- AED 200,000 for the 60 kg Al Nukhba baskets
- “If you don’t have a nose for scents, you can’t learn the art of mixing perfumes” – Fatma Al Muhairi
The 11 days Liwa Dates Festival came to an end on Saturday night, when the winners of the last competition, Best Nukhba, were announced. Organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi, the festival this year awarded 233 prizes worth AED 5.2 million.
Most of these awards went to Ratab Mazeynah (best fresh dates) for some of the most popular varieties of dates that grow in the UAE – Khallas, Bou Maan, Khunaizi, Dabbas and Shishi. Al Dhafra Nukhba and Liwa Nukhba were the last two ratab (half ripened dates) competitions in this 13th Liwa Dates Festival.
The nukhba is a mixed dates selection. The two nukhba competitions had to contain 15 and 20 different varieties of ratab respectively. Each variety had to weigh minimum three kilograms. Like with all other Ratab Mazeynah, the Nukhba baskets were judged on 15 criteria, from size, shape, colour and taste to the ratab state (fully ripe or unripe dates were not acceptable) and organic properties (dates had to be free from pesticide residues and chemical fertilisers, with all winning entries checked in a laboratory).
All in all, the judges scrutinised some 6,000 baskets of dates submitted to the Ratab Mazeynah competitions. For the first time in the festival’s history, the awards grew from top 10 to top 15 for most categories.
“The winners of Al Dhafra Nukhba were awarded AED 200,000, but the competition with the largest cash award was the Model Farm – AED 300,000 for each of the two categories,” said Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, Director of Liwa Dates Festival and Director of Planning and Projects Department at the Committee.
There were two Model Farm competitions, one for eastern Liwa and one for the western Liwa. Throughout the 100 kilometres long oasis, there are over 10,000 farms, and from those that entered the competition, 10 were awarded with cash prizes, the best five from each category.
The Model Farm Award was created to encourage farmers to improve the quality of their dates, keep their palm trees healthy, maintain excellent hygiene at the farm, restore old buildings at the property and to preserve the quality of the soil and used materials.
“The festival this year attracted good participation from exhibitors, competitors, handicrafts makers, entrepreneurs and visitors. We had very high quality of dates in all the ratab competitions, which reflects the improvements brought to farming by the festival in the past 13 years. Our aim has always been to encourage local farmers to improve the quality of their produce through adopting modern and better agricultural methods,” said Mr. Mazrouei.
“Plus, the participation of several dates factories showed the many products that can be made out of dates, from date juice, sweets and pickles, to date molasses”.
“The Children’s Village had dozens of activities daily, all very popular with kids of all ages. This year we also ’employed’ around 60 students as heritage ambassadors for the Liwa region, helping them to get and share knowledge related to the heritage aspect of the festival,” he added.
For the thousands of daily visitors to the Liwa Dates Festival, the traditional souk was one of the major attractions. The market shops, decorated with meticulously-woven palm leaves, were run by Emirati women entrepreneurs, selling mostly handicrafts, objects reflecting Emirati traditions and even home cooked food.
There was Al Sadu (traditional wool weaving) carpets, blankets and decorations, Al Khoos (palm leaf weaving) mats, fans and baskets, small furniture pieces, toys and even artworks crafted out of palm tree wood and there was Talli (embroidery) too in silver and golden colours, a traditional decoration for Emirati women’s garments.
Abu Dhabi’s Fatma Al Muhairi was at the festival to showcase her mother’s home mixed perfumes. Over 30 different scents in various size bottles, selling from AED 50 to AED 500 were on her table.
“My mother usually mixes around five different oils to create a specific scent. She mostly uses Arabic oils. Now, in the summer time, the floral scents, which are lighter, are popular, but in the cold months, oud, which has a strong scent, is preferred,” she said.
According to Fatma, it doesn’t matter how many years one spends learning the art of mixing perfumes, if you don’t have a nose for it, you just can’t get it right.
“If you have a talent for scents, though, this is still a very good business. My sister is also very good at mixing perfumes. We sell mostly from our home and during festivals such as this one,” concluded Fatma.
Like most ladies from the souk, Fatma is now starting to prepare for the next traditional market, which will take place in December, during Al Dhafra Camel Festival in nearby Madinat Zayed, also organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi.