I was there when she was crowned – #1 Omani Camel Beauty for 2018. Actually, I don’t know exactly what she was called BUT I know her owners and trainers and all their families were VERY proud.
Off in the deserts of Oman – in many places actually – camel festivals are held to promote cultural tradition and camel husbandry. They are very prestigious affairs lasting up to ten days. Owners bring their prized camels and their families to enjoy a festival combining animal culture and traditions. I have been hooked ever since my first camel festival in near Abu Dhabi 10 years ago at my first camel beauty contest.
We drive out from Ibri for about 50 kms. Mountains like waves on the right, stunted trees on the left, open road leading to Salalah stretching before us – me and my dear Omani family.
At the venue, we find assemblies of watchers, debaters, and judges.
As in all beauty contests, there are criteria. I found this guide on the internet. Local committees of experts assess and rank the camels, which are categorized by age after a teeth examination. They look for:
- Coat: a natural appearance with shiny hair of a clearly definable color. The brighter the hair, the more beautiful the pageant entrant is considered to be. No hair-coloring, tattooing, or other cosmetic modification is allowed.
- Neck: must be long, wide, and elegant and lean, neither overly full nor skinny. The area between the neck and the hump should be long and strong.
- Head: should be large and upright as well as proportioned to the rest of the body. Lips are pouty and pendulous, with the upper lip being cleft, chin is visible from the front and side, and eyes are wide with long, dark lashes. Ears are long, furrowed and pricked up, and also keep the sand out.
- Hump: large and shapely, in the usual position close to the back—a good posture and a large hump may increase a camel’s chance of winning.
Actually, the criteria can vary from region to region, or contest to contest. With due ceremony, a winner is announced, wrapped in a hump-hugging banner and awarded a silver khanjar – the prestigious symbol of Oman.
And then the celebration begins!
For me, it is really interesting that fathers bring their young sons, and spend time teaching them the values and traditions of camel culture. It is lovely to watch.
In equal parts, it is disturbing to me that women are just not allowed and daughters are relegated to the fringes.
It is a privilege to be a Western woman who is always welcomed as an esteemed guest in Oman. Gender is never a barrier to me. It is not my country, it is not my culture, and I do not make a fuss – but I am disturbed. Accompanying me is a world-class female Omani photographer who is not able to share the joy of the camel festival with me.
Instead, for families, a temporary souq is erected – a little food and a lot of camel paraphernalia. For competitions, camels are decorated with tinsel and baubles almost like Christmas trees.
The local women spin wool, and weave camel or goat hair to make splendid and useful creations like camel saddlebags.
In the souq, traditional crafts are displayed with customary Omani pride and humility.
People meet and greet – a festival is an occasion to see family and dignitaries who may live far off in the sands and cities of Oman.
I was raised on a farm, and I learned the values of animal breeding and showmanship by my father’s example. I appreciate the effort that goes into breeding and grooming champion livestock of all kinds, and in Oman, camels and horses are prized. It is a great honor to participate in these festivals, and it is easy to get caught up in the proud moments.
And then I make my way home, through the plains, mountains and wadis that are home to the camel beauties.