Extended Families in the UAE
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The UAE is a country with an abundant cultural legacy that has been highly affected by its unique cultural environment. The diverse terrains of the region, varying from deserts and mountains to coasts and oasis, dictated the conventional hereditary lifestyle, which remained relevant for centuries. The only way to maintain resourcefulness and resilience in these severe conditions was a tribal structure, a type of living that is commonly known as an extended family. This type of unit includes multiple generations and relatives, not merely children with their parents who take responsibilities for the flourishing of the home. Each household was bound by rules of mutual support to the direct relatives and the tribe as a whole (Hurreiz, 2002, p. 24). Moreover, a mutual religion, allowed polygamy, and extended families contributed to holding the society together. The current paper aims at describing the traditional role and application of such community living.
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Importance of the Extended Family
Originally, the first inhabitants of the United Arab Emirates were of Arab ancestry. Therefore, a crucial factor that drastically influenced the society throughout various periods is kinship. Within this community, the extended family is the foundation for both political and social systems (Hurreiz, 2002, p. 25). Social status, identity, and power of an individual were based on genealogy and kinship, which led to the fact that people were only recognized as a part of the family, clan, and tribe. Although talented and skilled individuals were highly valued and admired, no personal achievement could overshadow or transcend the descent, meaning that families solely determined the life one had to conduct. Even nowadays, it may be noticed that almost every man in the UAE uses the name of his tribe as his last name. Without such identification, the status of a person remains unrecognized or even anonymous. Naturalization also requires affiliation with on of the major tribes (Hurreiz, 2002, p. 27). Therefore, countless local last names are derived from one of the tribes’ divisions, leading to the preservation and envisioning of a modern extended family.
The role of women was clearly defined in the tribal society. A common modern delusion states that females did not play a crucial role in the old Islamic nations. However, in a traditional extended family, woman’s contribution was decisive. The obligation of a husband to often be away and, more importantly, to alternate between various activities of political and economic origin put great responsibilities on the woman. This assistance provided an honorable place in the society, making the man’s reputation and status rest on his daughters and wife (Hurreiz, 2002, p. 27).
The extended clan and family, as mentioned previously, possessed political and economic functions in the traditional society. In a nation that was forced to battle severe living conditions and meagre resources, the family existed as a productive and occupational unit, which represented the foundation for the socio-political system. For the UAE, extended families were the building blocks for clans, creating a solid base for a federative country as early as in the 18th century. At that time, a number of tribes joined and formed a confederative union named the Bani Yas and a similar group originated the second establishment – Al Qawasim (Hurreiz, 2002, p. 28). Shortly after that, the organizations joined the effort in creating a front of federation and coherence. Thus, even the roots of the contemporary nation lie in the concept of an extended family.
Functions of an Old Extended Family
The territory of Bani Yas tribes is bordered by almost six hundred kilometers of coast. Therefore, the families of the hinterland made every feasible utilization of thhe resources, which this area could offer. While the adult men were colonizing more distant islands, the children were working on the establishment of fishing traps, which were perfect due to the extensive tidal shallows in the area. Another method that was primarily implemented by the elderly involved stretching a conjunction of nets at the right angle to the tide. The haul was rarely consumed raw. It was usually hung up in the sun, treated with salt, brought to inland settlements, and traded for valuable goods or even utilized as a fertilizer for gardens and fodder for camels by the females of the tribe (Heard-Bey, n. d). In the 1760s, several families of anglers constructed themselves a set of palm frond houses on the northern shore of the island (Heard-Bey, n. d.). The newly established tribe continued to develop until the 1790s, when the city of Abu Dhabi turned into a center of crucial political importance and became the capital of the union and, almost two hundred years later of the UAE.
Life in the Mountains
The overwhelming majority of significant oases are situated on good soil and level ground that lends itself to agricultural processing. However, there exist countless small hamlets in the mountains, belonging to and running by usually single families (Heard-Bey, n. d.) The Wadi houses were established for terraced fields or date gardens. The men built retaining stone walls and attempted to level the soil to form small fields that could be sown when the profile of Ghayl was good enough. The owners rarely lived nearby; nevertheless, women always visited several favorable locations where they could be engaged in farming as land there was suitable for producing crops. Along with the agricultural aspect, extended family members implemented pastoralism. Animals like sheep, cows, and goats were tended and hand-fed by the children. Some clans, named Shawawi, were a community wandering the region with herds, offering transport services through the mountains (Heard-Bey, n. d.). In this form of living, extended families were necessary for maintaining stability inside the flock.
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