x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Falcon Beauty Queen, Named for a Stud

ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 21SEPT2014 - Salem al Dhabari, with his hunting falcons in his residence at Shakhbout city in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National (to go with Anna story for News)
ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 21SEPT2014 - Salem al Dhabari, with his hunting falcons in his residence at Shakhbout city in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National (to go with Anna story for News)
Salem, the falconer poet from Shakhbout City, does not name his falcon until he gets to know it.

Hasheem, whose name means Decent, is a pure gyr falcon who has hunted in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

"Each falcon has a character, so from the day one this falcon shows some sort of wisdom and calmness," Salem told me. "I really give falcons names after I see their face and the way they react and this is usually maybe one week after I buy the falcon. Once we start the training."

So seriously does Salem take this that he has yet to name a five-month-old falcon because they have not hunted together. Right now, he's leaning towards the name Suriya (Swift), because his wings flutter so quickly when he is handled.

"I just got him from the hospital so I haven't honestly got to sit with him and talk to him and see how he reacts," said Salem.

This kind of thoughtfulness is rarely shown towards camels.

Camels are treated as commodities and given names that will increase their value. Occassionally, this means that camels and falcons share names. One of Salem's falcons is a female named for the famous camel stud Jabbar, who is a paradigm of camel masculinity.

Female falcons always carry male names, an accidental tradition. It was only recently discovered that female falcons are larger than males and modern falconers have continued to give powerful females masculine titles.

When referring to a female, Salem uses the male pronoun amongst falconers, who care about the bird's character, and the female pronoun when amongst breeders, who are concerned about the bird's sex.

Jabbar may be named after a bull of notorious virility but she won the beauty contest at Adihex 2014 in the gyr-saker category. (Points are similar to those in camel pageants: big eyes, a large snout or beak, long neck, wide feet, broad chest, consistent and beautiful colouring and, for falcons, perfect feather alignment.)

Camels seldom share names with boys, however, because camel names cannot be derivatives of the 99 Names of God. Yet both boys and camels can be named for strength or named after predators like al fahd (the leopard) or al saqr (the falcon).

Al Ain Abdullah named his all-time favourite camel, an off-white female, Al Theba, the Wolf.

The common breed Shaheen is named for a man whose name means eagle.

Sometimes, this gets confusing. Last month I met a man named Khalifa tending his camels in Digdagga, Ras Al Khaimah.

"I'm busy with these one-year-olds but you can see a shaheen over there," he told me.

"Everyone's a Shaheen," I said, unimpressed.

"No, no. A shaheen," said RAK Khalifa.

"Yeah, Shaheen the camel," I said. "Every camel in RAK is called Shaheen."

"No, no. Not that Shaheen," he said. "The real shaheen."

"Mohammed Shaheen?" I said

"No, the real shaheen," he said.

"His father Shaheen? He's passed away."

"No. Shaheen."

At this, he made flapping noises and I realized that he was telling me about a shaheen falcon, not the man named after the bird or the camel named after the man.