Camels, the Ships of the Dubai Desert

Camels, the Ships of the Dubai Desert | Bedouin Culture

From camel safaris to camel racing, camel milk soap, camel milk chocolate and even camel beauty contests, these ships of the desert have made a lasting impression on Emirati culture and Dubai. Camels are rooted in Dubai’s cultural heritage; for centuries the Bedouin relied on them for survival. This article offers a quick insight into the world of camels in Dubai and the important role they have played in Emirati societies long before the United Arab Emirates was even formed.

Dubai is part of the Rub al Khali desert which translates to “the Empty Quarter” and forms part of the larger Arabian desert. For centuries this vast area was roamed by Bedouin. While the nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin throughout this large area had similarities, there were some slight differences in their everyday lives depending on where they spent most of their time. Bedouin living in the mountains and the desert for example had a very different lifestyle to Bedouin living closer to the coast. Trade routes and bordering countries also influenced the Bedouin culture.

The United Arab Emirates was only formed in 1971 and before this, Dubai was just a small fishing village surrounded by desert for vast distances. Bedouin from these parts relied on fishing for survival. Bedouin living in the desert were predominantly nomadic camel herders. This is where the epic story of the relationship between Bedouin and camels began.

Camels, the Ships of the Dubai Desert | Bedouin Culture

Bedouin relied on camels as their primary mode of transport. Camels were made for the desert and biologically, they are well adapted to the desert terrain and climate. These animals can travel for days on end with very little to no water. The Arabian camel, officially known as the dromedary camel has a single hump which stores fat, allowing them to sustain themselves without food and water for extended periods in the scarce desert.  The shape and flatness of camels’ hooves makes traversing the sand dunes in the desert almost effortless. It’s easy to see why camels are also famously known as the ships of the desert because of the elegant and wave like motion of their stride when they walk in the desert.

Bedouin were nomadic with no permanent place of living. They moved around a lot and relied on camels to help them transport their families and all of their supplies. Sometimes the Bedouin would walk alongside their camels while they carried the bulk of their supplies.

Bedouin also relied on camels as a source of meat, milk and even currency. Sometimes in the desert resources were scarce and Bedouin would survive for weeks on little more than dried dates and camel milk. Camel milk is said to contain ten times more iron and three times more vitamin C than cows’ milk. Interestingly, it is also said to be low in fat, lower in cholesterol, more digestible than cows’ milk, and more suitable for those who are lactose intolerant.

Camels, the Ships of the Dubai Desert | Bedouin Culture

Camels will always hold a special place in the hearts of Emiratis. Many travellers are excited by the opportunity to taste traditional camel milk and experience a traditional Dubai camel safari when they visit Dubai. This is a great way to interact with Dubai’s beloved camels and see first-hand how they helped the Bedouin survive in the Dubai desert for centuries.