The Camel Beauty Competitions in the UAE: Spectacular Event

12:06 am  |  16.03.2024

The Prophet Muhammad is known to have owned several fast camels, the most famous of which was Kaswa.

Every year, a temporary town emerges in the dunes of the Desert Quarter, 170 kilometers southwest of Abu Dhabi, on the edge of the world’s largest continuous desert. This is where participants of the world’s largest camel beauty contest gather. The Al Dhafra festival, which has gained a reputation as the largest Bedouin gathering on the planet, attracts at least 1,500 camel owners and 20,000 camels. All these events are carried out with a clear goal: to demonstrate that local camels are not just a cultural heritage, but also the best representatives of their species.

Various competitions shows, and heritage-related events take place against the backdrop of the festival’s main event – the camel beauty pageant.

Generosity and Rewards

Owners of magnificent camels give generously. Thus, at the last festival, the total prize fund was almost 100 million dirhams, which were mainly distributed among the participants in the beauty contest. The largest amount received by one participant was 3 million dirhams.

Significance of the Al Dhafra Festival

The Al Dhafra Festival continues to be the largest and most significant event for camel owners in the region. Every year, hundreds of people come to the Al Dhafra Festival from Oman or Saudi Arabia, bringing with them their best herds in the hope of winning big and winning over new clients. Winning a camel beauty contest instantly increases, even triples, the value of the winning camel. No Gulf camel owner will miss this festival. This is too good a business opportunity. Even those who do not participate in the camel beauty contest come here. Most of them want to buy or sell camels. Keeping such an animal is a costly undertaking, especially if it will be entered into a beauty contest. Such a camel needs to be fed with honey, olive oil, and the best herbs. And also bathe regularly and protect from diseases.

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Given that Allah loves everything beautiful, in Pakistan and India special attention is paid to the care and decoration of camels. The so-called “artistic cutting” of camels is prevalent in these countries.

A Lucrative Business Opportunity

Buyers usually choose beautiful camels, so having a camel with a haircut done by a master gives it added value. Grooming a camel is a labor-intensive process, taking up to four hours per side, depending on the color and size of the camel. But the result is worth it.

The Value of Camels

“Camels are a good business. People buy them for a million dirhams and sell them for three, four, or five million. The appearance and pedigree give a camel value,” says Rashed Al Mansouri, who grew up around camels and now works with Sheikh Sultan’s camels Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, winner of the AED 1,000,000 Bayraq competition.

Assessing Camel Beauty: Criteria and Standards

Each camel is evaluated on a scale of 100 points, with judges solemnly swearing on the Koran to remain impartial. A maximum of 100 points can be awarded, and there are 10 categories in the competition, with red and black camels being the most prominent. Different parts of the camel’s body are judged separately.

In Abu Dhabi, camels undergo meticulous scrutiny from nose to tail, adhering to strict criteria. When selecting the most beautiful camels, the jury looks for long, slender necks, graceful posture, wide cheeks, and large hooves. Before the competition, camels undergo thorough medical examinations, including X-rays. Camel beauty is not merely superficial; it also encompasses practicality. A robust hump symbolizes satiety, while slitted nostrils aid in sand protection. Long, slender legs shield the body from hot sands. Although wide, flat feet with two splayed toes may seem unusual to outsiders, to Bedouins, they symbolize the tracks traversing the Arabian dunes through time.

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Celebrating Beauty: Joy and Honor

Witnessing the stunning contestants is a delight, and the jubilation of the winners is heartwarming. The announcement of winners is accompanied by loud cries of “Namus!”—a term translating to honor. For participants, the honor of victory and owning the most beautiful camel often outweighs monetary rewards.

After leaving the arena, the victorious camel is paraded down the road, surrounded by cars honking in celebration. Young people proudly lean out of windows and hatches, reveling in the honor bestowed upon their family by the camel.

Navigating Challenges: Ethics and Integrity

Despite the gravity of the competition, doping scandals have marred the event, leading to disqualifications for participants caught enhancing their camels with silicone or fillers. However, cloning successful specimens is permitted, with some enthusiasts successfully employing this method. The Dubai Reproductive Biotechnology Center produces numerous prized camels for Dubai’s elite, including clones of renowned champions and genetically modified camels for pharmaceutical purposes. Additionally, the center can provide grieving owners with replicas of their deceased camels using cell samples obtained posthumously.

The Marketplace of Beauty

Camels for sale line the streets, and informal auctions are commonplace. Following the awards ceremony, winners often take a “lap of honor” with their cars in tow.

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The Al Dhafra Camel Festival also features a pop-up market offering camel equipment adorned with crystal and gold thread, including bridles and harnesses. Additionally, travel accessories and household items are available, alongside luxury recreational items such as large grills with chimneys, chairs, and sinks boasting marble counters and mirrors.

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