Living in Qatar made her fall in love with falcons. She improved upon being a huntress and learnt falconry. Her passion also introduced her to the old Qatari traditions of how to hunt with falcons in the desert.
Laura Wrede, a German falconer, loved falcons and the Qatari traditions so much that she brought out a book on her experience in the country. Laura von Arabien (Laura of Arabia), published in 2018, is the book that talks about Qatar’s falconry tradition in the German language.
Laura lived in Qatar from 2010 to 2017 when she pursued her love for falcon and learnt much more about the local Bedouin culture. She recently visited Qatar to attend ‘S’hail – Katara International Hunting and Falcons Exhibition.’
In an interview with Community she dilated on her mastery of the art of falconry and how she came to author the book.
Laura has been in love with falcons since she was a child growing up in Germany. “I grew up in south of Germany and I was very close to nature. I always enjoyed riding horses and hunting. For me, it is a very natural way to get your food. I am a huntress. I got my hunting gun licence when I was 16. For hunting, I had to pass an examination. I used to hunt rabbits and deer.”
She came to Qatar in late 2010 and worked with the Qatar Foundation. Laura was however, into nature and the tradition of hunting in Qatar big time. “I was already fascinated by falcons when I was in Germany but I could not get into it. Coming to Qatar provided me an opportunity to learn falconry.”
The German expatriate however found it not easy to be a hunter again. “It was difficult because I was not taken seriously in the beginning. It was very difficult for me to explain that it [hunting with falcons] was my true passion. There is a notion that a woman may not be able to become a good hunter. However, for me it is very natural to see my prey, stalk and hunt it. I do not kill for fun but for food [smile].”
In the beginning, Laura wanted to learn the basics of falconry. ‘I needed to learn before having a falcon. The local masters of the falconry community were not ready to accept me. It was very difficult for me to find somebody to discuss and learn the art. There is no hunting school here. People told me that it is a family tradition that you learn from your father or grandfather. Finally, a Qatari woman gifted me a kestrel, a falcon, in 2012. In Qatari tradition, they use the falcon to train the children. She wanted me to start with the beginners. The falcon was a grown up one and it was hard for me to train. The bird was very stubborn and I released it.”
Laura however bought another falcon — Lanner from Egypt — from Souq Waqif. “It was after my heart. I was crazy. This time I was more determined. I came across a Bedouin with his black Shaheen at the Souq. To me, he looked like a professional falconer. He was very reluctant but I insisted. I needed a teacher. I told him that he did not need to like me but to teach me (smiles). He and his eight-year-old son then started teaching me the art in the desert. I started learning Arabic that was necessary to know more about falconry and local traditions. Quickly my teacher, his family and I became friends. We are now like a family.”
The German also learnt about the desert lifestyle during her training. “I also learnt about the desert life and how to live with camels. With camels, you have to be very respectful, but at the same time, very authoritative. You have to be gentle but very assertive with the desert animal. Some families also carry their saluki dogs while in the desert. Some love to carry Arabian horses. I had an advantage while being in the desert because I knew how to ride a horse and train the hunting dogs. I also learnt about sand dunes and how the desert behaves.” Laura dreamt of taking part in the Al Galayel competition. “During the competition, we use falcons, horses and camels for hunting.
The idea of the book came to Laura when she realised that she should share her experience of training a falcon and learning about the desert culture. “Training the bird is not simple. You have to learn about the falcon behaviour. You need to know when the bird is upset. I also learnt how Bedouins look at stars to forecast the weather. They know their seasons and about the migratory birds.
“In the book, I have described the actual way of Bedouin life. Their way of understanding their surrounding nature is also my topic. They are very good at recognising footmarks on the sands. People used to call me the ‘Laura of Arabia’ and this was an inspiration for the title of the book. I am now working on the translation of the book into Arabic and English. I want to show the very traditional Qatar culture to the world which is in the life of the desert.”
Laura attended the S’hail exhibition to meet friends and get a supply for her falcons. “I still keep falcons. Nowadays, I live in Spain and I use my falcons for hunting. I came to attend the exhibition to obtain different supplies for my falcons. I have three falcons, including one from Qatar.”
The German huntress is all praise for the love for falconry in Qatar. “This is something more than love. For me, falconry is actually in the genes of the Qataris. It is not something like an individual pursuing art. It is a family tradition here. It is genetic.”
Laura finds human and falcon relationship to be very interesting. “Falcons do not live in family. The bird is a lonely predator. A falcon has no friends. They however, have husbands and wives for life. They are monogamous. They bring their children up together and they hunt together. They stay loyal to each other.
“Falcons are wild birds. Even if you domesticate them, their mind remains wild. By nature they are wild. Their relationship with human is very different than the one that camels or horses have. I will not say falcons love you. However, they accept and respect you. When you train them, they know you as a hunting partner. They like that because they like hunting. Although there is no (such thing as a) kind animal, when you help them with food and medicine, they develop an attachment and gratitude. With a falcon, it is more like a business partnership.”
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