The Sport of Camel Jumping

In the deserts of Yemen, Zaraniq tribesmen compete to leap camels in a single bound

Camel jumping
Legend has it that camel jumping began many generations ago with a dare between two Zaraniq tribesmen. Adam Reynolds

Among the members of the Zaraniq tribe on the west coast of Yemen are, apparently, the world’s only professional camel jumpers. “This is what we do,” says Bhayder Mohammed Yusef Qubaisi, a champion bounder. The presumably ancient sport was recently documented by Adam Reynolds, a 30-year-old photojournalist from Bloomington, Indiana.

Reynolds spent six months in Yemen before being deported this past May, he believes for photographing leaders of a secessionist movement. Politically, Yemen is troubled, with a repressive but weak government beleaguered by insurgents in the largely lawless northern and southern regions. U.S. authorities have expressed concern that a large number of Al Qaeda and other terrorists operate there.

The Zaraniq live in the Tihama-al-Yemen, a desert plain on the Red Sea, and they are mostly poor; Qubaisi’s home is a one-room hut. To see the daredevils in action, Reynolds traveled a dirt track to a village southeast of the coastal city of al-Hudaydah. “It was pretty amazing,” he says of the acrobatic athletics. “They did it with such ease and grace. Afterward, though, I wondered why there hasn’t been a Yemeni long jump Olympic champion yet.”

Brandon Springer is a Smithsonian editorial intern. This is photojournalist Adam Reynolds’ first appearance in the magazine.

The athletic performance goes hand in hand with traditional tribal dancing, the photographer Adam Reynolds says; they both involve leaps and high kicks. Adam Reynolds
Legend has it that camel jumping began many generations ago with a dare between two Zaraniq tribesmen. Adam Reynolds
Tribesmen tuck their robes—light blue, the color of choice for Zaraniq camel jumpers—around their waists and sprint. Adam Reynolds
Today's camel jumpers train year-round for competitions during festivals and weddings. Adam Reynolds
The winner is the man—women do not participate, but can occasionally watch—who clears the most dromedaries. Adam Reynolds
For a jumping contest, animals are rounded up from nearby villages. Adam Reynolds
The Zaraniq live in the Tihama-al-Yemen, a desert plain on the Red Sea, and they are mostly poor. Adam Reynolds
Even the traditional folk dancing of the Zaraniq tribe incorporates the elements important to a successful camel jump with an emphasis on high kicks and leaps. Adam Reynolds
Camel jumping is typically held on important occasions such as weddings and during a festival known as al-Khamis which marks the end of the palm season. Adam Reynolds
The sun sets on a village in the Tihama region of Yemen. Adam Reynolds