They came in their thousands from all over Morocco and beyond, some even walking the five kilometres distance from the city of Tan-Tan into the Sahara desert for the official ceremony of the Tan-Tan Moussem - the gathering of Tan-Tan - that took place on Saturday, the 14th of May.
This is the 12th "gathering" of Saharan Bedouins which attracts 30 tribes from as far as Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
For the third consecutive year, the UAE is taking part, as a guest of honour.
The Emirati delegation is led by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee - Abu Dhabi, having the support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the General Women's Union, the Camel Racing Federation and Abu Dhabi's Veterinary Research Centre.
"I am pleased to be here today in this festivity, through which we express together our pride in this ongoing participation in Tan-Tan cultural Moussem , which represents the spirit of love, brotherhood, values of tolerance and dialogue of civilisations," said Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Chairman of the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee, in his speech during the official opening of the festival.
Inaugurated in 1963 to preserve the customs and traditions of Saharan tribes, the Moussem was banned from 1979 till 2004 due to security issues in the region. The biggest and one of the most significant such nomadic festivals in the region, Tan-Tan Moussem was inscribed on the UNESCO's list for intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Just as in its early days, it takes place for one week, in the month of May in Tan-Tan, a small town in south western Morocco.
More than ever, this year the festival calls for bringing together the 12 regions of Morocco.
"This year's theme 'Tan-Tan Moussem: Confluence of Plural Morocco" is a definite and honest expression of pride for the distinguished economic and cultural achievement of our brotherly Kingdom of Morocco and its wealth of heritage," said Al Mazrouei.
Music, dancing, horse and camel racing, handicrafts, parades and poetry evenings will take place during the weeklong festival, from 13th till 18th of May. The official ceremony, attended by several Moroccan officials, as well as the UAE representatives, was a spectacle of horsemanship.
Known as Fantasia, each of the participating 30 tribes rode the length of the festival grounds, in one straight line, both men and horses in their traditional attire. Once reaching the official arena, they all fired their rifles, saluting the spectators.
The show lasted for hours and despite the strong wind and chilly temperatures, the crowd of standing spectators didn't thin. Occasionally, they would be entertained by a man falling off his horse as this would get frightened and jump at the sound of an accidentally fired rifle or by a camel too tired to stand in the parade and sitting down despite all attempts of its rider to keep it on its feet.
While thousands were watching the ceremony, thousands more were touring the tents, handicrafts tents and the UAE camp, which proved a hit with visitors, particularly attracted here by the sound of Ayala folklore, Bedouin chanting and the smell of ghahwa and freshly made sweets.
At the opposite end of the arena the 2000 square meters UAE camp has Emirati coffee and food prepared on site and shared with visitors, displaying various traditional handicrafts, which the Emirati women are demonstrating and explaining to all who want to learn about them, including an Emirati bridal display, as well as traditional folk dancing and singing, Bedouin poetry evenings, small exhibitions of coastal life, camel research and books, including, for the first time, titles from the National Library of Abu Dhabi.
"The Emirati participation in Tan-Tan Moussem is an important opportunity to highlight the UAE's history, culture and heritage, and the creativeness of its people in the cultural, intellectual, artistic and literary fields," said Al Mazrouei.
"This is our third year in a row at Tan-Tan Moussem and our participation focuses of shedding light on our tangible and intangible heritage, but also every year we try to showcase similar desert traditions with the Saharan people, and to support the Moussem," added Abdullah Butti Al Qubaisi, Director of Projects Management and Communication at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee.
One of the biggest supports offered by UAE so far was the building of a camel race track, which is inaugurated on Sunday, 15th of May. On the previous day, 13th of May, the festival opened with a camel milking competition, also organised at the suggestion of Emirati delegation.
"The participation of UAE brought new standards for the festival, in the way of presenting heritage, handicrafts and folk shows. This year our participation has reached 150 people, including the support team," pointed out Al Qubaisi.