For days now, camel caravans have been traveling from as far as Riyadh, Dhofar and Al Jahra to make it to the 11th Al Dhafra Festival about to start on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi emirate’s Madinat Zayed. This is the largest Bedouin gathering on the planet! On the edge of the mighty Empty Quarters, camel caravans are setting up tents and camel pens for one of the most impressive annual celebration of desert living. This year, Al Dhafra Festival is taking place from 14th till 28th December, and it’s been planned to be a memorable one!
The organiser, the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi is expecting over 20,000 camels to participate, along with their at least 1,500 owners. They will mostly come from the UAE, but also from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. The large majority will enter to Festival’s camel mazayna (beauty) competitions, which will award over AED 30 million in cash prizes. Altogether, Al Dhafra Festival’s will offer AED 38 million to 1,400 competition winners. These are not only camel beauty ones, but also several Emirati heritage related contests, meant to encourage and preserve local customs and traditions.
In fact, heritage preservation and economic boost for Al Dhafra region has been the main purpose of the Festival ever since its first edition in 2008.
“Today, we stress the need to make every effort to provide comprehensive and valuable activities at Al Dhafra Festival, so as to ensure a positive impact on Emirati society and the world in general. While we continue to affirm the shared nature of human culture, we consider our Arab culture to be an essential part of it. Hence, the organisation of Al Dhafra Festival serves as an occasion to highlight our sincere love for the nation and our genuine loyalty to His Highness the UAE President,” said His Excellency Staff Major General Pilot Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei.
“Camels continue to hold a prestigious position in our society. This is confirmed by all participants in the camel beauty contests, who unanimously agree on the significant role of camels.”
“Please let me highlight that all heritage competitions and activities at Al Dhafra Festival are closely related with our old lifestyle, reflecting the authentic Bedouin spirit and reinforcing national pride,” he added.
Initially a camel beauty competition, Al Dhafra Festival has grown into a celebration of Bedouin traditions. Camel beauty contests aside, which are all about encouraging people to keep and properly care for camels, there is also a camel heritage race, camel milking contest, sheep best in show, best dates competition, as well as the traditional souk, classic cars exhibition, art workshops and a children’s village.
First introduced at Al Dhafra Festival 2016, the falcon beauty show and falcon race, as well as the saluki race are back this year as well.
“We also have new activities this year. We are introducing Life of the Bedouin, a daily show throughout the Festival involving falconry, camel riding and poetry. For the first time this year as well, we’ll have a shooting target competition. This is done in partnership with Al Dhafra Shooting Club, and it will be target shooting from 50 meters. The competition is opened to everyone who wants to take part,” said Mr. Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, planning and Projects Director at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi.
Also new this year is the traditional poetry chanting, a form of Bedouin improvised verse, which men shout out in admiration, when they see a beautiful camel. In the past years, such poetic outbursts used to echo all over the Million Street, a dust truck road cutting across the Festival’s desert grounds, where winning competition camels would often be paraded and sometimes sold for multi million Dirhams.
According to Al Mazrouei, another popular Festival attraction, the traditional market, has drawn this year the participation of over 100 Emirati women, who will display their Emirati heritage related handicrafts in the souk’s shops, spreading across 48,000 square meters.
Al Dhafra Festival will be opened to visitors daily from 10 am till 10 pm. Entrance is free.