Michal Zurawski on AIYS

michal1Michel at Sabanco place (Old Sanaa, Harat at-Talh)

In October 2010, I arrived Sanaa for a 10 months scholarship to practice Arabic language and get experience of Arabic culture. It was a basic scholarship set on agreement between the Polish and Yemeni governments. From the Polish side it has been used mostly by students of Arabic language studies, however Yemen was not a popular destination. That year only I and one girl came (and there were 5 places).

The scholarship was a great chance to gather material for my B.A. thesis on an introduction to Yemeni dialects. Because of that, I reached out to AIYS about its facilities in Sanaa. I got some directions from Faraj, but getting to AIYS was quite challenging as it was in an uncharacteristic house, located in a small alley near the Republican Hospital in al-Qa’a Street. There I met Faraj and Stephen (AIYS director at the time).

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Date seller near Bab al-Yaman

I have spent some long hours in AIYS library going through dialectological books and dictionaries. It contained everything that was written on Yemeni dialects. It was a very enjoyable time, but also crucial for my B.A. thesis. Unfortunately, at my home University of Warsaw, there were not any positions for dialectology.

Continue reading Michal Zurawski on AIYS

Digging through the Dhamar Museum Ruins

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On May 21, 2015, near the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign over Yemen, the Dhamar Archaeological Museum, housing precious artifacts from the local area, was bombed and destroyed. As can be seen from the picture above, it was a complete leveling, resulting in the irretrievable loss of Yemen’s heritage in the region. The museum was clearly not a military target, and was not the only heritage site damaged or destroyed by deliberate Saudi bombing.

This year a CAORC Kaplan grant was given to Yemen’s Ministry of Antiquities to sift through the ruins and salvage what could be found. This is a new kind of salvage archaeology, excavating for material that had already been excavated and stored in what was thought to be a safe spot for preservation. Work has already begun on the difficult task of removing concrete and fallen walls in the hopes of finding relics that have not perished in the destruction. This is not a free-for-all, but an undertaking with scientific methods.

Pictures of the ongoing work are provided below.

dhamar6The team working on the museum site.

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Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #9

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This post is the last from the travel account of Joseph B. F. Osgood (1823-1913), whose Notes of Travel or Recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, Muscat, Aden, Mocha, and other Eastern Ports (Salem: George Creamer, 1854) describes the Arabian coastline, like a 19th century Ibn Baṭūṭṭa. For Part #1, click here; for Part #2, click here; for Part #3, click here; for Part #4, click here; for Part #5, click here; for Part #6, click here; for Part #7, click here; for Part #8, click here.

In addition to coffee, Osgood discusses “kaht” (qāt)…

“[p. 234] After the heart is contented with smoking, kaht is passed round and eagerly devoured by the ruminating guests. The name of this choice and expensive luxury is given to the tender leaves of a tree, resembling in appearance and taste the foliage of the apple tree. It is brought to Mocha from the inland towns three or four days’ journey distant, in a tolerable condition of freshness, secured by the mode of packing. So delicious [p. 235] is it thought, that the day would be of little event which did not expend three or four dollars from the coffers of a rich Arab in the single item of kaht. While thus smoking or chewing, Arabs expectorate but little, although to do so would be thought no breach of politeness. Should he not be joined by those who thus make friendship end in smoke, sleep, ever ready to keep his drowsy thoughts from mischief, disposes of him until mid-day prayer, after which comes dinner.

[p. 238] After dinner the merchant washes and goes to his counting room, to smoke, chew kaht, write letters, and transact the business of the day.”

Yemen at MESA 2018

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The annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in San Antonio, Texas, is only a little over a month away. Yemen will be well represented this year, both in AIYS sponsored panels and individual papers. The AIYS General Information meeting, to which all are invited, will be Friday, November 16, 4-5 in room Mission B (2).

Here are the panels and papers on Yemen:
Friday, November 16, 11-1, AIYS Panel
(5224) Anthropology in War-Torn Yemen: Challenges, Dilemmas, and Alternative Methodologies.
Organizers: Susanne Dahlgren and Marina de Regt
Chair: Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart & William Smith Colls.
Marina de Regt, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam-Finding Ways to Work on Yemen: A Plea for Engaged Scholarship
Susanne Dahlgren, U of Tampere/National U of Singapore-Securitized Yemen: Studying a Popular Revolution in the Shadow of War, Drones and Terrorism
Nathalie Peutz, NYU-Abu Dhabi-Fieldwork in a Yemeni “Village” Displaced and Constituted by War

Saturday, November 17, 8:30-10:30
(5307) Unorthodoxies Shi’ism, Sufism, Feminism
Michael Dann, U of Illinois-Zaydi and Imami Appropriations of Early Shi’i Hadith Narrators

Saturday, November 17, 11-1 AIYS Panel
(5057) The Birth of Modern Yemen: Internal Views of the 1960s Civil War
Organizer: Marieke Brandt
Chair: J. E. Peterson, Tucson, Arizona
Marieke Brandt, Austrian Academy of Sciences-A Tribe and Its States: Yemen’s 1972 Bayhan Massacre Revisited
Joshua Rogers, SOAS, U of London-Aid and Taxes: A Political Economy Analysis of the Civil War in North Yemen 1962-1970
Gabriele Vom Bruck, SOAS, U of London-Domestic Photography and Memories of Loss in Northern Yemen
Zaid Alwazir, Yemen Heritage & Research Center-The Third Force’s Role in Yemen’s Peacemaking and Achieving National Reconciliation (1964-1970)

Saturday, November 17, 3-5
(5118) Challenges Facing Yemen’s Millennia-Long Cultural Heritage (Roundtable)
Organizer: Mac Skelton, Johns Hopkins U
Chair: Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the Arts
Alexander Nagel, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History
Najwa Adra, American Institute for Yemeni Studies and Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Nathalie Peutz, NYU Abu Dhabi
Sabine Schmidtke, Institute for Advanced Study

Saturday, November 17, 3-5
(5059) Beyond the Written Word: Unity and Diversity across Transmission and Transformation of Medieval Textual Traditions in the Arabian Peninsula
Anne Regourd, CNRS, UMR 7192-Questioning the Birth of a Tradition
Corrado la Martire, U of Cologne-How to Conceal the Tradition into the Text: Tayyibi Isma’ili “Codes of Conduct” (adab al-du’at) between Yemen and India

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5105) The Indian Ocean without Boundaries: A Historical Perspective
Organizer: Daniel Martin Varisco
Chair: Roxani Margariti, MESAS Department, Emory U
Craig Perry, U of Cincinnati-The Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean before 1500: Evidence and Interpretive Challenges
Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences-Local Knowledge in Pre-Colonial Maritime Interactions
Marina Tolmacheva, Washington State U-Managing Monsoons: Mamluk-Era Voyaging East
Daniel Martin Varisco, American Institute for Yemeni Studies-Sailing with and against the Winds: Navigation in the Red Sea Indian Ocean Network in the Ayyubid, Rasulid and Mamluk Eras

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5279) Composing a Community of Words in the Islamic World: From Medieval to Modern
Emily Sumner, U of Minnesota-“In Our Sea Their Sins Must Drive Them”: The Righteousness of the Huthi Zamil

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5061) Medical Mobilities and Transformations in the Global Middle East
Shireen Hamza, Harvard U-Stretching the Body: Preparing to Travel in the Indian Ocean World

“Muhammashin” in Yemen

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A girl from the Akhdam community stands outside her family`s house in a slum area in Sanaa March 4, 2012.

An article by  Bogumila Hall entitled “’This is our homeland’: Yemen’s marginalized and the quest for rights and recognition” is available online at Arabian Humanities.

Here is the abstract:

Reflecting on the muhammashīn’s distance towards the 2011 popular revolution, this article sets out to explore the complicated relationship between the Yemeni marginalized and the nation, and politics of the marginalized more broadly. I discuss how the rough boundaries of belonging and exclusion are drawn, and how they are negotiated in complex ways by the muhammashīn, who seek better lives, rights and recognition as worthy human beings. Going beyond the dominant focus on subaltern oppositional subjectivities, this article points to the more nuanced acts of negotiations, whereby the dehumanized muhammashīn choose to declare themselves as loyal Yemenis and ideal citizens yearning to be incorporated into the body of the nation. Our reading of the revolutionary period from the perspective of its most vulnerable actors aims to contribute to the recent literature on the Arab uprisings, and to unearth the voices and meanings of the Yemeni marginalized, whose projects and aspirations remain largely invisible.

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #7

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This post continues the story of Joseph B. F. Osgood (1823-1913), whose Notes of Travel or Recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, Muscat, Aden, Mocha, and other Eastern Ports (Salem: George Creamer, 1854) describes the Arabian coastline, like a 19th century Ibn Baṭūṭṭa. For Part #1, click here; for Part #2, click here; for Part #3, click here; for Part #4, click here; for Part #5, click here; for Part #6, click here.

Osgood continues his account of Mocha, the climate, locusts and water.

“[p. 185] The temperature of the climate of Mocha during the spring and autumn months is about that of a New England midsummer. The average height of the mercury throughout the whole year is between the ninetieth and hundredth degrees. But during the summer  months the heat is intolerably intense, and the wonted cool and unnoticed flow of blood in a New England microcosm is so quickened into heated and nervous throes by the impulsive engine within, that one is obliged to keep perfectly quiet at noon-day, with the mercury sometimes at the one hundred and twentieth degree, and hope that the heat may not increase a single degree for fear his body would actually melt. The nights are but little cooler than the days, and the south-west winds continually blown from the African deserts have their high temperature but little reduced by their short passage over the Red Sea. Some one thus speaks of such nights as are experienced in this region :

[p. 186] ‘ ‘Tis night: but here the sparkling heaven shews
No genial showers, or soft distilling dews.
In the hot sky the stars, of lustre shorn,
Burn o’er the pathway of the wanderer lorn;
And the red moon from Babel-Mandeb’s strand,
Looks as she climbs through pyramids of sand
That whirled aloft, and gilded by her light
Blaze the lone beacons of the desert night.’

[p. 186] Frequently during the year, but especially during the months of July and August, heavy black clouds gathering in the heavens, accompanied with distant lightning and thunder, give timely warning of the approach of the much dreaded simoon, which is generated in the extensive inland deserts. As the terrific gale passes over the country it whirls and drives with great violence a mass of moving sand in every direction. During the continuance of this sand storm, the air for several hours sometimes, is as hot as a blast from a furnace, parching and drying the skin in a most painful manner, almost suffocating persons exposed to its virulence and rendering it dangerous to leave the house. The boatmen navigatmg the Red Sea keep a
continual look out for these violent gusts of wind and sand. They sometimes mistake for them the first distant appearance of the immense swarms of locusts that come up afar off during the months of August and September, like dark, thick clouds, spreading over and darkening the heavens in their flight, for four or even eight hours or more together. It is no strange event for swarms to pass over Mocha of such astonishing magnitude that they could be numbered by hundreds of [p. 187] trillions, and measured by hundreds of miles in length, hundreds of yards in depth, and tens of miles in width. These “daughters of heat” make a loud noise with their wings while flying. They are often eaten by the Arabs, who broil and fry them ; though they sometimes eat them without being cooked, and liken their flavor to that of nice sardines.

[p. 188] Though the soil in the immediate vicinity of Mocha is sandy and barren, not far inland from the city there are large elevated tracts of land where copious showers and dews are frequent in certain seasons of the year and the country is fruitful in coffee, dates, wheat, grains of many varieties, mangoes, bananas, pomegramates peaches, apricots, quinces, plantains, limes, lemons, melons, brinjals or egg-plants, corn, radishes, onions, beans, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and other vegetables.

At Mocha good water is scarce and dear. All that used for drinking and culinary purposes is drawn from three wells located a mile from the city, named respectively, Shathalee, Belayley and Naaman. These wells are surrounded, at a level from the ground, by…[p. 189] stones, in which troughs are hollowed out for wintering camels and other animals. The water, when first drawn, is unpleasantly brackish, and its quality at any subsequent time is but little improved by the filthy skin vessels in which it is conveyed to the city, on consumptive looking jackasses.

Among the domestic animals are horses, mules, camels, sheep, cows, asses, cats, dogs, gazelles and rabbits. The sheep here obtained are inferior to the Abyssinian sheep. The cows have a hump on their backs, and yield but little milk. Birds are plenty in number and variety, yet among them are found very few good singers.”

more to come

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #8

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This post continues the story of Joseph B. F. Osgood (1823-1913), whose Notes of Travel or Recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, Muscat, Aden, Mocha, and other Eastern Ports (Salem: George Creamer, 1854) describes the Arabian coastline, like a 19th century Ibn Baṭūṭṭa. For Part #1, click here; for Part #2, click here; for Part #3, click here; for Part #4, click here; for Part #5, click here; for Part #6, click here; for Part #7, click here.

Osgood was not anxious to visit a nearby garden by camel, but at last he did; it is a wonderful description of the act. He also discusses slavery.

[189] No wheel carriages are used here, the most general mode of transportation being by camels, for which the males alone are serviceable. The flesh of the camel forms a staple article of food, the head and neck being excepted, because one of the race unwittingly rendered these parts unholy by obtrusively poking his head and neck into Mahomet’s tomb; Wellsted says that a camel is welcomed at its birth, by the Arab, with “another child is born unto us.”

Upon the back of one of these “ships of the desert” I made a trip on a sultry afternoon, through the country, to an Arab picnic given by Syed Abdallah bin Omar Sahfee, at the country seat of a wealthy Arab merchant, Abdul Rasool. But a word or two preliminary. Having in mind Abdallah’s invitation, I had for two days scorned to engage one of the tolerable Arabian horses to be had, unwisely keeping an appetite for some better  [p. 190]
choice, till finally I found that I must walk or take an ugly and famished camel with a small head, made expressive by little ears and small black bright eyes, and with a neck long enough to have allowed him to feed upon wayside herbage, even at his fastest pace. His body was disproportionately large, like a well distended wind pouch, with a curved back, from the middle of which a single hump rose to an apex ten feet from the ground. His attenuated legs eloquently besought for some kind of pantaloon appendage to hide their disagreeable slimness. Had he been healthy and well fed, his dorsal hump would have been rough and fleshy, but a half starved existence had called upon that curious provision of nature to supply therefrom the chief nourishment of his body, until but little of it remained but the bony framework, presenting almost as many corners as a trapezihedron.

  The preceding unflattering description might safely be applied to all camels to be met with at Mocha. Having received a signal that his burden was in waiting, his ungainly legs were gathered under him, with his hind quarters towards the wind, as all camels do when left to themselves to take a posture of rest. Mounting the triangular saddle, the sight of which was enough to incapacitate one for sedentary pursuits, I gave the signal for his rise. This he accomplished by a convulsive motion of his fore legs, whereupon his hind legs, which partial nature had provided with two separate joints, the one bending forward and the other backward, were straightened. A third motion of the fore legs, and the animal was upon all fours, [p. 191] ready for travelling. Camels are frequently driven, or rather steered, by means of a string fastened ta the tail, its ends being held by the rider. Instead of this mode, a stick, with reins attached, had been passed through the nostrils of the animal I was riding.

   He started off unconcernedly with his light load at the rate of five or six miles an hour, over a good road lined on each side for several miles, with date groves, and in less than an hour brought me to the garden of Abdul Rasool, which was appropriated, like several others in the neighborhood, to the culture of a limited number of stinted date trees, herbs and vegetables, at great expense. All the plantations near the city are irrigated with water raised from wells by means of bullocks. Within Abdul Rasool’s garden I found the governor and other worthies apparently enjoying their host’s hospitality in smoking, eating, quaffing coffee, and gossiping with numbers of Arabs, Persians, Suratmen and Turks. But the requisite source of pleasure on such occasions, that of female society, was not there to be found. A strict compliance with religious tenets made it strictly a male assemblage.

Slavery is but nominal at Mocha, although many of the population are owned by wealthy persons through purchase. Cargoes of slaves are often brought to this port from Abyssinia. The men and boys are well treated, often taught to read and write, and seldom worked severely, the drudgery of labor being performed by hired coolies. Without showing any sense of degradation at their condition, the slaves frequently dress as expensively as their masters, and good behavior often [p. 192] obtains for them manumission, or offices of trust while in willing bondage. There are several instances at Mocha at the present time, of wealthy merchants and owners of many slaves, who formerly lived in servitude. An acquaintance of mine once expressed to an Arab merchant great surprise at seeing slaves so well treated. “Suppose,” was the characteristic reply, “a man has a son whom he cannot trust, and a faithful slave who will make for him a good business, why should he not make the slave the same as a son?” The offspring of male slaves are held in bondage, but if a slave marries an Arab woman, with his master’s consent, he becomes free.”

more to come

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