x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Fujairah, the Wild West of the UAE, celebrates with traditional sports

Celebrations at Fujairah Fort yesterday involved swords, bulls and lazy camels.

Traditional drummers celebrate the country's anniversary at the Fujairah Fort yesterday. Pawan Singh / The National
Traditional drummers celebrate the country's anniversary at the Fujairah Fort yesterday. Pawan Singh / The National

FUJAIRAH // Without looking up, Mohammed Al Shehhi threw his metre-long steel sword into the air.

He caught it, then balanced the sharp weapon on the tip of a finger before hoisting it into the air again with a special twirl and a yell.

"A sign of true manhood is being able to throw a sword and catch it without fail," said Mohammed, 19.

Having sustained a serious injury to his head just two weeks ago after a throw, he remains determined to continue this traditional sport despite his mother's concern.

"I am from the mountains and the sword was my first toy," Mohammed said.

He was one of 16 swordsmen competing yesterday in a continuing Fujairah sword competition that began last month.

A special competition session was held for National Day and the young swordsmen showed up in national-coloured scarves.

Held on the grounds of the 340- year-old Fujairah Fort, the championships are one of many celebrations for National Day over the past 40 days.

Yasser Al Shehhi, 22, who took third place in last year's championship, winning Dh40,000 and a bronze sword, is back this year to try to win first place.

The winner is given a golden sword and Dh100,000, while second place receives a silver sword and Dh60,000.

"It is one of the few times in the year where a man can release his aggression in an artful way," said Yasser. "And there is no better time to show what an Emirati is made of then on National Day."

Both competitors are members of the mountain tribe of Al Shehhuh, where the young train in the art of swords from the tender age of five.

"We want to show the world that no matter how much we progress as a country, we have maintained our traditional values and sports," said Yasser.

Just a few steps from the fort, a 15-metre replica of a sword has been built on the roundabout. The UAE Sword was a gift by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad, Crown Prince of Fujairah, to mark the country's 40th anniversary.

Earlier in the day there were loud sounds coming from an enclosed area near the sword arena.

At the scream of a hand-held siren, the reins of two bulls in the arena were loosened and off they went, butting heads and bellowing as they fought.

Some misstepped and ended up with scrapped hides and angry muttering from their owners as they were pulled back after losing.

"My bull is tough, he just needs a slap on his behind and he is ready to fight," said Mohammed bin Khames, owner of Weld Al Hesan (Son of a Horse), a white bull with a small UAE flag tied around its horn.

Many of the creatures were painted in national colours, while others wore ribbons that fell off during their fights.

"He has agility and the beauty of a horse. That's why I called him Son of a Horse," said Mr bin Khames.

Asked what he would do if his bull got hurt or killed, he shrugged and said: "We will just eat him."

While the bulls battled it out in a sandy arena, a line of Arabian horses decked in national colours trotted around the heritage village set up at the base of the majestic fort. Against a backdrop of national songs and buzz of celebrating crowds, sometimes they carried children; other times they refused to carry anyone.

Camels were also on parade, and spent most of the day resting near the harbeya dancers but rose groaning when the music got too loud.

"We always go to heritage villages, but this year it's extra special because it's our country's birthday," said Umm Hamad, in her 50s, who came to the fort with her family.

"We all know how to cook the dishes featured here but it is different when you come to just sit inside one of these tents and let someone else do the cooking for you for a change," said the housewife and mother of six.

The fort's heritage village featured traditional handicrafts and food, with some young Emiratis turning this special day into a career change.

Kholood Al Mesmari, 30, set up shop selling sword key chains and ghutra, or Arabic headgear, in flag colours.

"I wanted to do something special for National Day, something that would be a limited edition and exclusive," said Ms Al Mesmari, who was wearing an abaya lined with red, and rings and bracelets in national colours.

"I am really proud to be an Emirati woman and I am particularly proud to be from Fujairah."

Looking over to the bullfighting arena and trotting horses, she added: "We are the Wild West of the UAE. We have our own kind of cowboys."