the COVID era.
As a result of coronavirus pandemic, it’s unfortunate to see a festival which supposes to have people gathering and have some festive atmosphere.
The Liwa date festival 2020, the 16th edition will take place from 17 – 23rd July 2020.
This year’s edition only limited to farmers and staff, who also need to frequently check the temperature, hand sanitizing, and practice social distancing, weaning mask and gloves.
Following the directives of Mohamed bin Zayed, the 16th Liwa Date Festival will be held 17-23 July, with expanded prizes over AED 8M and 4 new awards. The Festival under the patronage of Mansour bin Zayed, celebrates our culture and heritage and supports local agriculture. pic.twitter.com/c2Yf7mCUw7— مكتب أبوظبي الإعلامي (@admediaoffice) June 30, 2020
Normally it is still a fascinating traditional festival
The Liwa date festival is not only about the dates, it’s kind of social gathering event where farmers come to exchange cultivation techniques, children come to have fun, with men citing poetry and dance Al Ayala, women making and selling their handcrafting products.
It’s a unique opportunity for tourists to get to know another side of local culture, how people used to have a harsh life but still enjoyable.
See how Bedouin women build everything with the date trees
When I visited Qasr Al Hosn, I learned that Sheikh Zayed’s mother was such a powerful woman, wife and mother that always tried to support and empower other people, including her son. That’s why I somehow understood that Sheikh Zayed always tried to support women as he knew they are an important part of society.
Come to the Liwa date festival to see the women here creating extremely skillful products with their hands. You will see how important their role is in building houses, helping men in building their lives together.
It’d be a mistake not to take something home
It would be a big regret if you could visit the festival, but without taking anything back home. This is a great opportunity to buy fresh products straight from the farm, not only just dates, there are many other local fruits as well.
Can you imagine how hard it is to grow a plant in the desert? No way! Yes, I first thought like that.
In Abu Dhabi, there is a very traditional market to buy a variety of dates, and it’s called “Abu Dhabi Dates Market”, located in Mina Zayed ( Or Zayed port).
From Al-Ain oasis
If you miss the Liwa date festival or can’t make it this year because of the pandemic, you could visit the date plantations anytime from Al Ain city, it’s always open, it’s free and it’s a huge place to discover how the date palm trees are grown. I’ve written about Al Ain Oasis’s virtual tour here not so long ago.
Al Ain oasis has over 100 plantations and it is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can find here how the locals use thousands year old watering system called “Falaj” to take care of the plants.
To Al Foah date factory
You can find so many brands of date in Abu Dhabi, but one of the famous date producers in the Al Foah date factory. They are the largest date company in the world and with a large variety of products, like the original date, stuffed date, date syrup, date confectionary…
In summary, Liwa Date Festival is a type of festival you shouldn’t miss
Until this line, you probably know how important the dates are in the UAE’s culture. In Islam history, I was told that in the month of Ramadan, Prophet Mohammed breaks the fast with dates. That’s how it became an essential tradition not only for the UAE but for Muslims in general in this month.
When visiting Abu Dhabi, the number one gift that I always recommend visitors to buy is dates.
I would like to answer any questions if you have any and would be much appreciated if you share this post with anyone who can find it beneficial.