Meet the Beauty Queens of Al Dhafra

Meet the Beauty Queens of Al Dhafra

“Camel No. 1! Camel No. 1!”

I experienced just arrived at the Al Dhafra Competition, and youthful boys in kanduras, or extensive tunics, were being functioning towards my automobile, shouting as they pointed their index fingers in the air. In the length, two gentlemen rode camels, every pulling another of the animals on a leash. One particular of the camels was draped in a gold-tasseled winner’s blanket.

At the rear of the males, gradually building its way across the sand dunes, was a massive convoy of honking pickup trucks. Males and boys stood in the beds of the autos and leaned out of all the windows, waving and cheering, lots of of them filming the scene on their telephones.

Devoid of a 2nd considered, I left my minor rental car or truck driving — I wouldn’t have gotten considerably in the deep sand, anyway — and jumped on the back again of the closest pickup. I wanted to be portion of this impromptu celebration.

The once-a-year Al Dhafra Competition celebrates Bedouin traditions, and takes spot at the edge of the Rub al Khali, or the Vacant Quarter, considered the major sand desert in the planet, near the Emirati metropolis of Madinat Zayed, a two-hour generate southwest of Abu Dhabi.

Highlights of the collecting include Saluki races (the dogs are prized by the Bedouin mainly because of their velocity and eyesight), poetry readings and exhibitions on falconry and traditional artisanship. From clean dates to camel milk, there is also an array of meals and consume.

At the heart of the pageant, nevertheless, are the camel splendor contests.

Throughout the weekslong celebration, Al Dhafra is the epicenter of the camel universe. In 2019, the year I attended, far more than 24,000 camels from all above the Center East competed for 60 million Emirati dirham in prize money — the equal of a lot more than $16 million. Wide sums of money also modify hands as significantly beautiful camels are offered.

Some members trace the origins of the beauty contests to a relatives dispute in 1993, when two camel breeders experienced to call on some impartial judges to identify whose animals have been more lovely.

Since then, camel beauty contests have progressed into a multimillion-greenback marketplace, with point out-sponsored heritage festivals held all throughout the state.

The aims of the Al Dhafra Competition, which was formally initiated by the govt in 2008, are to rejoice Bedouin culture, crank out tourism and protect the purity of sure camel breeds.

Bedouin society has all but vanished in the very last fifty years. Present day borders have stifled nomadic herding designs, and the encroachment of financial and technological improve has upended other traditional cultural methods.

For urbanized Bedouins, festivals like Al Dhafra are one of the few methods they can meaningfully maintain their traditions.

Camel splendor competitions are divided into distinct types, according to breed, age, sexual intercourse and whether a camel is owned by a sheikh or a tribesman. The conditions, nonetheless, continue to be the exact same.

The suitable camel has long straight legs, a lengthy neck, a shapely hump (in just the appropriate spot on its reduced again), pert ears, expressive eyes framed by upward curled eyelashes, extensive droopy lips and, of class, a smooth coat and sophisticated posture.

No supermodel is full devoid of jewelry, and an total market has sprung up all-around the splendor pageants to deliver the proper accouterments. Camel tailors, for instance, set up camp at Al Dhafra, exactly where they promote vibrant reins, shiny camel blankets laced with tinsel tassels and even glittering necklaces created of plastic beads and stringed cash.

Million Road, the street along which the camel superstars strut, transforms into an open-air market place of tents, caravans and foodstuff trucks.

The current market isn’t simply just a put to acquire camel tack and shampoo. Also on supply are vibrant wintertime blankets, coffee serving sets, stoves, rugs, hunting gear, foldable chairs, waterskins and an assortment of clothes. Brilliant lights promote dining places that serve kebabs, cakes and sweet karak chai. There are even laundry companies to keep the celebrants — both of those the men and women and the camels — wanting pristine.

Emirati ladies enjoy a limited purpose throughout the competition. Typically excluded from participating in the camel competitions, women and young children invest a lot of their time about their relatives tents or at a close by current market.

As a foreigner, having said that, I seemed to be exempt from the gender restrictions and, all through my 3-day go to, was able to wander all over freely, show up at the camel attractiveness contests and be a part of the entrepreneurs at the winners’ celebrations.

As the sunshine established and the sky turned a dusky purple, canopies adorned with hundreds of lights began to sparkle among the dunes. Inside of have been users of the Bedouin tribes, ordinarily scattered all in excess of the location, who experienced arrive right here to honor their traditions. Every tribe experienced set up a lavishly embellished tent.

Invited to celebrate a person of their camels’ wins, I joined the guys of the Almuharrami household into their illuminated tent, adhering to Waheela, a splendor queen.

“She has just been topped the most wonderful younger camel in the Center East,” mentioned Muneef, her 12-calendar year-old owner, beaming with pleasure.

And then the songs started, and the adult males lifted their bamboo canes to perform the yowlah. All through the regular stick dance, males chanted poetry and simulated a struggle scene. By the time I still left the occasion, the sky experienced turned inky black, with the revelry lasting deep into the evening.

Kiki Streitberger is a photojournalist and documentary photographer based in London and Germany. You can adhere to her function on Instagram.