• Camel beauty tougher than ever to judge
• New dagger initiative launched
• First Emirati woman in Classic Car competition

This year’s Al Dhafra festival ran from the 14th till the 28th December, and included over 20; competitions, activities and shows, including some introduced for the first time to the festival by its organizer, the “Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee” – Abu Dhabi.

Hundreds of daily visitors – Emiratis, expats and tourists – experienced the event this year, which included falcon and saluki races, camel market and parades on Million’s Street, the 48,000 square meters’ souk with its 100 Emirati shops, exhibitions, competitions, live entertainment and a children’s village and, at the heart of the festival, the camel mazayna (beauty) competitions.

All in all, 1,400 prizes were offered this year, worth AED 38 million, most of it (over AED 30 million) shared by winners of the 82 camel mazayna. Over the desert grounds beyond Madinat Zayed, in Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi emirate, hundreds of camps were set up by camel owners from across UAE, but also from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, who brought their best camel herds to Al Dhafra Festival. Camel owners came in their thousands, most to participate in the camel mazayna competitions, but some just to trade camels.

“Al Dhafra Festival was another success story this year. We had thousands of visitors, including ambassadors, ministers and tourists from different parts of the world. We also had thousands of participants, not just in camel mazayna, but also in the sheep and camel milk competitions, best dates, handicrafts and cooking competitions, the Arabian saluki race and beauty contest, the falcon best in show and falcon racing and in the classic cars competition and the new poetry and shallah (chanted poems) contest,” said Mr. Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, Planning and Projects Director at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi.

“Throughout the 15 days of the festival we did a survey for both participants and visitors and we are now going to study their suggestions and possibly add new events and regulations for the festival next year.”
“Compared to last year, the camel mazayna was very tough to judge this year, as the bloodline for the Asayel and Majahim pedigree camels has become really good. We also witnessed much higher quality in the souk products this year. Participating entrepreneurs, artisans and craft makers have learnt not only to create high-quality products, but also how to best present, package and price them.”

“The Million Street was very busy this year with millions being traded for camels. In fact, the area has become like a camel stock market. Camel prices are still going strong, with several millions paid for a top purebred,” he added.

Also at Al Dhafra Festival 2017, there were a few government initiatives announced, including one by the organizers themselves. The Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi launched here its new Emirati Dagger initiative.

The Emirati Dagger: new initiative launched at Al Dhafra Festival Coinciding with the “Year of Zayed” celebration in 2018, the initiative aims to revive heritage practices related to the traditional dagger (locally known as khanjar), preserve the craftsmanship of making traditional daggers, protect the craft’s characteristics and create a market to sustain this craft, promote the culture of carrying traditional daggers in the Abu Dhabi emirate, conserve old, traditional daggers in the UAE and document the traditional dagger craft.

Throughout the festival, in the souk’s square, the Committee has showcased the Emirati khanjar with an exhibition of both old and new daggers. Still made today, the Emirati dagger is usually worn during traditional celebrations. In the past, Emirati men used to carry it as a self-defense weapon, along with a straight blade sword.

The making of traditional daggers is a craft that requires specialized knowledge and high skills in working with materials such as ivory, leather and wood. In addition, the craftsmen are required to master the art of silver filigree, using various techniques such as casting, molding, adornment, stamping, engraving, granulation, gilding and polishing among others. The finest quality daggers always stand apart, being the most expensive and valuable on the market, and showing the higher status of their holders.

In time, carrying a dagger was not only a self-protection necessity, but it became a symbol associated with a number of noble values, notably strength, dignity, courage, honour, nobility and pride.
The Emirati Dagger exhibition also had daily workshops for children of all ages, who got to decorate and keep their own replica dagger.

Other highlights of Al Dhafra Festival included the popular Camel Milk contest for the largest quantity of milk produced by a camel. The competition took place over four days during the festival, with milking sessions both in the mornings and evenings. Four different breeds of camels were allowed to participate, in four different categories: Majahim, Al Arabi Mahaliat, Al Maftuha and Al Qawaweer Al Mahaliat. The milk amount varied from just under five liters per camel to over 14 litres per camel. First place winners of each category got to drive home in a brand new Nissan Patrol.

First time Emirati woman enters Classic Car competition
Another favourite at the Al Dhafra Festival is the Classic Car Competition and, for the first time this year, there was a woman participant – and winner! UAE’s Mariam Rashid Al Matmari won third place and AED 7,000 for her Buick 1975 blue convertible model.

The first winner, awarded AED 15,000, was Tamer Al Nuaimi for his 1970 Dodge Coronet Super Bee, while second place and AED 10,000 went to Saeed Al Maskari for his 1973 Ford Grand Torino.
The three main awards were followed by seven category prizes for the most beautiful car, the oldest, the biggest, the smallest, best sport car, best sedan (four doors) and most luxurious car. Each category winner was awarded AED 5,000.

The Classic Car competition – and exhibition – was organized by the Al Ain Classic Car Museum.

“We had 20 cars participating this year, the oldest being a Mercedes 280 CE from 1965. Most of these cars belong to our club members, affiliated to the Classic Car Museum, but some belong to us,” said Mr. Rashid Al Tamimi, Chairman of Al Ain Classic Car Museum.

“This year we brought three new, unique projects. One was a three-in-one Volkswagen minibus. It has been converted to feature a mobile kitchen, a library and a mobile gift shop for small, heritage car models. Another was a modified 1988 Range Rover, which used to belong to HH The UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He used this car between 1988 and 1995 for hunting, mainly in Pakistan and Morocco.”

“Another unique car is Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s Range River. Sheikh Zayed used to have a heavily modified 1976 Range Rover. The car no longer exists and a same year model is extremely rare on the market. We happened to find one last year and rebuilt it to the exact specifications Sheikh Zayed required from Range Rover Company in the 1976. We had 11 Emirati guys working on this project, which took almost three weeks to complete,” added Mr. Tamimi. ■