Category Archives: Qat and Coffee

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.

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Shooting Qat

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This is a store in Doha.  I suspect there is no qat in Qatar (apart from the first three letters), but there are plenty of photogenic cats.  Or perhaps this is a store for buying Catha edulis plants.

Coffee vs. Tea

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This poetic debate is courtesy of Muhammad Gerhoum

صراع بين القهوة والشاهي :
……………………………….
من ماضي حضرموت اغنيه من اجمل الاغاني القديمه
التي كانت تغنى ولازالت تغنى الى اليوم

وهي حوار شعري غنائي بين الشاي و القهوه
لشاعر يدعى البـيتــي …
وقد تغنى بها كثيرين واشهرهم فنان في الخمسينيات يدعا عمر باحويرث
وهو واول من فتح محل بيع تسجيلات على اسطوانات قرامافون في ساحة الرياض احدى ساحات سيؤن في منتصف الستينيات السبعينيات اومابعدها حينها
كان تسجيل هذي الاسطوانات في عدن وتأتي أغلبها من محل يضع يسجل بصمته على هذه الاسطوانات ويعرف ب جعفر فون
والمعذره هذا مااستطعت الحصول عليه من معلومات

واليكم القصيده

الـهـاشـمــي يــقـــول يـالـهــاجــس
لاتـقــوم عـــادك جــلــس جــالــس
مــا شـفـت حـلـقـي صـبــح يـابــس
هــــذا مــقـــدر مـــــن الـرحــمــن
مــا الـيــوم كـــذ قـامــت الـدعــوه

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With Rochet d’Hericourt at Mocha in 1839

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Mocha was a frequent port of call in the 19th century and there are many travel accounts of the town.  One of these was written by Rochet d’Hericourt about his 1839 trip down the Red Sea from Egypt to Ethiopia.  He paid 20 silver Maria Theresa thalers to sale to Mocha in seven days.  The population was estimated by the author at the time as between 4,000 and 5,000.  His description, written in French, is interesting and is provided below.  His entire text is available on archive.org.

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AIYS at MESA 2014: Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

[P3654] Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

 MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Monday, 11/24/14 11:00am

•    Written versus archaeological evidence: The example of water and wastewater in medieval Zabid, Yemen by Dr. Ingrid Hehmeyer
•    Ideal and pragmatic tax law in mediaeval Zaydi Yemen by Dr. Eirik Hovden
•    A cultural heritage text from early medieval South Arabia by Dr. Daniel Mahoney
•    Coffee and Qat in Yemen: The Historical and Literary Evidence for their Introduction by Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco
•    Discussant:  Dr. Nancy Ajung Um

SUMMARY:

Scholarship on Islamic history has paid less attention to Yemen than to Iraq, Syria or Egypt. Despite an important corpus of manuscripts and the publication of several significant primary sources, the historical reconstruction of Islamic Yemen lags behind these other regions. This panel brings together historians who work on various periods in Yemen to illustrate how the current historiography is being made. Archaeological fieldwork on the Islamic era has been limited with the notable exception of the Royal Ontario Museum project on Zabid. Based on the excavation of water works in Zabid, one paper compares the material evidence with the description of water engineering schemes in the 16th century Yemeni text History of Zabid by Ibn al-Dayba’, thus showing the importance of archaeology for fleshing out the tantalizing details in written texts. Another paper focuses on the 10th century multi-volume al-Iklil of the Yemeni savant al-Hamdani, who provides a rhetorical landscape of monuments as an aid in the formation and maintenance of the South Arabian political identity in a fashion akin to modern cultural heritage texts. At the same time, al-Hamdani’s reconstruction of Yemen’s pre-Islamic past serves as a mirror of the politics of his own time, with the retreat of the Abbasid presence and the recent arrival of both Zaydis and Isma’ilis to northern Yemen, more than a century before the Ayyubid invasion. The Zaydi presence in Yemen’s north since the late ninth century is the focus of a paper on the tax policies of the Zaydi imams, especially the tension between the traditional zakat on production and other kinds of taxes. This paper discusses both the theological debate about tax collection and recorded information on how taxes were actually collected. Another paper examines the evidence for the introduction of both coffee (Coffea arabica) and qat (Catha edulis) into Yemen, probably during the Rasulid era. Recent research has resolved the issue of the origin of the term “qat” and there is a need to update discussion of the stimulant in previous sources, including the EI. This paper will examine historical, literary, legal and lexical sources as well as Yemeni folklore. Overall the panel provides both an indication of current research and an invitation for other scholars to help make Yemen’s history as well.

Going Qatless in Britain

qatbanThe Yemeni press is reporting the news that Britain has banned the growing, distribution, selling or buying of qat in Britain. The penalty is said to be up to 14 years in prison.  Actually, the ban had been planned with much criticism in 2013 . To me this sounds like a bizarre ruling, since fresh qat leaves are certainly not a dangerous drug.  There is an obvious ban on any derivative drug that can be extracted from the qat plant, but this is an attempt to regulate social behavior with criminal consequences.  I know of no evidence that qat induces violent behavior and it is certainly not a mind-altering drug like heroin.

An article in The Guardian, however, tells a more nuanced story.

Police have been officially advised to use their discretion in deciding how to enforce the ban that comes into force on Tuesday on qat, a mild herbal stimulant, that has been widely used in Britain’s Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities.

Official guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers tells constables that in applying a “three strikes” enforcement policy they should take into account that qat has “historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture of certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa.”

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