Liwa Date Festival: 11 years of attractive competitions and cultural activities

Dates have become a symbol of local heritage

AL GHARBIA (Abu Dhabi) - A massive palm tree branch dazzled the first visitors of Liwa Dates Festival, showing off an outstanding richness of the ratab harvest. The branch weighed an impressive 116 kilograms, the biggest and heaviest of all the 17 entries in the festival's Biggest Etheg (dates palm tree branch) competition.
"The winning etheg is of shahal dates and it comes from a farm in Liwa. We will officially announce the winner tomorrow evening and he will walk away with a cheque for AED 50,000," said Nasser Seif Al Mazrouei, supervisor of the dates competitions at the festival.
As in all dates mazeynah (beauty) competitions, the top 15 positions will be awarded and for the Biggest Etheg the prizes start from AED 50,000 for the first place and end with AED 2,000 for the 15th place.
Along with submissions for the Dabbas dates competition, the Biggest Etheg was the first contest in this year's Liwa Date Festival, which opened on Wednesday evening in the desert oasis of Liwa, some 200 kilometres south-west of Abu Dhabi, in the emirate's Western Region.
Now in its 11th year, the festival runs under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affaires, and it is organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee - Abu Dhabi.
The one week festival, ending on July 30, is a celebration of ratab, the half-ripe dates, which are in season in the UAE from July till September, the time of their harvest and when they can be enjoyed, for a short while, in their fresh state, when they are particularly sweet and soft.
A fruit that sustained life in pre-oil Arabia, dates have become a symbol of local heritage, praised and cared for as much today as they were hundreds of years ago.
"In the Emirati heritage dates represent, first of all, the number one source of food. Also, the wood and the leaves of the palm tree were used as well to make pretty much everything, from small boats to houses, used to lit fires for cooking and heating, to make ropes, mats and all kind of household objects," said Abdullah Al Qubaisi, Director of Projects Management at CPHFC.
"Even today, dates, as fruit of the desert, are still favoured. People still love them. Even if we have our own farm and produce our own dates, we still buy other dates because we want to compare the taste. It's a passion," he added.
No wonder, the Liwa Date Festival attracts hundreds of participants every year and this summer is no different. Dozens of farmers are expected to submit their ratab in each of the 10 dates categories competitions. These include ratab contests for six different varieties of dates - kunaizi, khallas, dabbas, boumaan, farth and al nukbha - as well as the contests for the Biggest Etheg, Dabbas Promotion Round, Khallas Promotion Round and Nukhba Promotion Round.
While ratab remains the focus of the festival, in recent years Liwa Dates Festival began celebrating all agricultural riches of the UAE and there are now competitions for Best Mangoes, Best Lemons and Best Fruit Basket.
"The festival's competitions are opened to farmers from across UAE, but for the ratabmazeynah most entries are from Abu Dhabi emirate, while from the north of the country much of the participation is in the lemon and mango competitions, as well as other contests. This is because of the time of dates ripening. In Ras Al Khaimah, for example, dates are fully ripen by now," explained Al Qubaisi.
Other returning competitions at the festival this year are the Model Farm Award, created recently to encourage farmers to improve the quality of their product, maintain excellent hygiene at the farm, restore old buildings on the property and preserve the quality of the soil. More than 100 farms from Liwa oasis are expected to take part in the competition, which will award a total of AED 500,000 to 10 winners, the best five farms from the eastern part of Liwa and the best five from the west. The two top winners from east and west will each receive AED 100,000.
The Best Heritage Model competition is also returning to the festival this year, awarding the best five entries for their handcrafted representations of Emirati heritage.
For the first time at Liwa Dates Festival a new competition is bound to raise heads, the Tallest Palm Tree competition. There are over 40 million Palm trees across UAE and there is a chance that the actual tallest one is not participating, but the tallest one found in Liwa, measured from its ground root to the highest leaf point will win its owner AED 50,000.
Altogether, there are 220 prizes at Liwa Dates Festival this year, worth a total of AED 6 millions.
Apart from the competitions, visitors may enjoy the highly popular heritage souk, an opportunity to purchase rarely found and good quality Emirati handicrafts and artefacts. Fresh dates, as well as other local and regional food products are to be found in the ratab market. While adults enjoy the shopping, children are well taken care of in the Children Tent, where there are plenty of fun and arts and crafts activities.
In true Emirati hospitality, ratab, Arabic coffee and water are offered free of charge to visitors, who may sample them while enjoying traditional Emirati folk shows in the massive air conditioned tent.
The festival entrance is free of charge and it is opened daily to the public from 4 pm till 10 pm.