I spent four days reporting Abu Dhabi’s international hunting and equestrian exhibition last week. Before going, I had looked into it, and had read some interesting press releases by exhibitors.
But I didn’t really know what to expect, aside from animals and guns.
How could I know I’d meet the man who hand crafted the world’s longest sword and largest dagger? A man who might just be the world’s most humble, too.
We wanted to take photos of Emad Ghalghay posing next to his masterpieces, but had to wait for excited onlookers to take theirs first.
Now, if I had crafted such a megalithic work of art, I’d have strolled next to people and muttered: “Oh, that's impressive, yeah? Wow, that's so cool. Yeah, I kind of made that. Pretty big deal over here.”
But Emad watched on, patient and stoic, reflecting his work and others’ enjoyment of it.
One thing that immediately struck me about Adihex was how easy it was to buy a bird of prey. For some reason, the rows and rows of falcons for sale really surprised me – albeit, slightly less than the rows and rows of guns.
If I could afford it, and had the time to take care of it, I would definitely get a falcon. And I would walk around with it on my shoulder. Definitely.
Not so much a gun though.
I understand the cultural aspects of hunting and that it’s a natural part of the survival. But I do find it a bit grim when people shoot sentient beings for enjoyment, rather than neccessity. It’s different when you train and use falcons to hunt – it seems more natural, more balanced.
This was highlighted by the excessive number of taxidermist stands. Who wants to store a corpse in their living room, or on the wall?
I also sympathise with the hubara - it’s a beautiful bird but its legacy seems to be its role as prey to the proud, majestic falcon. It was at least reassuring to learn about conservation efforts being made to protect the species.
Equally reassuring was that guns were displayed in a higher-security area; people had to pass through two metal detectors and have their bags scanned twice to get in and out. In the main cultural area, on the other hand, there were enormous hunting knives out. One shop even had a hunting knife with a handle made of mammoth ivory.
I’m not sure that sustainable hunting, which is key to Emirati falconry, applied to that knife – a weapon made of the body parts of an extinct animal. Although, to be fair, it did seem as if the one-of-a-kind Dh50,000 work of art was more for show than for actual use.
I also met a man who looked like he’d stepped out of the 1900s, leading a traditional Emirati dance. I interviewed him, and he laughed when he found out I was Emirati. I’m not sure he believed me.
Another obscure meeting was with a Japanese female falconer. I’ve always seen it as a very Arab, male-dominated sport. But I learned about the Japanese heritage of falconry, from the use of falcons in times of feudal warfare, to the popularisation of the sport among samurai and finally, its decline and rebirth.
Finally, on my last day I heard about how much the HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival is doing for the sport. The FEI's first ever female endurance race is being held in London next year, in Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak's name – a huge tangible and symbolic achievement.
After my recent blog post about passion, it was so refreshing to see so many people so passionate about such a huge range of fields. Emirati falconers, Qatari sword sellers, German falcon doctors, caravan salesmen, poets, artists, camel auction hosts, saluki breeders, equestrian fanatics, and more.
It was exhausting reporting Adihex every day, I’m not sure I’ve ever drunk so much free coffee in my life. But, it was certainly interesting, to say the least.
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