Camel Racing Essay, Research Paper
This paper offers a description of camel racing as a growing traditional cultural heritage sport in Gulf Arab societies. An integrated approach is used in describing and analyzing the multiple aspects and functions of the races as an evolving cultural revival within the broad contexts of oil wealth, the building of modern nation-state, and modern global forces. Camel racing is analyzed as an activity for distributing oil wealth among the Bedouin segment of the United Arab Emirates national population, as a significant component in the enterprise of statecraft and state formation, and as cultural festivals for preserving and promoting national cultural identity, which appears threatened by loads of global cultural flows.
The camel racing season starts in the United Arab Emirates from mid-October until mid-April. The races are held each weekend. In Dubai, the races are held at the Naad Al-Sheba racetrack. Camel racing is not for the faint-hearted: the moment the starting gun sounds, dozens of very excited Emiraty s speed down the side of the track in their 4WDs, usually paying more attention to the camels than to where they are going. There is camel training most mornings, which the public can attend during the racing season. There is no entry fee to either the training sessions or the races.
Camels, called the “Ships of the Desert,” have an indisputable place of prominence in UAE history. However, modern camel racing resembles nothing from the past. These desert dwellers once raced camels at festivals and weddings, but they never rode so hard for so long. A camel must be trained for years to maintain the pace of a race. At full speed, its legs kick in all different directions, which is abnormal for the animal.
And while camels were the mode of transport long before there was oil for the nation’s numerous Mercedes and Land Rovers, few racing camels actually originate in the UAE. Dubai, for example, has an estimated 50,000 of the world’s 14 million camels, but only a fraction are born here. Thousands are imported every year from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Africa. The arrivals of the camels are heralded by local headlines that refer to the “VICs” – Very Important Camels.
The costs are enormous, even without counting perks or adding expenses, champion camels can sell for US$500,000 or more.
The stakes are equally high. Betting is banned by the government, which, instead, showers winners with prizes and publicity. The races are covered live by television, and written up in the sports pages of the local dailies. The camels become celebrities. The jockeys, often as young as four, are never mentioned. Instead, praise is heaped upon the rich owners of both animals and riders, who claim prizes that include luxury cars, four-wheel-drive trucks, yachts and cash.
Long ago, UAE nationals were the jockeys. But these days, all of them are Indian and Pakistani, and have been for the past three years or so.
There are 15 racetracks throughout the UAE, but the sport is bigger in Dubai, which claims two of the six main stadiums, as well as a Camel Hospital. The season runs from October into April. Races begin at four kilometers, gradually increasing to reach the full 10 kilometers.
The training is grueling, which last years. Camels are fed a rich diet. Special factories prepare the grain, with magnet sweeps for metal, and vacuuming of any dirt. Racing camels munch high-nutrition trail mix consisting of milk, dates, honey, barley and clover, sometimes spiked with vitamins. Although camels often vomit this breakfast before or after the race, the trainers consider it a good sign, indicating a camel that is ready to run.
Camels move at four different speeds, which all involve unique leg patterns. At its fastest, the camel has been clocked at 65 km/h, but not for long. Females can maintain a steady speed of 40 km/h for a full hour, which makes them the more competitive camel. Fifteen to 20 camels usually participate in each race, but the field grows to about six dozen towards the end of the season.
The bouncing during a race is treacherous. There are stories of children not only being roped to the mounts, but attached with velcro. It’s a dangerous sport. Slipping from the saddle can result in broken bones or being dragged to death.
The children (jockeys) scream loudly at the starting line, shrieks of pure terror. This is part of the plan. Their startled cries excite the camels, pushing them to top speeds. As the camels run around the sandy track, a group of vans and 4WD s follow on a ring road. Video cameras catch the action, which is played on television screens mounted on poles in front of the viewing stands. There are several segregated sections. Sheiks and sultans claim the luxury boxes in the middle, while common folk sit off to the right. The last section is for western guests and tourists.