Dr Fatima Al Sayegh, professor of history at UAE University:
Life in the UAE has shifted remarkably, but the values of the Emirati society remain consistent amid life's rapid changes. Before oil discovery, the UAE depended on a subsistence economy with families relying on natural resources to provide for basic needs, through pearl diving and agriculture.
Back in the days, Emirati families produced just what they needed.
In the past, it was a simple village life. Palm trees were used to provide dates as food for the family. Palm tree branches were used to build the house roofs. Tree trunks supported tents and flooring of dwellings were made by woven palm leaf strips. The small houses of low roofs were close to each other where families got their milk and cheese from cows and goats, and their water from a well.
But the life change in the UAE didn't happen overnight. Al Sayegh described the UAE progress as a gradual process. In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, an event that led to quick unification calls made by UAE leaders in 1971. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, and the British started losing their oil investments and contracts to US oil companies. Although simple housing was still dominant in the early 1970s and the government started granting houses for low-income families by the 80s, the real changes were only possible through the government actions and openness to change.
Over 300 years ago, Indian communities started migrating to the UAE for trade and life. Asians were then followed by Arabs in a wave of migration that changed the lifestyle of the entire country. "When UAE families in the past disliked living by the seas due to its unpredictable nature, Westerners introduced the concept of building houses by the beach," said Al Sayegh.
Photographer Anita Van Der Krol : A Westerner's perspective on UAE progress
Photographer Anita Van Der Krol was 28 years old when she landed in Dubai from the Netherlands in 1975. She spent her time snapping pictures of Bedouins performing the traditional Merhaba dance, men relaxing at a Bedouin tent and shopkeepers of the old souq. "My favourite image is of the Bedouins in the tent, because they were incredibly nice to me when I approached, despite our language differences. They offered me coffee and talked to me through hand gestures," the 71-year-old recalled. Today, her pictures are on display at Dubai Frame.
Being among the first inhabitants of Jebel Ali, Der Krol witnessed the beginnings of the Jebel Ali harbour, the dry-docks and deepening of the Dubai Creek; projects that her husband, an engineer at the time, worked on. "We didn't know why Dubai was working in such projects, but now we know," she smiled, referring to today's busy Jebel Ali Port, Port Rashid and Dubai Canal that now play a major role in Dubai's economic development.
She witnessed the inauguration of Dubai's first skyscraper, the World Trade Centre, in 1979. Visiting Dubai from time to time, she said the city's transition from a fishing village to a metropolis is "surreal."
For more pictures visit: https://www.anitavanderkrol.com/
Matthew Maclean, NYU Abu Dhabi associate lecturer, studies what it was like in the UAE before there were motorways, record-breaking skyscrapers, and sprawling neighbourhoods.
Paved highways, in particular, were a pivotal milestone for the region, he said, because roads would drive unity in the Emirates both physically and politically.
Paved highway didn't exist until the late 1960s.
The first paved road built with the intent of people using it — other than city streets in Dubai itself — was between Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah. Construction started in 1966-67.
The UAE didn't pay for its first major highway. Saudi Arabia did.
This road between Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah was a political project to create greater unity among the Trucial States. The British had to show they supported development projects, but it was Saudi Arabia that had the money and built the road.
People used to drive on the beach to get places.
The easiest way to drive from Dubai to Ras al-Khaimah was on the beach because that's where the sand was most firm. I've read and heard conflicting reports of whether people had to wait for the tide to go out in some places on that route. One place you definitely had to wait for the low tide was where Maqta Bridge stands now, connecting Abu Dhabi to the mainland.
And houses were a lot smaller.
In the 60s, homes were small and close to each other. A street or alley was called a sikka — probably the best-known example of this today is Sikkat al-Khail, near the Gold Souq in Dubai. These were narrow and helped maintain privacy.
Emiratis haven't always called themselves Emiratis.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the word "Emirati" became common but anecdotally, the terminology started to surface in the late 1980s or 1990s. The spread of the word Emirati is significant because it connotes a national cultural heritage and identity in a way that "citizen" does not (a common term used in the 1970s used to distinguish UAE Nationals from foreigners).
The currency wasn't always dirhams.
Until 1966, the UAE (known then as the Trucial States) used the Gulf Rupee, which was issued by the Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India. It was equivalent to the Indian Rupee. After that, the northern Emirates used the Qatar-Dubai Riyal, and Abu Dhabi used the Bahraini Dinar. The UAE dirham was issued in 1973.
National Day was celebrated differently back then.
The first National Day in 1972 was celebrated with a military parade on the Abu Dhabi Corniche and included a speech by Sheikh Zayed, who said that the country’s goal was "a wider union." At the time, the idea that the UAE would be forever composed of seven emirates was not yet set in stone. The military parade was a fixture of National Day for several years in the 1970s, By the 1980s, buildings were lit in national colours, and at some point well after that, spontaneous car-centered parades started throughout the UAE. I think that shows how a national identity has moved from a state-centered construct to a genuinely popular identity celebrated by the Emirati people.
Source : Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs https://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/news/latest-news/community-life/2015/november/…