Traditional Sports of the UAE
The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (adach.ae) published some very interesting leaflets about Emirati customs and culture, so I thought it would be interesting to share them on the blog. All the data below has been taken from these pamphlets.
The Arabs have engaged in falconry for over 2.000 years and the skills involved in the sport have been passed down through the generations.
Falconry depends on patience and partnership between bird and handler: the bird demonstrates trust and obedience; the handler shows friendship and compassion.
In his book Falconry: Our Arab Heritage, HH the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, described the main methods of capturing the birds.
At first, the hunter conceals himself beneath branches in a pit in the ground, then he releases a pigeon with a string attached to its leg from the pit, to act as a lure. When the falcon seizes its prey, the hunter carefully winds in the string until the bird is within his reach. An alternative means of capture is netting: a pigeon is released under a net when a falcon is nearby, and in its rush to attack the pigeon, the falcon becomes entangled in the net, from where the hunter gently removes and tethers it. The bird is then handed over to a falconer to start its training. UAE falconers have also developed their own breeding techniques which enthusiasts of the sport rate as the best in the world.
The Bedouin have been breeding Saluki dogs for thousands of years. The name derives from the city of Saluk, in the Hadhramaut area of Yemen. These desert hounds are known for their exceptional stamina, as they can run for long distances and reach speeds of up to 65mph, as well as for their intelligence and loyalty.
The Arabian Saluki Centre provides excellent facilities and professional advice on breeding, behaviour, exercise regimes, diet and general health. In the UAE, racing salukis is as popular as greyhound racing in other parts of the world.
Originally camel racing was only the sport of the Bedouin, but it has grown in popularity. The racing season between early October and mid-April is now eagerly anticipated by a growing number of enthusiasts, especially since entrance to racetracks is free.
Races were originally held in an informal setting, at weddings or festivals, but now there are 15 custom-built racetracks in the UAE. Sweihan Racetrack (130 Km from Abu Dhabi) and Al Ain Racetrack (approx. 25 Km from Al Ain) are two of the most popular places to enjoy this spectacular sport.
Camel racing is now a major industry employing over 9,000 people, tending over 14,000 racing camels. The formation of the Camel Racing Association has resulted in the highest standards of animal welfare and scrupulous ethics that have become a benchmark for other countries. The use of child jockeys was banned some years ago: now the use of remote-controlled robot as jockeys is very popular.
The three main breeds of racing camel are al mahaliyat, a brown breed, indigenous to the UAE, al sudaniyat, a large, white Sudanese camel, and al muhajanat, a cross-breed of the two.
Racing camels are usually the product of careful selective breeding and can attain the value and prestige of racehorses.
Betting is illegal, but winning camels receive expensive prizes. The final race of the season is held at Al Wathba (40 Km from Abu Dhabi) and attracts entrants from all over the world.
Thoroughbred racing camels begin training when they are about two years old and learn to obey basic commands. A two-kilometre gallop is used to identify potential champions and those selected are groomed for a future on the track. Traditionally, race camels are fed on dates, honey, alfalfa, milk and grains.
The tradition of dhow building in the UAE is still thriving and although the enormous white sails have been replaced by diesel engines, master boat builders still apply the skills developed over the centuries to create the familiar curved wooden shape. Originally used as trading vessels, and as an essential part of the pearl-diving industry, dhows are still employed for transporting cargo, but are also used for dhow racing.
The racing season starts in September, with 12-man teams of UAE nationals competing in a tournament spread over nine months. The final and most prestigious race of the season is from Sir Bu Na’air Island to Dubai, a distance of 54 nautical miles, over a route taken by the early pearling dhows at a time when each captain raced to be the first back to port, and perhaps get the best price for his pearls.
Dhow is not an Arabic word but was adapted by the British from the Persian word dawh, meaning sailing vessel.
The dhow is distinguished from other boats by its triangular sail, known as lateen. Teak is still the mandatory timber, though nowadays is sometimes supplemented by fibreglass and steel framework.
The wood may be varnished yet not painted, in deference to the tradition of leaving the hull above the waterline untreated and painting the part below with lime, as a deterrent to barnacles and other growth.
An excellent place to witness the age-old craft of dhow building is at the Al-Bateen boatyard in Abu Dhabi, where hand tools and the knowledge and skill of the shipwright alone are relied upon to produce the UAE’s best racing dhows, without using plans or drawings.