Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Brief History of Dubai

Back in my schooldays, my 5 year long and tedious struggle with Indian history text books containing names of ancient cities, civilisations, kings, battles, religions, world wars, colonial powers, the league of nations, freedom struggles, presidents, prime ministers, chief ministers and what not left me a dazed man; and perhaps a 'dozed' man sometimes - which did not please Rev. Fr. J P, my history teacher, at all. Unconfirmed reports from my classmates that his remarkable pot-belly could be attributed to the disappearance of a globe in the staff room only brought mixed emotions to my face during his classes and kept me fascinated, or atleast awake more often.

I am sure I would have had a much better time with him in Dubai, if we had dealt exclusively in the regions history, considering most of the historical accounts in Dubai runs for a couple of paragraphs before it degrades into a fairy tale of artificial islands, cranes and skyscrapers. Walter M Weiss' 'The Bazaar: Markets and Merchants of the Islamic World' which otherwise is an excellent read about ancient trade and markets in the Middle East, does not fare much better in terms of Dubai's history. But it certainly lead me to gather some interesting facts.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. United Arab Emirates, 1948 - 1949 Photo courtesy: Wilfred Thesiger
  • In 1833, 800 men from the Bani Yas tribe under the Al Maktoum family from Abu Dhabi settled in a tiny fishing village in Dubai and setup an independent sheikhdom which lead to the emergence of Dubai as a politically significant region. The British, constantly under attack from the settlers entered into a treaty with the tribal princes in the region which made way for a transformation from the notorious Pirate Coast to the Trucial Coast, a reference to the treaty itself.

  • Excavations in Al Qusais and Jumeirah has unearthed evidence of the Creek being a trading centre for desert caravans and seafarers 3000 years ago. But only a few ruined fortresses and rusty canons survived a Portugese onslaught in the 16th and 17th century.
    At present there are hardly any buildings in the regions which dates back more than 100 years.

  • In the early 19th century Dubai experienced the 'Pearl Boom' reminiscent of the current real-estate boom when more than 7000 local divers equipped with bone nose clamps, wax ear plugs and lead weights(to pull them down the water quicker) could be found 65 feet below the Dubai waters risking their lives in search of pearls.

  • The emergence of Japanese cultured pearls destroyed the Dubai market in the late 1920's. However by then, Dubai had become a major port in the Gulf region with a population of atleast 10,000. The Deira Bazaar, with more than 350 shops was the biggest in the region.

  • The collapse of the pearl market paved way for the more profitable gold 're-export', a more respectable term for smuggling. The precious metal, imported from Europe were cast into gold bars and exported to the subcontinent in dhows at night, bypassing the authorities.

  • The oil boom, not just confined to Dubai, happened in the 1970's and funded the later infra-structural developments like the free-trade zones and the airport.
Not surprisingly, the local media and the official version conveniently ignores aspects like gold smuggling and the notorious power struggles which shaped the emirate.

Recommended online references:
UAE - A Walk ThroughTime
20th Century's Greatest Explorer -Wilfred Thesiger
The Future of Federalism in UAE - J E Peterson


Blogger aisha said...

Hello Friend! I just came across your blog and wanted to
drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with
the information you have posted here.
Almost 200 years pasted, and UAE becomes one of the most strong countries in the world.
People are interested in its touristic sphere, Dubai property investment, etc.
Thanks for the info,keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!

2:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanx for posting the info

9:08 pm  

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