More heritage shows at Al Dhafra Festival expected to attract UAE residents, outsiders

The camel milk competition, inspired by the ancient Bedouin tradition of keeping and caring for camels, was the first contest to open at the Al Dhafra Festival, taking place in the Madinat Zayed’s desert, in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, from 13th to 29th December.

As in previous years, the competition has attracted hundreds of participants in the three categories – Asayel (golden-red camel breed, original to Oman), Majahim (the black camel of Saudi Arabia), and hybrid camels. The camels giving the most and best tasting milk were the winners of each category, which this year were awarded prizes worth AED1 million. Each camel among the winners produced over 10 litres of milk.

Along with camel milk, the festival opened with a sour milk contest – known locally as laban – and, for the first time at Al Dhafra, a saluki beauty competition, that will conclude on Saturday evening Organised by the Abu Dhabi Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi, Al Dhafra festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and it does so with new competitions, more activities and a bigger focus on visitors.

"We have achieved a lot in the past 10 years. Through the Al Dhafra Festival we have created a platform for the UAE citizens and residents to express their pride for the UAE’s heritage, preserve it and pass it on to their children," said Abdullah Butti Al Qubaisi, Director of Projects Management and Communication, of the committee.

"We added two new competitions this year, one on falcon beauty and the other on saluki beauty, in response to requests from saluki and falcon owners in the Western Region to have more such competitions for them and, of course, to follow the instructions of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. He called for support and an increase in the number of competitions, and to have more content that proves through the number of participants and visitors that the festival is contributing to the preservation of our heritage. Looking over the festival’s site, I would say we have succeeded in giving everyone reasons to be proud of our traditions," he added.

Days before Al Dhafra Festival opened its desert gates, one convoy after another transporting camels, sheep, firewood, supplies, and tents, was entering Madinat Zayed, to set up camp over the gentle dunes at the foothills of the Empty Quarters.

This year, the organisers expect over 1,500 participants and at least 25,000 camels to enter the competitions, which will award 1,200 prizes with a total value of AED35 million.

Among the 16 heritage activities planned at the festival there is the Handicrafts competition, opened to both Emirati men and women, which has just started this Saturday, 17th December, and will last till the conclusion of the event. The challenge is to make to a measure a cover in a particular size for any of the winning camels in the Camel Mazeinah (beauty competition).

Inspired by the authentic Emirati heritage, the cover must be handmade and decorated with heritage ornaments like "Al Tarabish" (tassels), golden liras, Al Telli (weaved silvery and golden threads), Al Zari cloth and so on.

Classic cars, pure Arabian horse race, sheep beauty competition, children’s village, best dates and dates packaging competitions, a bigger souk and the falcon mazaynah, the falcon beauty show, which has been organised for the first time at the Festival by Al Marzoum’s traditional hunting grounds, are among the events at Al Dhafra.

"This year we also plan to attract more visitors and we have different programmes for this. One of them is our committee's hospitality camp, where we have dedicated tents for visitors. If they wish to spend time in the desert, in a tent, this is an opportunity for them to do so," Abdullah Al Qubaisi said in conclusion.