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Women breaking stereotypes with falconry

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Women breaking stereotypes with falconry

To date, the Mohamed bin Zayed School of Falconry has enrolled 2,021 students, including 1,163 males and 858 females, eager to learn the art of Arabian Falconry and the principles of desert life.

ABU DHABI: Women in Falconry will be a major theme of the conference “The Future of Falconry” to be hosted in the next edition of Abu Dhabi International Hunting & Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX), the Middle East’s largest annual event dedicated to hunting, equestrian and the promotion and preservation of cultural heritage.

ADIHEX, held in cooperation with UNESCO on September 27 – October 3 is organized by Emirates Falconers’ Club and the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF) which currently has 110 associations from 90 countries, totaling more than 75,000 falconers worldwide.

The falconry year-round events organized by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the past two decades have encouraged girls to learn more about the arts, skills and techniques of falconry, hunting and safari, which allowed them to take part in falconry competitions, just as happened in equestrian and other traditional sports.

In 2018, the Mohamed bin Zayed School of Falconry and Desert Physiognomy in Al Ain celebrated the graduation of the first group of female falconers, who mastered the principles of Arabian Falconry and its morals, rules, and arts.

Falcon-6-620x413To date, the school has enrolled 2,021 students, including 1,163 males and 858 females, eager to learn the art of Arabian Falconry and the principles of desert life.

The International Festival of Falconry IFF organized by Emirates Falconers’ Club in 2011, 2014 and 2017 in Abu Dhabi, as well as all the editions of ADIHEX, beheld the participation of many female falconers from all over the world along with many female researchers from Europe, USA and Japan.

Abu Dhabi’s heritage activities and events celebrated the presence of well experienced and promising European and Japanese female falconers. As for Emirati women, many of them participated in the IFF competitions in the “Remah” desert.

Majid Ali Al Mansouri, Chairman of the Higher Organizing Committee of ADIHEX, President of IAF and Secretary General of the Emirates Falconers’ Club, stressed that Emirati women are very keen on holding on to their national identities and the customs and traditions of their society, with falconry as one of its most important pillars, as they grow and engage in various fields confidently and strongly.

Falconry has become the sport of the Emirati family as many amongst them own birds; and since falcons were a man’s favorite companion on hunting trips for livelihood, there grew a strong historical relationship between them, so it has been little trouble to revive this authentic heritage, especially since UAE families are keen to visit falconry events and enjoy the performances in nature, as mothers capture pictures of their children with falconers and falcons.

Falcon-4-620x413The UAE is today the country of many female falconers who train, teach and raise birds, including some who specialize in treating falcons. Just as there has been a shift in the past few years as Emirati women entered the equestrian world, it is not unlikely that they tackle falconry next, regardless of it being quite an arduous sport.

Today, eight-year-old Emirati Osha Khalifa Al Mansoori thrives brilliantly at various festivals and exhibitions, as she walks a path of continuous successes that she first stepped into at four years of age when she participated in the President Cup Falcon Competition, as well as ADIHEX and the 4th International Festival of Falconry in 2017, organized by Emirates Falconers’ Club. She is considered among the youngest, if not the youngest, female falconers in the world.

For centuries, until recently, falconry has been the sport of the ruling elites in many countries. And with the resemblance its rules and practices have with certain social and political structures, it is not surprising that many prominent women have had the passion for falconry throughout ages, as they exercised it with great appreciation and elegance; for instance, Mary Queen of the Scots who has devoted most of her time to this sport.

Women have always had to choose to pursue falconry in a way appropriate to their luxurious and extravagant lifestyle, but as we look closely at contemporary generations of women, it is clear that since World War II there has been a recent upsurge in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, involving more women in falconry than ever before in history.

Falconry was first introduced to Europe through the Eastern Arabia, and it was the only sport medieval women could participate in; falconry then reached Japan about 2,000 years ago. The first falconer in Japan, was Korean, so the emperor gave him a Japanese wife to encourage him to stay; his wife learned falconry, hence the first ever Japanese falconer was a female, followed by another, before the art of falconry got to numerous Japanese men.

Falconry-1-620x413New archeology techniques revealed records, excavations and ancient texts which prove that falconry spread in the Middle East, especially the Arabian Gulf, 10,000 years ago, before it moved to other nations, such in East Asia, Europe and North America.

In a study published in April 2021 in the French edition of National Geographic magazine, archeologists from the University of California concluded that 30 to 50% of hunters in ancient times were females, which debunks the common belief that men in prehistoric times hunted while women gathered plants and cared for children.

Diana Durman-Walters of the “International Wildlife Consultants UK”, says that a well-trained falcon was of great value, in the Middle Ages, and the most luxurious gift offered to nobility or even to the king himself as a token of gratitude.

Lisa Jarvis, a British researcher, said that the Raptor Award for rookies, organized by The Hawk Board since 2006, highlights the importance of caring for and coping with birds of prey by beginners or more experienced falconers.

Falconry-3-620x415The award was designed to assess the trainees’ ability to maintain safe and healthy birds through practice and necessary cognitive backgrounds. In May 2011, a new component of adapting and freeing a bird of prey was added to the award.

The Dutch falconer Tula Stapert says that during the Middle Ages in the Netherlands, there was enough space, but even though space was not a problem, falconry was only practiced on a small scale. Unlike the rest of Europe, the Netherlands had no royal court.

In the south, however, Valkenswaard farmers developed a unique technique for hunting Peregrine Hawks as they’re migrating. Their hunting and trading style became popular and made the Netherlands an important part of the history of falconry.

“Today we have a country that is urban-dominated with a limited space to practice falconry. Peregrine Hawks cannot fly sophisticatedly as they used to during the days of the Lu Falconry Club. The Goshawk has become more and more known. Dutch law allows only these two types of predators in the practice of falconry with a limited geographical range of prey. Falconry is subject to the balance between legislation and the Dutch cultural heritage, but it is still possible to practice falconry quite well,” she explains.

Tula asserts, “What we want is a wider space, a legitimate falconry, and more prey to hunt in order to ensure its continuity. We will always dream of free aviation.”

Falcon-5-620x930Saeed Zarqani, one of the founders of the Iraqi Falconers Association who took part in previous editions of the International Festival of Falconry, said that his mother, Hamdah Hussein, 82, had been hunting with him and his father for 28 years, and that she was a falconer who hunts and trains falcons. “I come from a family that passed down falconry from one generation to another,” he added.

He also stressed that there are some Iraqi female falconers, but they are still embarrassed of enrolling as members of the falconers’ associations, even though the Iraqi Falconers Association do not have any problem registering them and giving them an “identity”.

However, customs and traditions may prevent them from appearing in public, which is a problem in Iraq and most Gulf countries.

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Courtesy: The AsiaN