Riyadh: The Farasan Islands, a string of coral islands nestled 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea, have been abuzz with activity recently as they hosted the 20th Hareed Festival.

This vibrant annual event celebrates the arrival of parrotfish, also called hareed, in the islands’ shallow waters, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The islanders have cherished this event for generations, transforming it into a social gathering that goes well beyond the arrival of the fish.

Visitors to the festival got a glimpse of the islands’ rich cultural heritage as it showcased the area’s unique customs, traditions, folk games, and handicrafts. It also focused its spotlight on Farasan’s remarkable tourism potential and historic sites.

Al-Dana provides one of the highlights. It is a captivating form of vocal art that is one of Farasan’s oldest folk traditions. It forms a poignant expression of longing, a result of the hardships endured by sailors on extended pearl-diving expeditions. The challenges faced by these brave men fueled the art form, which is deeply rooted in Farasan’s cultural identity.

The annual festival also gives an opportunity for Farasan residents to display their traditional handicrafts. Visitors can watch the making of fishing traps and nets, the intricate weaving of palm fronds, the creation of bags and rugs, and hat knitting.

A designated area at the hareed fishing site catered to families and children. Visitors could experience the thrill of catching parrotfish using a traditional method that involved setting up barriers to prevent the fish from escaping. This competition, a centuries-old tradition, allowed families to connect with the region’s fishing heritage.

Farasan’s most renowned tourist attractions highlighted the islands’ potential for tourism.

Al-Qassar village, which is located only 5 km from Farasan Grand Island, is a popular tourist site. This heritage village, which is built of stone and palm leaves, is home to the archipelago’s largest palm oasis.

Al-Qassar has served as a summer retreat for Farasan residents. People travel by camel to spend a three-month break in the village during the season of Al-Asef, the northwestern summer wind that comes after the hareed fishing season.

Famous for its abundance of fresh groundwater, Al-Qassar village comprises around 400 houses. These unique dwellings, with stone walls and roofs made of palm tree planks, leaves, doum palm, or anisotes trisulcus branches, topped with algae and mud, are made by traditional building techniques designed to withstand the elements.

The Hareed Festival is a window into the heart and soul of the inhabitants of the Farasan Islands; a celebration of culture, tradition, and the islands’ natural beauty.

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