Thursday, November 05, 2009

Falconry in Saudi Arabia

Near the souk of Dira in central Riyadh, they're pulling down the old mud and timber buildings and putting up new, modern offices and shopping centers. As the city is modernized, the old markets are being squeezed out. The Hawk Souk, which is just one of many souks that comprise the old area (There's a carpet souk, a gold souk, an incense souk, and lots of clothes souks, for instance.) is on the edge of the market area, which means it's in the zone that is being swallowed up by development. Still, there are several shops that remain in business, and now that the cooler weather is here, the bird men can be found on a Thursday morning gathering there, drinking tea and arguing about the value of birds from Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, and any number of other countries. As they argue, they lounge on cushions arranged around an elevated area filled with sand. Pedestals on long spikes are stuck into the sand, and hawks, falcons, and eagles perch regally on the pedestals, regarding the men with large, inscrutable eyes, or listening with their heads cocked to one side, sporting tiny leather hoods that cover their eyes and keep them from trying to fly. From the ceilings of these shops hang all manner of falconry paraphernalia - jesses, lures, creances. Near the doors, dusty display cases contain measuring scales and lead weights, and obscure bits of what-have-you that I couldn't begin to identify.

After tea and arguments, the men go outside to a small gravel area under the shade of some acacia trees. Here they stake the birds' perches where prospective buyers can circle them and make their offers.

As the new city encroaches, the romantic, mysterious, exotic souks that I love to explore are becoming a thing of the past. I'm glad I got the chance to see this while it was still here, and I'm glad I can share it with you.

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