The Arabs appreciate their camels rather deeply. They call these beautiful creatures ‘God’s gift to the Bedouin’. In fact, they love camels so much that they get together once a year to pick out the most beautiful ones of them all.
The Al Dhafra Festival is held annually at Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. The camel beauty pageant is the highlight of this festival, featuring 30,000 camels from all over the Gulf region. It’s something like a dog-show, with the animals being paraded around and given marks on their appearance.
How does one judge the beauty of a camel? According to Ali Al Mansouri, a camel owner and member of the Al Dhafra organizing committee, “The judges are looking for camels with big heads, wide necks, firm ears, broad cheeks and big whiskers.” He also said that the body should be long, the hump and the back should be big, and the color and posture of the camel are important.
The pageant is conducted in two stages – one for the light-colored Asayel breed, and the other for the dark-skinned Majahim. Unlike humans, big is beautiful when it comes to judging camels. Another camel owner, Khamees Mohammad al Sharee, explains how the winners are picked: “There is a special committee appointed by authorities that judges the competition. They place all the camels together in one pen and decide.”
The top ten camels meeting these criteria are deemed winners. But the owners are the ones that really enjoy the rewards. They receive luxury cars and cash prizes between 18,000 and 30,000 dirham ($4,900 to $8,200). It isn’t just about the money though. Winning the pageant is a matter of national pride among camel-owning families.
The pageant and the Al Dhafra festival have been attracting participants from outside the Gulf as well. This year is the first time for Danielle Tennant from South Africa. “As we arrived we were ushered in and we were given a personal guide. We tried some amazing Arabian coffee and we’ve been taken around to the stalls,” she said. “It’s been quite fascinating to think it’s another whole interest, a passion people have.”
The UAE is home to over 380,000 camels. These sturdy creatures can resist the harsh desert climate and are prized possessions of many Arabs. They are a source of milk and transportation for the Bedouins, and a potentially profitable business investment.
The Al Dhafra Festival, celebrating and promoting Bedouin culture, is now in its seventh year. It began on the 22nd of December this year, and will last two weeks. Camel races, saluki races, falconry competitions, and a traditional Emirati market are the other attractions at the festival.