How to Train Your Camel – Part 3

by Mohamad El Gasmi – Nomad Author.

The Patience of a Nomad

We can’t talk about the desert without talking about camel, and we can’t talk about camel without talking about the desert, they are very interconnected entities in the world of nomads. That is to say, nomads needed to train their camel in order to conquer the unlimited landscape of the desert, to move freely from place to another, to live a lifestyle of travellers in a land that provides them with only a few surviving needs.

Therefore nomads have always patience toward anything surrounding them, one year can be good for their packs, but maybe the three next years will be dry and terrible, so patience is a very important element in the life of any nomads in the world, not only the desert one, and also it is one of the main elements you need for training the camel, without patience you won’t have the friendly camel you expected, because nobody can train a camel in one night.

camel and desert nomad guide
Desert nomad and his camel

The Guide Rope

In my very early writing, I talk about breaking the camel’s  dominance, where I mentioned making him fall down, but this is not everything. This is just the beginning of a very long process because there are much things you need to do, starting with creating a kind guideline between the camel and the trainer. By putting two ropes on the camel head, they will be used to create a sort of connection between camels and trainer.  Each rope will be used in a sensitive place on the camel, the first one will be used on the lower jaw of the mouth, and the second one will be put on the nose.

Probably most of you are wondering how it is going to work on the camel nose? But for years nomads use a little stick about 10cm, in the shape of a pen; which has a squeaky head that goes from one side of the skin of the nose to the other one and this gets tied with a long rope. Why we control the nose and not other places, because the nose is one of the sensitive places on the camel. Camels are very huge animals – be sure that without this control, the camel will step on you like a piece of pancake without hesitation.

camel sleeping | So Morocco
Relaxing with my camel

Who has the Power?

Now, and after you make the ropes well tied, you only need to tie your camel for one day without moving anywhere, in a separate place where he can’t see any other human. You can use either a big rock, or an old root of a tree, and start digging deeply in the ground, then try to cover the root with ground and try to make sure that the camel will not be able to move anywhere, or bite through it. This process will help you to break the camel dominance, and mostly you don’t have to give it food for one day. Later on, when you get back to your camel you will play the role of the saviour for him, you will give him food and he will be little easy going as he understands who has the power, and it’s not him! Then you will have to set him free and start the next step.

Desert Nomad with camel | So Morocco
Me and my camel

Camels Stop Wars

For years nomads used to train their camels on summer days due to the fact that summer heat makes their camels weak, and dominating them won’t be a difficult task and also the nose wound will heal easily, better than in cold weather. However, there is no specific rule on how long it takes you to train your camel and it depends also on the purpose you are training your camel for.

There are different uses for the camels in the nomadic community. For many years tribes had a lot of camels and they use them for different missions. For example, they use some for carrying the bags and going with caravans of commerce, and this type has to be huge and strong. They use others for carrying woman and children, which have to be friendly and easy going and the one that men tribes ride which must be fast, strong and have a bright colour like white and yellow. It is much more about dignity and driving the best, as we mentioned before, camels have noble blood and men use them to stop war between tribes by giving them as dowry. So in the case of a man from another tribe being murdered and the fear of revenge and the continuation of a bloody war that has negative outcomes on both tribes, the transfer of a camel from one tribe to the other can stop all of this!

Huge Camel
Huge Camel

Can you Trust a Camel?

When camels learn something, they learn it by their heart and they won’t forget it. Even if it is a bad behavior, such as biting, kicking or even escaping when you set them free, they are very smart and they continue doing what you exactly teach them. That’s why you should pay attention you are not teaching them something wrong. The trainer needs to understand his camel’s nature and he must consider his camel as an individual that has emotions and thoughts.

Camels are like humans, they have different characters. There are brave ones who don’t fear humans and cowardly ones that do and they scream whenever you get close. You can’t speculate what is going on their minds and I myself don’t trust camels, even though I grew up with them,  I still don’t have absolute trust because of many reasons, one is related to this weird true life story that happened to my uncle.

The Story of The Giant Camel

One day my uncle was driving his motorbike in a far away area between the border of Morocco and Algeria Sahara. He was looking for any tracks that might guide him to the existence of some of his lost camels, when, by chance, he noticed a huge camel in the distance. It was eating the plants in a small valley between the mountains. He says it was a giant camel, that he never has seen like in his entire life. As he describe it to me, it was a big black male with a very big hump. He said it was a very strong camel, in fact, the shape of that camel was not the only thing that confused my uncle, but more he was surprised that the camel was completely alone with no companion, with no females, despite it being spring, courtship time. Camels always do gather around a strong male, but the giant camel was alone in an isolated place which mostly has no visitors because of the border and far away from camel packs.

Google Map of Desert Moroccan Algerian Border
Google Map of Desert Moroccan Algerian Border

My Uncle decided to turn off the motorbike and walk closer to check out what is not normal about that camel. He said that he got closer and closer in order to see if there was any symbol on the camel’s body, which might help him to discover its owner. He stepped towards the weird camel but while he was walking toward him he noticed that the camel stopped eating the grass and he just raised his huge head and started looking at my uncle with eyes of hatred, suspecting my uncle arrival, then he opened his mouth, showing up his long teeth, making terrible sounds then repeating that again and again like a threat. Suddenly the camel started running, not away, but this time toward my poor uncle.

Anxiously, my uncle turned his back and fled toward his motorbike as fast as his feet could take him. While he was running, he said that the only thing he was hearing was the sound of the camel steps on the ground, like it was digging up the ground behind him. The distance between him and the motorbike seemed so long for him, then, he finally got to his motorbike and, too late to start it up and terrified that the camel would pick him up like a little insect, he tried to hide behind it. With his heart beating very fast, he told me that he thought it was his end. As he hid directly behind the motorbike, he closed his eyes and start reading Qoran signs, for him, it was the only hope of surviving.

The giant camel reached him and he just start smelling the motorbike, moving his big lips all over the motorbike trying to discover. My Uncle couldn’t even raise his head, he kept in the same position for a couple of minutes, the camel kept smelling the motorbike up and down, but then he turned and finally, the giant walked away.  Maybe the gasoline smell  choked him but my Uncle couldn’t believe he survived!  I asked my uncle about the reason that pushed the camel to behave like that way and he answer me that the camel was trying to protect his place, probably, thinking that the place is his, and he attacked my uncle because he thought he was a sort of competitor. But I’m not sure and to this day I am still asking myself what is the secret behind such a behavior.

nomad tribe | So Morocco
Me and my tribe

Who does a camel trust?

I think we went far with the story, why don’t we return to our training – the camel trainer has to be very careful during the training process. Nomads think that training has to start with teaching the camel how to follow the people that guide them and that is done by creating a friendship between the trainer and the camel at the beginning. Some camels refuse to follow the guide steps even if he is holding the rope that is tied with the nose and they just prefer to cut their nose other than following you, but in this case nomads use other well trained camel to accompany the non trained one and this encourages him to trust human, because camels do trust each other. After this, the non trained camel will keep following the other well trained camel and you only need to hold both ropes, after a few repetitions, you will notice that they start conspiring together to follow you together as a team.

Success – Now you don’t need to use the trained camel, because your camel now start trusting the rope, and following the person that holds it.


Read Parts 1 to 3 by our Nomad Storyteller from the Moroccan Sahara. Sharing camel training tips, desert myths & legends and nomadic culture stories with us all. 

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Use of featured image courtesy of Dean Patman

Some facts about M’Hamid, although very little of its history can be found on-line.

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