Sheila Carapico on Yemen

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Professor Sheila Carapico, widely recognized as a leading expert on Yemen, spoke about the country’s current political crisis at the 9/11 Memorial Museum on Monday.

Engaging in a discussion with Clifford Chanin, executive vice president and deputy director for museum programs, Carapico explained the current drivers of Yemen’s ongoing civil war and the history of Saudi influence in Yemen.

In the clip below, Carapico locates the Yemeni Civil War within the broader Middle East:

“The kingdoms of the Arabian Peninsula, they were worried about the uprising in Tunisia. They were worried about Egypt, they were worried about Libya, they were worried about Syria… They were panicked about Yemen. It’s right there, it’s so close and it’s half the indigenous population of the whole region.”

The Digital Bab al-Yemen

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This is an excellent introduction to The Digital Bab al-Yemen project hosted at the Freie Universität Berlin. It is well worth browsing for the information on Yemeni manuscripts and the superb photographs by Dr. Jan Thiele.

Here is how the site begins:

“More than 50,000 manuscripts make up Yemen’s written heritage. Very few of them have been studied. The overwhelming majority still await (re)discovery, offering the possibility of rare and surprising insight into Islamic intellectual history. This exhibition tells the history of these manuscripts, from the scribes who created them to the modern-day scholars who study them. Learn more about the importance of Yemeni manuscripts and their variety, discover where they are preserved today, and trace the history of one representative manuscript, written in 1214, as it travels from Sanaa to Berlin and, via digitization, to virtually everywhere.

Today, experts sound the alarm because many manuscript collections are threatened either by poor storage conditions or by opponents of a multi-faceted history of ideas in Islamic scholarship. At the same time, researchers increasingly focus on analysing Yemeni manuscripts as unique original sources. These documents point back to times when manuscripts played a central role in knowledge transmission from teacher to student, not only in Yemen but all over the Islamic world.”

Abdullah Al-Mojahid: Genius Painter and Master of Caricature

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Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mojahid is one of the most influential cartoonists and creative painters in Yemen. Al-Mojahid distinguished himself as a pioneering cartoonist and a professional painter. His original talent and professional training had significantly helped him to make his way in the caricature profession in Yemen. “Al-Mojahid had been one of the most important Yemeni cartoonists”, said the Yemeni Minister of Information, Mua’mar Al-Iryani, in a statement issued on his death.

The much-respected artist Abdullah Ahmed Al-Mojahid was born in Taiz in 1950 and  died on September 1, 2017, in the capital Sanaa.

He has been a prolific artist, effectively contributing toward promoting the fine arts and caricature in Yemen. He produced dozens of artistic works through his professional career which spanned more than three decades. Due to his originality and ingenuity as a painter, Al-Mojahid established himself as a famous name both in Yemen and other parts of the Arab world. As a result, in 2013 he participated as a representative of Arab Painters in the International Exhibition for Paintings, organized by the Chinese Ministry of Culture for the Painters. His artistic works and paintings were displayed in various artistic and cultural venues and exhibitions. For example, he organized two exhibitions in Damascus, Syria, in 1980 and 1982.

Al-Mojahid studied Fine Arts in Damascus and started his artistic career as a professional cartoonist in Left-oriented Yemeni newspapers.  He was well known in the caricature profession as Abu Suhail. His artistic works included dozens of paintings, drawings and portraits described as of the finest quality. His most famous caricature is entitled Qurūd Abū Suhayl (Abū Suhayl’s Monkeys), published in 1994 by Al-Thawri Newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP).

Salwa Dammaj

Mehri Center for Research and Studies

Launch of the Mehri Center for Research and Studies

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The Center was officially launched on 02 October 2017 in al-Ghaydhah, Yemen.

This event was the first occasion for people from outside the Center’s committee to learn about plans for the Center. Over 100 people from Yemen and Oman attended the launch. The event included several examples of the performance of the Mehri language and its culture, such as folklore and different types of poems, and examples of material culture.

Professor Janet Watson in Mehri, provided a talk. Prof. Janet advised al Mehri speakers to talk to their children in Mehri, to write to each other in Mehri, and to preserve their language from extinction. The recorded talk was disseminated after the launch event to several groups via WhatsApp within Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Continue reading Mehri Center for Research and Studies

Yemeni Refugees in Djibouti

The Gate Of Tears Yemeni refugees, camp of Markazi. Obock, Djibouti, Decembre, 2016 http://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/research/faculty-research/akkasah.html
The Gate Of Tears: Yemeni refugees, camp of Markazi. Obock, Djibouti, December, 2016; photograph by Nadia Benchallal

At the upcoming MESA meeting in Washington, D.C., Dr. Nathalie Peutz (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Arab Crossroads Studies Program, New York University Abu Dhabi) will be presenting a talk on her research among Yemeni refugees in Djibouti. This is entitled “Becoming Permanent Refugees: Yemenis in the Horn of Africa.” Her talk will be at the AIYS Business meeting, Sunday, November 19, 4-5pm, in Park Tower Suite 8216 (L). This talk is not on the official program, so please spread the word.

The conflict in Yemen has precipitated what many consider to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Yet, despite the raging cholera epidemic, widespread hunger, and unprecedented displacement within Yemen, there have been fewer than 100,000 registered arrivals of Yemeni citizens and foreign nationals in the Horn of Africa since the start of the war. Today, roughly 1,000 of these refugees reside in Djibouti’s Markazi camp, where they are now being treated as “permanent refugees.” Who lives in the camp? Why did these particular families and individuals leave Yemen, and what are their hopes for a durable solution? This informal talk will provide an overview of the current situation of Yemeni refugees in the Horn of Africa and of how various aid regimes are constructing their future.

Solomon and Sheba in Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan

A new article has been published in the online journal, Mizan.  This is “Solomon Legends in Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan” by

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Introduction

 Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan (“The Adventures of Sayf b. Dhī Yazan”) is a late-medieval Egyptian popular epic that recounts the story of the life and adventures of King Sayf b. Dhī Yazan, son of the Yemenite king Dhū Yazan.1 Set against the background of a war with the king of Ḥabash,2 Sayf Arʿad, it tells the story of how Sayf b. Dhī Yazan (henceforth “Sayf”) leads his people into Egypt, diverts the Nile to its current course, and then goes on to conquer the realms of men and jinn in the name of Islam. Set in legendary pre-Islamic time, it rewrites history to present Egypt as born out of a “reverse exodus” led by a proto-Islamic, Yemeni king.3 As is common in Arabic popular literature, Sīrat Sayf draws much of its material from a pool of popular and folkloric story patterns, motifs, and tropes, which are pieced together in a unique way so as to tell its story. It also makes intertextual reference to stories, legends, and other narratives in ways that enrich the thematic subtext and convey meaning. From this perspective, references to the Islamic qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (“tales of the prophets”) play a significant role in the text. Not only do they anchor the proto-Islamic world of Sīrat Sayf in Islamic legendary world history, but the associations they bring into the text also nuance the characterization of Sīrat Sayf’s main protagonists and help to create subtextual and thematic complexity.

This article investigates a number of direct references made to legends about the prophet Solomon within Sīrat Sayf in order to explore how this particular sīrah uses the “Solomon” intertext and to what end.4 It focuses primarily on two particular episodes in the sīrah, during both of which stories about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba are recounted by characters within the text. After introducing these stories in the first section of this article, the second section assesses the intertextual relevance of the Islamic Solomon legend to Sīrat Sayf. It analyses how these stories, and the episodes in which they are embedded, relate to the Solomon legends as found in premodern qiṣaṣ sources, and how Sīrat Sayf uses intertextual reference to Solomon legends to express its own thematic agenda. In a previous study, I have argued that Sayf is, at its core, a discussion of kingship, fitness to rule, and the importance to society of keeping the forces of order and chaos in balance, and that it expresses this struggle largely through the literary use of gender (according to which, broadly speaking, the female embodies the forces of chaos, and the male the forces of order).5 The use of intertextual reference to other narratives is a key element of this discussion. The final section explores the intertextual relevance of the Ethiopian story of Solomon, Bilqīs, and their son Menelik found in the Kǝbrä Nägäst to the Sayf text.

For the full article, click here.

Mocha Trade in the early 19th century

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As the British extended their trade through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were a number of books written about the trade items and how to procure them at various ports.  One of the most important was William Milburn’s Oriental Commerce, first published in 1813 and revised in an 1825 edition [https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001123449] after the death of the author. The full text of the 1825 edition is available at archive.org.  There is a lengthy discussion on trade through the port of Mocha, although very little on Aden, which was not very important at the time until the British took it over after 1839. I attach below the section on trade items available at Mocha (Milburn 1825:71-77).

ARTICLES  TO BE PROCURED AT  MOCHA, WITH DIRECTIONS

ACACIA, the inspissated juice of a thorny plant, growing in Arabia, and other parts:—two sorts are known, Vera and Germanica. The former is a gummy substance, usually firm, but not very dry. It is met with in round masses, enclosed in thin bladders, from four to eight ounces weight; outwardly a deep brown, inclining to black; of a lighter brown within, inclining to red or yellow. The Germanica is a juice expressed from the unripe fruit of the sloe bush, and differs from the preceding, in being harder, heavier, darker, sharper in taste, yielding its astringency to rectified spirit; whereas the other is not at all dissoluble by spirit.  The Vera should have little or no smell; applied to the tongue, it should soften quickly, imparting a rough, not very ungrateful taste, followed by a sweetness. If quite pure, it dissolves totally in water; if otherwise, the impurities remain.

ACORUS, or CALAMUS AROMATICUS, (Bach, Hind. Vacha, S an.) is a reed, or knotty root, about the size of a little finger, several inches long, reddish externally, internally white, full of joints, somewhat flatted on the side, of a loose spongy texture ; smell strong, taste warm, bitterish, and aromatic. They should be chosen tough, cleared from fibres, and free from worms, to which it is very subject.

ASPHALTUM is a solid shining bitumen, of a dusky colour outside; within of a deep black, found in many parts of Egypt. A thin piece appears of a reddish colour, when placed between the eye and the light. It has no smell when cold, but acquires a slight one by friction ; when exposed to heat, it liquifies, swells up, and burns with a thick smoke, the smell of which is strong, acrid, and disagreeable. It is occasionally adulterated with pitch; but the fraud may be discovered by means of spirits of wine, which dissolve the pitch, and only take a pale colour with Asphaltum.

BALM OF GILEAD, or Balsam of Mecca, is a resinous juice that distils from an evergreen tree, or shrub, growing between Mecca and Medina; it is much used by the Asiatic ladies as a cosmetic. The tree is scarce; the best sort is said to exude naturally, but the inferior kinds are extracted from the branches by boiling. It is at first turbid and white, of a strong pungent smell, a bitter and acrid taste; upon being kept some time, it becomes thin, limpid, of a greenish hue, then of a golden yellow, and at length of the colour of honey. This article, being scarce and valuable, is very liable to adulteration. The following methods are recommended to discover imposition Cause a drop or two of the liquid balsam to fall into a glass of clear water; if the drop go to the bottom without rising again to the surface, or if it continue in a drop like oil, the balsam is adulterated. If, on the contrary, it spreads upon the surface of the water, like a very thin cobweb, scarcely visible to the eye, and being congealed, may be taken up with a pin or small straw, the balsam is pure and natural. Or if the pure balsam be dropped on woollen, it will wash out; but if adulterated, it will not. The genuine, dropped into milk, coagulates it. When a drop of the pure balsam is let fall on red hot iron, it gathers itself into a globule ; but oil or spurious balsam runs, and sheds itself all round. The genuine balsam also feels viscid and adhesive to the fingers. If sophisticated with wax, it is discovered by the turbid colour, never to be clarified; if with honey, the sweet taste betrays it; if with resins, by dropping it on live coals, it yields a blacker flame, and of a grosser substance than the genuine. When the balsam is too thick to be taken out of the bottle, it need only be placed near the fire, the smallest degree of heat liquifying it.  The bottles must not be quite full, lest they should break, as the balsam is apt to rarify.

Continue reading Mocha Trade in the early 19th century

Yemen photos by Giles Clark

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23 April 2017. A boy in the ruins of his school in Sa‘da City, North Yemen. According to UNICEF, here are currently over 3 million + children in Yemen who unable to attend school as the war enters a third year of conflict.

The photographer Giles Clark has uploaded a series of superb photos taken in Yemen during a trip with the United Nations OCHA team in April/May, 2017. Here are two samples.

Check it out here.

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24 April 2017. Children stand in the ruins of damaged traditional mud adobe building in a small town a few kilometers south of Sa‘da City.

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