With days remaining till the start of the 11th Al Dhafra Festival, camel caravans are already arriving at the opened desert grounds on the edge of the Empty Quarters, setting up tents and camel pens for one of the most impressive annual Bedouin gatherings. This year, the Festival will take place from 14th till 28th December, on the outskirts of Madinat Zayed, in Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi Emirate.
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 President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan," said Major General Pilot Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Chairman of the Committee.
"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."
"All heritage competitions and activities at Al Dhafra Festival are closely related to 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 Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, Planning and Projects Director at the Committee.
According to him, the traditional market attracted 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.