Abu Dhabi’s Pearl Heritage

Take a walk along Abu Dhabi’s Breakwater and you’ll come across a monument to the oyster – the mother of the pearl. Pearls are a common feature in Gulf cities because they formed a vital part of the region’s former economy. In fact, for over four centuries the prosperity of the region was built on the collection and trading of these precious natural gems.

Population & Ethnic Diversity

In Arabia, names are all important. Names tell a lot about who is from where, and each country is acutely mindful of such distinctions: ‘with a name like that, he must be a Baluchi' (not real Emirati); 'he speaks Swahili so he must be Zanzibari' (not real Omani); 'he’s from the coast' (not real Yemeni). And so it goes until you wonder if there’s such a thing as a ‘real anybody’. Such gossiping about ethnicity makes you realise that Arab allegiances are linked to tribe before nation.

Expats Outnumber Nationals

Despite this emphasis on kinship, centuries of trading and pilgrimage have resulted in a highly mixed population and only a few pockets of people, such as the Jibbalis of southern Oman – the descendants of the ancient people of Ad – can claim a single ethnic heritage. For the visitor, it is not always Arabs you’ll notice anyway. In the UAE as a whole, non-nationals account for 81% of the population making it relatively difficult to engage with the indigenous residents.