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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Partners in Flight: The Women Falconers of the UAE

Digicam: Albert Tong, Yijo Shen, Sujay Khona
Interview: Yijo Shen, Yuer Liu
Modifying: Sujay Khona

For Ayesha Al Mansoori, studying the traditional artwork of falconry was not for sustenance or sport. It was a technique to be near her father.

“At first, I merely needed to remain round him, out of affection,” she defined, telling her story from her tent on the Smithsonian Folklife Pageant’s United Arab Emirates program. Collectively, they might exit into the desert searching, observing, and training. Ultimately, Ayesha turned the primary feminine falconer within the UAE. “Falconry is in my blood. It’s my tradition and one thing I grew up with.”

Falconry originated about 4,000 years in the past from the Bedouin, a nomadic group in what’s now the UAE and the broader Arabian Peninsula. Within the resource-scarce desert, falcons had been educated as helpers and companions for searching. They’re clever, speedy, and brave. All through the centuries, falconry developed into a preferred sport in addition to a potent nationwide image, a showcase of the UAE’s cultural heritage and—within the case of the Al Mansooris—a household lineage.

Ayesha’s daughter, Osha, is the youngest falconer within the UAE at simply 9 years outdated. Since she was eight months outdated gurgling in her stroller, Osha has lived with falcons of their household room. “When she was a child, she would attempt to contact and maintain the falcons,” Ayesha recalled. “And after I fed the falcons, she would sit close to and watch.” Ayesha’s father additionally observed his granddaughter’s curiosity. “My father informed me, ‘You need to train her falconry, the whole lot in regards to the falcons, the desert, the tradition, the whole lot.”

A woman holds a falcon in front of a crowd of people outdoors.
Ayesha Al Mansoori

Picture by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Osha’s training began with a lesson: as a substitute of fierce domination or unilateral management from human handlers, falcons require attentiveness and respect. Earlier than the birds can hunt, it’s important that falconers set up a stable tie with their birds, Ayesha burdened. When younger falcons are taken house, “we should stick with the falcons alone for one to two weeks. You feed them and allow them to acknowledge you.” There are magical moments that signify the strengthened tie: “once they hear your sound, they are going to acknowledge you. They’ll reply and even get excited.” 

Then it’s time for the coaching to start out. Each falcon is totally different, and falconers should adapt to their personalities and habits. Ayesha couldn’t deliver her falcons to the Washington, D.C., as a consequence of journey restrictions, so the Folklife Pageant invited American raptors quickly housed on the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Zoo. Over the 2 weeks of the Pageant, guests noticed the method of falcons and falconers getting comfy with every different. For the primary a number of days, the falconers saved the birds’ eyes and ears lined with hoods known as burqa—the identical time period for the face and physique coverings worn by some Muslim ladies. This can be a essential step in taming the brand new falcons.

“The hood retains the birds away from an excessive amount of distraction from the group, to allow them to be extra centered on me,” Ayesha defined. Certainly, the Pageant’s Falconry tent was typically surrounded by a swarm of curious and amazed crowds. When feeding a falcon, Ayesha eliminated the hood, letting the fowl acknowledge its human companion. By the tip of the Pageant, the falcons not wanted their hoods. 

Close-up of a young girl nuzzling the head of a cream and brown falcon against her cheek.
Osha Al Mansoori

Picture by Stanley Turk, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Within the UAE, Ayesha generously shares falconry data and abilities with different ladies, build up a group in an in any other case male-dominated area. In 2016, she established a Falconry Women Membership.

“There needs to be extra feminine and younger falconers,” she says firmly of her imaginative and prescient for the longer term. “Everybody may go out collectively, searching with their households.”

Simply as Ayesha discovered a technique to be near her father, she creates the identical bonds along with her daughter and a rising group of girls practitioners, one which now reaches around the globe.

Yuer Liu is a writing intern on the Smithsonian Middle for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, an aspiring anthropologist, a standard Asian puppetry performer, and an undergraduate at Stanford College. Her analysis pursuits embody materials tradition, sound artwork, and multi-species ethnography.

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