Camel Rearing [Archives:1997/42/Culture]

October 20 1997

Sa’ad Ali Mohaisin, for Yemen Times in Al-Mahara
The Arabs call it the ship of the desert. Capable of enduring thirst and hunger for days on end, the camel is the most patient of land animals. For desert Arabs, it is a beloved companion, a source of milk and meat, a transport facility, a sports/racing tool, and even an ally in the bedouin’s fights against foes.a The Republic of Yemen is a relatively dry country. Yet, it has such a diverse terrain that one can find different styles of life. These range from the sedentary farmers, to the coastal fishermen, to the prairie shepherds, and to the desert nomads. This story is about the camel of Al-Mahara. The Al-Mahara camel is usually bred in groups of 40 to 120 on the fringes of the rural and desert areas of Hawf and Ghaidha in the governorate of Al -Mahara, the country’s easternmost. It is much cherished by the bedouins of the area, to the extent of reciting colorful folklore tales and anecdotes whose heroes are camels. The camel’s most frequent uses are for races, and as a means of transportation over long distances. In ancient times, it was useful in tribal warfare. Due to their alertness, camels are also used as watchdogs. Its light weight, small belly, and general flexible physique enable the Mahara camel to run fast in races. The camel’s versatility has also made it useful for agricultural purposes. Its strength enables it to draw heavy, water-filled buckets from deep wells, and to till farm lands. Traditional belief has it that if a bedouin child is weaned on the camel’s milk, he or she would grow up to be strong, with good immunity against diseases, and has a fair lovable complexion! People also believe that medical anesthetics are ineffective if administered to someone who drinks camel’s milk. A larger than normal dose is needed. Maharans slaughter camels to host large wedding banquets and receive highly esteemed guests. It is a valuable source of milk or meat to a bedouin in his daily treks over the desert. Also, water stored in the camel’s stomach can be used for drinking if a bedouin runs out of water in a desert. Mahara camels have a great degree of sensitivity and strong eyesight as they can identify an approaching person from a long distance. It can also act as a guide in the desert, taking its rider to the original place he left. Camels in Mahara are branded with various signs or have their ears clipped in a certain way, and are let loose in the wilderness, especially if the female camel has no milk. The branded sign of the tribe deters potential camel thieves. Stealing camels often leads to tribal wars. People in Mahara still breed camels and feed camel milk to the children. A good Mahara camel currently fetches YR 150,000 in the market. A pregnant camel or the one which has just given birth fetches a higher price. Camels live on grazing and rain water, and are sometimes fed on flour dough or fish such as sardines which are bought for YR 1,000 a bag. So camels represent a good source of income for the desert bedouins.