A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cultural Stereotype Department: Camel Beauty Contest

Here's a BBC piece on a camel beauty contest (including video) in the "remote Western region" of the UAE.
Normally, there's nothing there but sand, but the al-Dhafra Festival filled the arid desert with breeders and their herds, some of which had been driven from as far as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Actually, camels are serious business in the UAE, though arguably falcons are even more so.

I do submit, however, for Arabic-readers, the home page of the Dhafra Festival, and for the English readers, this semi-official UAE report.

Now, Zayed City, where the festival is held, is on the road from the coast to the Liwa Oasis, but it's the capital of Abu Dhabi's Gharbiyya (Western) province, and I'll admit I've never been there, but I suspect the "Normally, there's nothing there but sand" remark would offend the Chamber of Commerce. (No web page of its own but phone and E-mail under the Abu Dhabi Chamber.)

And "some of which had been driven from as far as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain" gives the impression that these camel herds were driven across the desert. That may be so (though it must have caused traffic jams on the Bahrain causeway), but I wonder if some were "driven" in trucks with animal trailers. And Qatar and Saudi Arabia aren't that far, and the roads are good.

The Gulf is one of the most culturally conservative regions in the Arab world, and camels, like falcons, are taken very seriously, but the subtle differences between the BBC report and the UAE ones are worth noting.

Oh, and before someone screams hypocrisy, yes, I know the Middle East Journal cover currently shown at the upper right shows camels against a sunset (or perhaps sunrise). But it's illustrating an article on Syrian bedouin tribes, and it's a fine photo. There's nothing stereotypical about the article, by an Oxford anthropologist.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

When I was living in Abu Dhabi in the late 1980s, I visited Al-Dhafra and the Liwa a few times. Admittedly, it was not at the time of any festival, but at least then you did not see much other than sand in an area which is part of the Great Empty Quarter. In fact, that was its charm in a country where areas of open desert were rapidly disappearing with the spread of improvements like permanent buildings and highway beautification. Many of Abu Dhabi's more far sighted leaders cling to examples of life before oil and celebrate folkloric activities, partly as a defense mechanization against the social and cultural aspects of modernity, not all of which are so desirable as improved housing, air conditioning, modern medicine and educational opportunities.