A look at the traditional Emirati pastime of falconry
David Light spoke to Souad Darwish, Director of the recently held Fazza Championships at the Centre, to find out more.
A falcon soaring majestically over the dunes. It’s a seductive image of the Middle East, yet one that few of us are able to witness. Aside from the gimmicky ‘Falcon Masters’ seen holding these birds at popular tourist spots, hoping to charge you vast amounts of money for a quick selfie, the literal animal symbol of the UAE usually remains elusive.
However, at the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Centre in Dubai, these creatures are nurtured and adored every day.
We spoke to Souad Darwish, Director of the recently held Fazza Championships at the Centre, to find out more.
Why is it important to promote falconry?
Falconry is one of the oldest traditional sports/hunting methods in history. As was mentioned by UNESCO while officially declaring falconry as an intangible cultural heritage, falconry represents “one of the oldest relationships between man and bird”.
The sport is believed to have originated here in the Arabian Peninsula and dates back more than 2,000 years. Moreover, falconry is an integral part of the desert life which has been practiced in the UAE for centuries. The Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center seeks to preserve the legacy of this noble sport by organising the Fazza Championship for Falconry, which brings together falconry enthusiasts of all ages from around the UAE and the Gulf region.
What makes it a symbol of Emirati culture?
Falconry has historically been a popular pastime in the UAE, and in ancient times, the hunting expeditions were frequently used as a way for the rulers to tour their territory and connect with people and keep in touch with the latest developments in areas which were otherwise largely incommunicado.
The falcon is also the national emblem of the UAE. Through organisng the Fazza Championship for Falconry, the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center seeks to keep the ancient sport of falconry alive among Emirati youth and pass on traditional pursuits to successive generations.
How serious are people about falconry, in your experience?
Falconry is a sport that is passed down over generations and the huge turnout of participants in this year’s Fazza Championship for Falconry bears testimony to the abiding popularity of falconry among Emiratis of all ages. For many Emiratis, falconry is more than a sport; it’s a lifelong passion and many falconry enthusiasts still go hunting with their falcons.
Over the years, we have added new categories - including a Junior’s category - to open up the competition to a wider segment of the population. This year’s tournament, in fact, witnessed participation from children as young as 3.5 years old, with many young participants competing side by side with their fathers and grandfathers.
How long does it take to train a falcon?
It takes 2-3 months to train a falcon for competitive participation. Most falcons begin their training when they are around seven months old.
How much do the birds cost?
The price of a falcon is estimated to range from a few thousand Dirhams for a peregrine falcon to millions of Dirhams for the rarest species.
How is the Hamdan Centre as a home for the falcons?
The Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center was established with a mandate to preserve and maintain the UAE’s national identity and cultural traditions, and the organisation of the Fazza Championship for Falconry is in keeping with the Center’s broader efforts in this direction.
The Championship aims at encouraging Emirati youth to take up the traditional sport of falconry and inspiring in them a sense of pride about their national heritage, culture and traditions. The Championship has evolved into the premier falconry tournament in the region and has been instrumental in galvanising interest in falconry as a sport, to the extent that it is today identified as a key factor driving growth in the falcon markets in Dubai and the UAE.
Are visitors allowed to try and fly a falcon?
Like at any professional sporting arena, visitors are welcomed to witness the high level of skill demonstrated during the event.
While they cannot fly the participating falcons themselves as the birds require knowledgeable and skilled handling, spectators can appreciate the competitive performances on display.
How do people get in touch to find out more information?
Members of the public can learn more about the Fazza Championship for Falconry by visiting the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center website at http://hhc.gov.ae/