The popular Rolla Square captured in a photographer’s lens including a 150-year-old banyan tree from which it got its name, mountain tribes living in stone dwellings and antique objects made of tanned animal skins and palm leaves shed light into the Emiratis’ rich tradition and diverse culture at Sharjah Heritage Museum.
A tour of the museum will be a journey of discovery through the well-preserved photographs, handcrafted works of art and objects that date back to a time when local people relied solely on fishing, hunting and pearling for a living.
A series of photos have woven a long-time story of how Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi 1, who ruled Sharjah until 1866, was said to have brought a banyan tree and planted it in the heart of Sharjah. After the banyan tree grew for 150 years, until it perished in 1978, it was able to shelter 500 people under its cool shades. People would gather under it during celebrations, holidays, poetry recitals and to watch horse races. They started calling the tree’s fruit “Roal” where the place got its name Rolla Square.
Located close to the Sharjah Creek on Al Ayubi Road, the museum has six galleries. Gallery 1 describes the landscape and the main ecosystems of mountains and wadis, deserts and oases, and how they impact on the lifestyle of people – the raw materials used to build traditional houses and crafts made of local resources such as plants and animals around them. Gallery 2 exposes the lifestyle, customs, including examples of Emirati hospitality and rituals based on religious beliefs, core values, and long-established attitudes towards hospitality. Entertainment and leisure are also important components of daily life. It also gives glimpses of the traditional games in the past, their entertainment of camel racing and sport of falconry.
Touring Gallery 3, visitors start knowing the way Emiratis celebrate special occasions and religious holidays throughout the year. From wedding to the birth of a child, Haj pilgrimage, Ramadan and the two Eids (Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha), which are often marked with a feast.
Muna Obaid Mukhashab, curator of Sharjah Heritage Museum, says that the displays in this section will help visitors familiarise themselves with traditional celebrations through music, clothing, jewellery and food. “The musical instruments used then, how a bride prepared for her wedding day and how to make ‘Lugaimat’, the traditional fried dough balls, on display will give non-Emiratis a a good understanding of what happens on special occasions.”
From pearl diving to date farming, how the men and women of the UAE have used the land to help them earn a living for centuries is shown in Gallery 4. It also gives glimpses of service-based occupations, such as barbers, builders and guards, which were also important sources of income in the past. Souqs (markets) acted as gathering places where people could trade and purchase goods and services.
Exhibits in this gallery focus on a range of occupations, the importance of trade, and the role women played in helping to supplement the family income.
Mukhashab says the ancient trade routes between Sharjah and nearby lands, currency (larins) that look like bent and twisted strips of metal, the uniform of a ‘matarzi’ guard, and the many uses of date palm are demonstrated in this gallery.
Gallery 5 on Traditional Knowledge shows how the emirates have long understood the importance of traditional healing, using tracking skills to help navigate the land and observing the sky and weather to estimate the seasons. “These forms of traditional knowledge were critical to their survival. This gallery explores how to understand the role of traditional knowledge in the UAE. The displays feature traditional medical knowledge, ancient tracking techniques and the drour calendar,” she says.
This gallery also shows about common illnesses and medical conditions of the past, the Emiratis’ time-honoured medical treatments through artefacts, photographs and images.
The last gallery is devoted to Oral Tradition, which focuses on culturally and historically significant stories and memories that are passed down through generations by the spoken word. Fairytales, legends, poems, proverbs, riddles and music are all examples of folklore. Most contain messages that teach important lessons about life, the environment, religious teachings, local pride, community values and social behaviour.
Ending the tour with an Emirati’s oral traditions through audio recordings, images and text, dioramas, and interactive puzzles (brain teasers), one hears a story about a girl named Hamda, who finds an enchanted fish, “Baeir Bala Ras” or the Headless Camel, and countless riddles and proverbs that have been kept in the hearts of the Emiratis for a long time.