Abu Dhabi. Far from the skyscrapers of Dubai, Mariam al Kalbani teaches a young Emirati girl the art of talli, a type of traditional embroidery inscribed in the world heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ( Unesco, for its acronym in English) in danger of disappearance in the Gulf countries.

With hands tattooed with hena, the septuagenarian weaves colorful threads, forming motifs that will adorn clothing or bags, under the watchful eye of an apprentice who came to know the secrets of a laborious practice, transmitted from generation to generation.

It is the craftsmanship of our grandparents and parents; if we don’t take the initiative to teach them, it will disappearhe says in the context of a festival dedicated to local crafts in the Al-Ain region, in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Covering her face half by the typical Gulf burqa and a veil of golden fabric, the teacher highlights the complexity of the work, which can involve up to 50 different threads. For the simplest motifs, made with six threads, one meter of embroidery requires up to three hours of work.

Regarding teaching, this It can take one or two years (…) with a weekly courseexplains Mariam al-Kalbani, who has been weaving talli since she was a teenager.

Emirati heritage

Inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in 2022, talli is practiced in several of the emirates that make up the federation, and its origin is difficult to determine, says Mohammed Hassan Abdelhafez of the Charjah Heritage Institute.

Unesco’s selection criteria require that the experience has been transmitted through several generations, at least from grandparents to grandchildrenhe emphasizes.

Mariam al Kalbani failed to communicate her passion to her children. Only her three-year-old granddaughter likes to watch her weave, she says, as well as her apprentices who, like Rim al Ketbi, attentively follow each of her gestures.

This 23-year-old student recognizes that women her age are not very interested for traditional crafts, but for her the preservation of Emirati heritage is a matter of love for the country.

Once a desert, the United Arab Emirates has experienced a major social and economic transformation in the last 50 years, especially in Dubai, an ultra-connected city that became famous for its excessive projects. But the rich oil country, where 90 percent of its 10 million inhabitants are immigrants, has always sought to preserve its traditions and way of life, even after the arrival of modernity and the discovery of oilsubraya Mohammed Hassan Abdelhafez.


At the Al Ain traditional industries craft festival, the talli is not the only protagonist. In the central square, men perform a dance called Ayalah, in which bamboo sticks or unloaded rifles are wielded, to the rhythm of folk songs.

A little further away, women make sadu, a traditional fabric used for tents, tapestries and camel saddles, whose experience has been on the list of intangible heritage of the United Nations cultural body since 2011. Other women further away sell clothing and items diverse.

The Abu Dhabi authorities registered all the crafts to help them become known among young people, says an official from the Emirate’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Aisha al Dhaheri.

They also offer training, especially for talli, because it is considered threatened with disappearancehe added.

In her store, where bags, bracelets, keychains, and even incense burners are adorned with talli, Kaltum al Mansuri regrets that young women are always busy looking at their cell phones, when they should take over, says the octogenarian, because How much time do we have left?

By Editor

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