Falconry, The Sport of Kings

December 12, 2016
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WORDS BY  ANAAM IKRAM

Falconry, or Hawking, is a sport that involves taming and training species of birds  (falcons, hawk, eagles and owls) to hunt for its trainer.

The word falconer is pertaining to the trainer or owner of the bird being trained. The falconer must train a bird of prey to hunt and fly free. Falconers devote themselves each day to train and to care for the birds. It is an art of sport that requires concentration, long hours of training and devotion.

The value of these birds is around the BHD 20 000 mark, depending on its kind. These winged jewels can fly as high as 320 km/h in a dive. They drink relatively small amounts of water and absorb moisture through the skin. This physical trait is distinctive among falcons making them more adaptable of the climate in the desert.

In Asia, the art of falconry dates back to 2000 B.C. During the Hein Dynasty in China, records refer to falcons as royal gifts and in 680 B.C records describe falconry. However the earliest account of falconry was recorded in Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C.  A legendary Arabic account describes the first falconer as a Persian King, who watched a Falcon attack its prey (another kind of bird) and ordered his men to capture the bird. According to the legend, the king kept the bird and devoted much time to study and train it.

The first historical evidence of hawking in Bahrain goes back to 1300 B.C. It was used as a medium of communication amongst tribal Sheikhs, as well as a way to tour around their territory and keep in touch with their people and the latest development in the area. As time passed, falconry and hawking became one of the favorite hobbies of the wealthy Sheikhs.

In the early 7th century, falconry was already popular in the Arabian Peninsula with pictorial records showing Sheikhs and Royalty with birds on their arms. During the medieval times, hawking and hunting was a favorite past time for the upper classes including Nobles and Royalties. It provided a social opportunity for Sheikhs, Emperors, Kings and Nobles to host grand hunting games. Medieval hawking back then was as much a privilege as a necessity.

In the desert where the Bedouins culture was practiced, it has always been a major passion and part of the tradition to hunt with the falcon. The saker falcon and peregrine falcon were most commonly used by the Bedu falconers. It has been an important part of desert life in the Middle East for many centuries as before the discovery of oil, falconry was necessary for hunting food. Whenever people expected important guests they would go hunting with their falcon and bring plenty of meat marking the importance of Arab hospitality.

In 2010, UNESCO inscribed and proclaimed falconry as an intangible cultural heritage of the world.

Today falconry is considered as a sport, an art form, a cultural heritage and an educational activity that builds endurance and patience.

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