MADINAT ZAYED // Dozens of enthusiasts gathered yesterday to hear the winners of a camel-milking competition that acted as a prelude for the annual Al Dhafra Festival in the Western Region.
The three-day Halab competition is open to Asayel, or pure-blood, camels from the UAE or Oman and dark-skinned Majahims that are originally from Najd in Saudi Arabia. There was no place for mixed breed camels, and the owners must have taken an oath: "I swear by Almighty God that this camel is rightfully mine and it is pure-bred."
Camel owners from all GCC countries participated in either of the two categories in this "milky" festival. Their goal was to promote camel milk. Nicknamed "the white gold of the desert", it has deep-rooted cultural significance, and is said to be nutritious and drinkable for those who are lactose intolerant.
"Camel milk has been a valuable economical source for Arabs since ancient times and is used as cure for many diseases," said Mohammed Abdulla al Muhairi, the manager of the competition.
On the first day of the competition, more than 80 Asayels were shortlisted to 15 for the final round the next morning. Deri'a, a tan-coloured camel owned by an Emirati, came first for producing 11.7 kilograms of milk. Omani-owned Hamra was second, with another Emirati camel third. Almost 90 Majahims went through a similar process, the field being narrowed down to 15 before a top 10 was chosen.
Because an Emirati-owned Asayel came first, there was high excitement about which GCC country would come out on top in the Majahim category.
The moment Salim al Mazrouei, the director of the festival, came forward to announce the results, everyone turned silent. He counted down from 10 and the crowd cheered for all. The volume increased as the top three names were read.
Mnifa, an Emirati-owned camel, came out on top, followed by two Omani camels.
Obeid Naseeb al Saboosi, the owner of the nine-year-old Mnifa, said the victory was for the leaders of the Emirates. Soon the camel was draped in the UAE flag. Mr al Saboosi milked her and offered a taste to Mr al Mazrouei and some others.
The process of competitive milking is not as easy as it looks. Yesterday, there were several teams of two to squeeze out the milk as quickly as possible, a job that requires much muscle power.
Like figs and olives that are mentioned in the Quran, the camel is held in high esteem, too. "Camels are blessed in the Islamic culture in general," Mr al Muhairi said. "Thus all its production is considered precious and for the benefit of man."
There is a growing market for camel milk, and because of competitions like these camel owners are providing better feed and environments.
"It is notable that the camel milk production has increased since the launch of the competition," Mr al Muhairi said. "I think that we have achieved the most important objective of the competition, which is paying more attention to the quality of camel milk."
The Al Dhafra festival begins on Thursday morning with a camel beauty contest and continues until December 25.