The Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth and the Arab Organization for Education, Culture and Science (ALECSO), recently hosted representatives from 16 Arab countries to discuss the henna nomination file for inclusion on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Held from 5 - 8 September in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, the meeting comes as part of DCT Abu Dhabi’s efforts to promote and preserve the country’s national heritage.

The gathering is the latest of several meetings held in preparation for submitting the henna file on 31 March 2023 and demonstrates the leading role of the UAE in driving the nomination files for many elements of intangible cultural heritage shared on Gulf, Arab, and international levels. The UAE's efforts began with the success of the international falconry file in 2010 and were followed by additional inclusions on the UNESCO List including Al-Taghrooda, Al-Ayyala, Al-Razfa, Majlis, Gahwa, palm tree, camel racing, and Arabic calligraphy.

His Excellency Mubarak Al Nakhi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Youth, said: “The UAE attaches great importance to highlighting the original and unique components of Arab identity and showcasing them to the world. The challenges facing the Arab region in relation to identity require us to take a serious stand to protect our cultural authenticity and the continuity of our civilisation.”

He added, "The inclusion of this authentic heritage on UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage is an important step in highlighting the importance of henna in our Arab and Gulf culture and identity, in which we intersect with many cultures of the world. The uses of henna in our societies varied between medicine and decoration, and it is a special symbol for social occasions, a manifestation of celebration and a special tool for expressing joy and rejoicing.”

His Excellency Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, Undersecretary at DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “We are proud to partner with the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth to lead a large coalition of Arab countries in advocating for henna, a treasured element of our shared intangible heritage, to be included on the prestigious UNESCO list. This comes as part of DCT Abu Dhabi’s ongoing efforts to preserve our cultural heritage and ensure that the legacy of our ancestors is passed on to future generations. The cultural and historical ties between Arab countries run deep, and it is by working together with our neighbours that our efforts to preserve and record our customs and traditions are strengthened and amplified.”

The UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage filings are a crucial element of DCT Abu Dhabi’s efforts to ensure the safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage, and the department works continuously to facilitate this by strengthening cooperation with UNESCO, ALECSO, and authorities and partners concerned with heritage locally, regionally and around the world.