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18 October 2017Last updated
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Features | Reportage

UAE history has a new address

The recently opened Etihad Museum in Dubai offers insights into the UAE’s recent past – Anand Raj OK explores the building

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17 Feb 2017 | 12:00 am
  • Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 1 of 7
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  • One of the first areas in the museum is the section dedicated to the Founding Fathers, and is divided into seven categories.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 3 of 7
  • The late Shaikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi’s personal effects.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 4 of 7
  • On show: Shaikh Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi’s alarm clock and telephone.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 5 of 7
  • Visitors Fiona Watson and Margaret Mitchell, who’s been visiting the city since 1960.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 6 of 7
  • Latifa Al Shamsi, Noora Al Hawi and Hessa Al Kaabi are part of the team at Etihad Museum.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 7 of 7

Can you tell me what these pillars signify? asks Maryam Mohammad Alblooshi.

We are standing in the bright, modern reception area of the recently opened Etihad Museum and I’m overwhelmed by the weight of the place. Walking closer to admire one of the seven sleek leaning pillars that are holding up the roof, I suggest that they represent the seven emirates.

Maryam, the museum’s press relations executive, who is showing me around, smiles. ‘It actually signifies the seven pens the Founding Fathers used to sign the declaration of the constitution.’

She then invites me to take a look at the museum’s structure from outside. ‘What do you think it looks like?’ she asks.

I’d read up on this so showed off – it is designed to represent the shape of a manuscript. ‘Yes, it is inspired by the Unification Agreement,’ she says.

The 25,000 sq m Etihad Museum opened last month and houses some of the most valuable pieces of UAE history and culture, offering visitors an audiovisual journey into the events that led to the unification of the emirates 45 years ago.

Designed by Canadian firm Moriyama and Teshima Architects – which has to its credit the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener, Ontario, among others – the Etihad Museum houses eight permanent galleries as well as a temporary gallery (where exhibits from international museums will be on show in the future), a 120-seat theatre, a library, a 3D theatre and a café that serves Emirati cuisine.

Adjacent to the Museum is Union House, ‘where the leaders signed the treaty establishing our nation,’ says Maryam. But before we head there, we walk towards the exhibits in the museum.

One of the first areas in the museum, which incidentally is below ground level, is the section dedicated to the Founding Fathers. Divided into seven categories – for the Rulers of the seven emirates – each has a striking portrait of the leader with a selection of their belongings and an interactive screen displaying their biography, family tree, and photographs and video clips you may not have seen before.

I speak to Fiona Watson and Margaret Mitchell, tourists from the UK, who were viewing the videos of the Rulers. ‘I first visited Dubai in the 1960s and have since been visiting on and off,’ says Margaret. ‘So yes, I’ve pretty much seen a lot of the changes happening here. Watching these exhibits is a bit like stepping back in time.’

They are not alone. An Indian family nearby could hardly control its excitement on seeing up close and personal some of the cherished belongings of the nation’s leaders.

‘I’d only seen photographs of the Father of the Nation [the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan] holding his cane,’ says 15-year-old Mohammad Noufal, looking into the glass case. ‘To actually see the cane, the shades and the watch that he used is truly amazing.’

Mohammad, who’s accompanied by his parents and younger brother, says: ‘I’ve been taking notes of all the things here and I’m sure it would come in useful when I’m doing a project on the UAE’s history.’

This section is perhaps one of the most popular in the museum. On display is a veritable treasure trove of objects that the families of the Founding Fathers handed over to the Etihad Museum. Apart from a pair of spectacles, the passport and pipe used by the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, there’s an alarm clock and an old telephone belonging to Shaikh Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, the then Ruler of Sharjah; and a dagger and a unique ring belonging to the then Ruler of Ajman, Shaikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi.

There’s also a gun that belonged to the then Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah Shaikh Saqr Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi; the passport and gun of the then Ruler of Fujairah Shaikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi; and a pocket watch and passport belonging to the then Ruler of Umm Al Quwain Shaikh Ahmad Bin Rashid Al Mualla, among other things.

Information on some of the exhibits is sparse; however, details on them with translations in English are in the works, museum officials told Friday.

Looming over the entrance to the room housing the historical objects is a massive artwork on the wall by noted Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais.

Representing the map of the UAE in bright colours – yellow to symbolise the desert and blue to symbolise the sea and pearling for which the region was known – the piece adds an artistic dimension to the history-focused museum.

Sprinkled all through the museum are quotes from the Founding Fathers seemingly etched on the walls. ‘The words of the leaders encourage us to not stop working to make this country a great place for the people living here,’ says Maryam.

Nearby is the Showcase section, which displays pictures of pre-Union negotiations with neighbouring countries and some fun facts. For example, Bahrain and Qatar both originally intended to be part of the Federation and did participate in preliminary talks. However, they later decided that they would remain as independent states.

A low, wave-shaped partition painted in burnished gold separates the Constitution section from the main area. Nestling in a showcase and taking pride of place is a copy of the UAE constitution – a few lines of which are written in Arabic on a massive marble tablet in the museum’s lobby.

There is also an interactive section for visitors to view the terms and articles of the hallowed document. ‘I’ve never seen a copy of a real constitution,’ says Mohammad. ‘I want to return another day when I have more time and read parts of it.’

The Etihad Museum also houses a library with more than 3,000 books on the UAE and scores of magazines, CDs and other multimedia products that offer more information on the country and its history.

A temporary exhibition hall showcasing the philatelic history of the UAE is sure to pique the interest of lovers of history and culture.

Maryam points out one particular exhibit in the section that shows a light brown envelope with an Indian postmark indicating that it was received in Bombay in 1910. ‘It was posted in Dubai on July 23, 1910, and arrived in Mumbai on July 30, 1910,’ she says. There is also another rare and valuable mail posted from Dubai to an addressee in Karachi. It bears a small blue note on which is printed ‘Opened by censor’.

Also on display are several stamps, seals and postal weighing machines that instantly take visitors back to a time when manual weighing machines were in use.

Further down the hall is a section that details the seven emirates with short biographies of each of the Founding Fathers. It’s here that you get an idea of the geographical magnitude of each of the emirates. While Abu Dhabi encompasses an area of 67,340 sq km, Dubai is 4,114 sq km, Sharjah is 2,590 sq km, Ajman is 259 sq km, Umm Al Quwain is 720 sq km, Ras Al Khaimah is 1,684 sq km and Fujairah is 1,166 sq km.

There are also sections showcasing the different passports and military uniforms, as well as one providing information about the UAE’s national anthem.

‘Here’s a short game to check how much you know about the UAE,’ says Maryam, smiling and pointing to a monitor that prompts you to try your hand at a quiz. I must say I did quite well, scoring over 80 per cent.

Exiting the building, we move to The Guest House. One of the most famous buildings in the UAE, this hallowed structure houses the Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Majlis, his private office and a dining room that can seat 300 people. Union House, including the hall where the Rulers of the emirates signed a declaration that marked the formation of the UAE, is next door, as is the flag next to which the leaders stood after signing the historic document forming the UAE in 1971.

The Etihad Museum in Jumeirah, Dubai, is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm. Visit etihadmuseum.dubaiculture.ae.

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Anand Raj OK

Features Editor