Photos by Baxter Jackson
Between the waters of the Gulf of Oman and the crags of the Western Hajar Mountains, you’ll find a distinctly Arabic pastime: bull wrestling.
Every Friday, prized bovines are trucked in from all over the Emirates and the neighboring Sultanate of Oman to the bull wrestling capital of the Arabian Peninsula: Fujariah, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).
Huffing, snorting and puffing themselves up, these hump-backed Brahmin bulls aim to psych out their opponents long before being led to the ‘ring’. The ‘ring’ (which consists of nothing more than a dirt field) lies between a white sandy beach and a black-top road leading to the Omani border.
Picnicking spectators line the perimeter in clothes that have been worn for centuries in the Gulf: colorful turbans, dark veils, white dishdashas (male shirt-dresses) and black abbeyyas (flowing female gowns).
Amidst this millennium-old tradition (Arabian bull fighting purportedly predates Islam), twentieth century flourishes pop through here and there: a video camera phone in the henna painted hand of a veiled woman; an electronic bullhorn in the MC’s grip; Hummers and Mercedes in the sand parking lot.
The announcer gives a frenzied blow-by-blow report of the head butts and the crowd jostles for position. Warily pulling smoke from their wooden pipes, owners carefully watch the action. Trainers stand at the ready.
Like a sumo wrestler, the bull that loses ground or turns tail and backs down forfeits the match. Unlike their two-legged Japanese counterparts, however, these bad boy Brahmins have to have their horns forcibly unlocked even after a winner is announced. Corner men, trainers (and spectators even) rush in, grabbing the bull’s tethers.
A tug-of-war between man and beast ensues. This gets the crowd going almost as much as when a tug-of-war participant loses his footing and soils his dishdasha.
As the sun dips below a blue horizon, the lawn chairs, rugs and picnic baskets are packed up as unceremoniously as the bulls are loaded into Toyota pick-ups. The big boys of the U.B.F. (Ultimate Bull Fighting) circuit can now look forward to another week of pampered bliss: milk, honey and relaxation amidst the verdant palm groves of the U.A.E.
Who? You, the next time you’re in Dubai.
What? Arabian bull wrestling.
When? Every Friday from 4-7PM.
Where?Fujariah, on the East Coast of the U.A.E.
How? In a shared taxi from Dubai, costing about 25 Dirhams.
Why? Because if you haven’t experienced what makes a place unique, have you really experienced it?
Be sure to read Baxter Jackson’s essay Muslim Fear: How Teaching In Oman Taught Me The Shades Of Islam.
For more destination ideas in the Middle East, check out Benjamin Orbach’s excellent guide to 6 under-the-radar destinations in the Middle East