Al Dhafra Festival: stronger bonds, deep-rooted heritage

Which one is more beautiful?

An atmosphere of joy and jubilation prevails in the Mazayna Al Dhafra Festival while the results of the winners are announced where the camels are being sold for millions of UAE dirhams. Most of the camel owners are from the UAE who are competing alongside their GCC neighbours.
It took Bathan bin Handhal Salem Al Marri one month to get his camels through the Empty Quarter desert all the way to Liwa dunes. His journey was full of fun despite its length. Luckily all his camels made it to Dhafra Festival and he is taking part in every camel contest.
“This is my tenth participation in Al Dhafra Festival,” says the Saudi camel owner thanking UAE rulers for making this event a successful social, cultural and commercial gathering.
The Festival, which is held by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) in the Western Region, UAE from December 17 to 28, is a unique gathering for all camel owners in the region where we exchange ideas and expertise about the camels. This year the Festival is better in terms of the organising and atmosphere, and the value of camels is strikingly sparing one year after another.
Salem Mazrouei, the Festival Director, said that the event sought to preserve the heritage of their forefathers and instil it into the identity of the young Emirati generation.

Salem Al Mazrouei

The presence of children in Mazayna was largely felt as they accompanied their family to live a competitive and social atmosphere to the Bedouin poetic songs about the camels.
ADACH has set out a strategy to preserve and promote this deep-rooted heritage among children and youth through Festivals and educational programmes.
Camels are one of the most important animals with history in the Gulf region. This occasion is a gratitude to their vital role among Bedouins in ancient times. Bedouins used to live on the camel’s healthy milk in the merciless desert. It was their means of transport and caravan of trade.
The Festival brings all camel owners from the whole Gulf Arab region together to build stronger bonds and exchange expertise in the field.
Tens of tents could be seen erected across Liwa dunes where camel owners spend their journey reciting poetry and inviting each other over a feast.
The Al Minhal family from the United Arab Emirates was taking part in Al Dhafra for the fourth time.
“One of our main goals in to meet other camel owners from the region to build stronger ties in this festive atmosphere,” said Hassan Mohammed bin Hussein Al Minhal.
There are some fans who travelled hundreds of kilometres to watch the camel contests. Msallem Abid Omar Al kuthairi came all the way from Saudi Arabia to join his second family in Liwa dunes.
The 55 year-old Bedouin has made so many friends every time he came to the Festival.
Saudi Arabia's Kuthairi, the man of nabati poetry

Kuthairi was reciting nabati a poem full of praise of UAE sheikhs as a sign of gratitude to their efforts to promoting their heritage across the world.
He ended his poetic verses to the applause of his young fans who look up to him as a man of knowledge in nabati poetry. Larger Omani participation in Al Dhafra
Oman’s Mohammed bin Fayel Matar Jodad Al Kuthairi came with his family to take part in the Festival which has witnessed a larger Omani participation. One of his camels was ranked third in the competition of milkiest camels and he is already looking forward to the next Dhafra Festival.
“Dhafra Festival is an international event that allows us to meet new people from different backgrounds and tribes,” said Kuthairi.
“It is also a place that reminds us of our heritage and customs and an important venue for buying and selling camels. We can mate Asayel and Majahim.
“Camels’ prices shot up strikingly in the last three years, which shows the avid interest in them,” he added.
Jodad Al Kuthairi came with many relatives to attend Dhafra

Two years ago, Sheikh Sultan Bin Hamdan bought Karam Al Menhali’s for a staggering 15 million UAE dirhams (4 million US dollars). The deals can reach up to 50 million UAE dirhams in Al Dhafra Festival.
The prizes are attractive, which pushes some contestants to use canny ways of cheating.
Some of them taint the skin of Mahajim to make it look darker in order to score more points. Others cut their hair so they can look sexier or extend their eyelashes artificially.
The judging committee which is formed of 10 panels imposes strict rules and regulations and disqualifies participants who do not abide by them.
Meanwhile, Jodad Kuthairi called on the Festival to change some rules regarding the age of mahaleb.
He would like the Festival to select mahaleb according to their age category in order to allow a fairer competition between the camels.
He also urged the Organising Committee to provide medical checkups within the venue in order to obtain faster results.
The Festival is a learning experience of the Bedouin’s inherent customs and traditions in the face of modern technology. A journey worth the travel! Dr. Saad Guerraoui is senior editor in Middle East Online