Category Archives: Qat and Coffee

Yemeni Arts on al-Madaniya

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Despite the turmoil and suffering in Yemen, a number of Yemeni artists are continuing to write, draw, photograph and film. One of the more exciting online resources for this is the website al-madaniya, published in English and Arabic.  Current posts include an article on Muhammad Mahmud al-Zubayri, Art in prehistoric Yemen, Yemeni songs, the poets ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Muqalih and ‘Abd Allah al-Baradduni, several short stories and much more. All the articles are published in Arabic and English, so they are also suitable for anyone interested in learning Arabic.

As note in the “About” section…

al-Madaniya magazine is a platform for Yemeni art, culture and civil society. It aims to highlight and nurture Yemeni art, culture and civil society initiatives through contributions from emerging and established writers, photographers and creatives

The magazine aims to impact the way Yemenis view their own society by providing a space for its cultural, intellectual and artistic productions, and by highlighting initiatives bridging social divisions. By presenting all contributions in both Arabic and English language, the magazine allows the international reader to explore an undiscovered side to Yemen, which differs from images of Yemen created in mainstream media

al-Madaniya magazine is a project implemented by the Yemen Polling Center and made possible by the generous funding of the German Institute of Foreign Affairs.  Yemeni artist Ibi Ibrahim has been commissioned to lead the project and serve as the Editor in Chief.

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.”

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, #6

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Coffee hills of Yemen (from Niebuhr’s travels)

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.

Osgood provides details on the coffee plant and its distribution to the port of Mocha:

“The coffee plant grows sixteen or eighteen feet high, with an upright stem covered with a light brown bark. Its branches grow horizontally and opposite, crossing each other, and form a pyramidical appearance. The leaves grow on the opposite side of the branches, to the length of four or five inches, and to half that width in the middle. The flowers, growing in bunches at the junction of the leaves, are white, maturing first into green, then red berries resembling bunches of cherries, [p. 181] each of which contains two kernels. But one crop is annually produced, which is gathered in the months of January and February. For the purpose of being dried in the sun, the gathered coffee is spread on the house-tops, or cleared spaces of ground, where it is frequently watered to open the koke, or shell, which is always separated by grinding before packing. The coffee raised at Annas and Sana, which is held in the best estimation, is generally dried upon temporary floors, covered with a compost of clay and cow ordure, which protects the coffee from vermin and also gives it a permanent yellowish color. How perceptibly such a compost may affect the taste of the coffee would doubtless be a matter of inquiry with the tidy, cow-loving Hindu house-wife, who uses a solution of it to purify her parlors, ornament her walls and doorways, and for numerous other purposes.

Large quantities of coffee arrive at Mocha, from March to the latter part of July, from the coffee districts within twenty days’ journey. Camels are employed in its transportation, each of which carries about six hundred pounds, contained in two sacks. They are driven in long trains of fifty or more, arranged one behind another, the head of each being tied to the tail of the camel immediately before him. Thus arranged but few drivers are necessary.

Continue reading Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #6

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #5

coffeemerchants

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.

Osgood gives a lengthy discussion of the coffee trade at Mocha:

[p. 166] “In the year 1800, when the Americans adopted the popular idea of invigorating the body and clarifying the mind with the berry of Mocha, sixteen thousand bales of coffee were annually sent by dows to Jiddah, and thence by caravans to Constantinople, or by sea to Suez, and across Egypt to Abyssinia, whence it found its way over Europe. To Salem merchants belongs the credit of striking out at this time a new branch of maritime trade, which amply rewarded their enterprise, if anything can be judged from the fact that in 1805 a favorable trade and increasing competition had raised the price of coffee to fifty dollars a bale: and even at this price so great was the demand that eleven American vessels were at the port of Mocha at one time waiting for cargoes. Another interesting fact, and one to be proud of in our commercial history, is, that until the year 1822, at which time Mocha was paying an annual tribute of one thousand bales of coffee to the Pasha of Egypt, no direct trade had been carried on between Mocha and Europe by sea, except by [p. 167] American vessels, the cargoes of which were purchased almost exclusively with specie.

Continue reading Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #5

Two Talks on Yemen in Vienna

On July 3 Dr. Najwa Adra will present a talk at the Institute for Social Anthropology in Vienna, Austria entitled: “What Does it Mean to Be Tribal in Yemen?”

On July 5 Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco will give a talk at the same institute on “Agriculture in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen.”

Both talks are free and open to the public. For details, see https://www.oeaw.ac.at/en/isa/events/upcoming-events/

Details on both talks are provided below:

What Does it Mean to Be Tribal in Yemen?

A large majority of Yemen’s population self-identifies as qabili /pl. qaba’il, terms normally glossed in English as “tribal.” Qabyala a uniquely Yemeni term that can be translated as “tribalism” comprises tribal ideology, customary law, behavior in formal contexts and a set of presumed personal characteristics ascribed to tribal Yemenis. This talk, based on long term field research, explores the behaviors and events associated with qabyala, in contrast to activities that do not connote tribalism; describes the interaction of tribes with urban elites; and suggests ways in which Yemeni tribes can collaborate with the state in peacebuilding and national development.

Najwa Adra (www.najwaadra.net) holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Temple University. She is   a cultural anthropologist with long-term experience in field research and development  consulting in Yemen. She has studied tribal identity and customary law in Yemen’s Central Highland Plateau as these have changed over the past 30 years and the ways in which these indigenous institutions can contribute to state building. She has written on Yemeni tribal mediation for ISA and is currently completing a book on tribal identity in Yemen. Her research also extends to Yemeni dance traditions, women’s role in Yemeni agriculture and literacy.

Agriculture in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen

Yemen has a rich tradition of agriculture, stemming from the South Arabian kingdoms through the Islamic era. Yemeni scholars, anthropologists and agricultural experts have written about Yemen’s agriculture in the past half century, but less is known about the state of agriculture during the Mutawakkilite Kingdom in Yemen of the Zaydi Imams Yahya and Ahmad (1918-1962). This talk draws on Arabic resources, accounts by foreign travelers and the report of a 1955 FAO agricultural mission to Yemen in describing the role of agriculture and cultivated crops in the area ruled by the imams in the first part of the 20th century.

Daniel Martin Varisco holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania for ethnographic research on water resource use and agriculture in Yemen. He has also conducted ethnographic and historical research in Yemen, Egypt and Qatar. He serves as President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, editor-in-chief of CyberOrient (www.cyberorient.net), and was editor of Contemporary Islam (2006-2016). He has published on the history of Yemeni agriculture in the Journal for the Economic and Social History of the Orient, the Journal of Semitic Studies, History and Anthropology and in his Medieval Agriculture and Islamic Science (1994).

McGuire Gibson on AIYS

Some random memories about the founding of AIYS and subsequent times in Yemen.

McGuire Gibson, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

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The American Institute for Yemeni Studies came into being because the late Selma al-Radi had taken a job as an advisor to the Department of Antiquities, as part of Dutch aid.  In 1977, I was in Riyadh, working on some finds from the survey that the Oriental Institute had done in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. All the foreigners I met insisted that, since I was so close, I should go to visit Yemen, which was “marvelous.”  Finishing my work a couple of weeks early, I sent a wire to Selma, asking if it would be possible to visit.  A week later, I arrived at the Sanaa airport, paid $12 for a visa, and was driven into the city by Selma in her Suzuki, Flosi.  Within two hours, we were having lunch at the top of the American ambassador’s house, one of the finest tall houses in the city.  Tom Scotes, the ambassador, and his wife had also invited Dr. Abdul Karim el-Eryani and Marjorie Ransom, the Public Affairs officer of the embassy.   Much of the conversation was an attempt to convince me to start archaeological work in Yemen.  Being already fully engaged in Iraq, with a small remaining commitment to the Saudi project, it looked unrealistic to begin research on a country I knew nothing about, except for the snippets learned in Arabian Seminar meetings in Britain.  (Although there were serious academic talks based on inscriptions, real archaeology had barely begun at that time, and the presentations were more often than not: “When I was leading the X rifles in Aden, we chanced on a dam and some buildings in Y valley.”)

Dr. Abdul Karim stated that he had previously been the Minister of Planning, but had decided that you could not plan anything without basic data, and therefore he had become Minister of Education and had pushed for the admission of foreign researchers to help in the gathering of information on which to develop the country. I had already been told by Selma about the dozens of American researchers in Yemen, studying development projects, doing medical research, and carrying out dissertation projects in anthropology.  I told the group at the table that what was really needed was an American Institute, similar to the one in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan, which would foster more research, make it easier for scholars to find cheaper housing and a library, and would become a center for the exchange of ideas.  By the time we got up from the table, the ambassador, Dr. Abdul Karim, and I had signed a note of intent to form an institute, and the ambassador promised $40,000 as a seed grant while Dr. Abdul Karim promised either a house or land at the new University of Sana’a, on which to build.  And I promised that I would try to mount an archaeological project, even if I did not carry it out myself.

Continue reading McGuire Gibson on AIYS

Dan Varisco on AIYS

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Dan Varisco in al-Ahjur, 1978

by Daniel Martin Varisco

In early 1978 I arrived in Yemen to conduct ethnographic fieldwork on water allocation and springfed irrigation in the Yemen Arab Republic. Najwa Adra, my wife, would also be carrying out her dissertation research on the semiotics of Yemeni dance. I had a Fulbright-Hayes dissertation grant and Najwa had a National Science Foundation grant, so between the two of us we managed to support ourselves for a year and a half in the field. On the way to Yemen we had an unintended stop over in Egypt when our connecting Yemenia flight decided to leave three hours early from Cairo.  When we finally arrived in Sanaa, we were met at the airport by a family friend who had an apartment overlooking Tahrir Square. Soon we found a temporary place to stay with a Yemeni family, while waiting for clearance and looking for an appropriate field site.

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Najwa and Dan in al-Ahjur

This was before AIYS had officially started, but the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer Marjorie Ransom helped us through the process of getting permission to do our research and we were put under the umbrella of the Yemen Center for Studies and Research. On the way to Yemen we had stopped over in London and had a chance to visit Prof. R. B. Serjeant at Cambridge, where we also saw Martha Mundy at work on her thesis about irrigation in Wadi Dhahr. In Sanaa we were privileged to meet Qadi Ismail al-Akwa‘, one of Yemen’s most prolific modern scholars. One of our dearest friends was Père Etienne Renaud, who had a great love for Yemen and contributed to the study of Zaydi law.

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Dan and Etienne Renaud in Rome in 1983

In a couple of months we found our site, the breathtakingly beautiful valley of al-Ahjur, a headwater of Wadi Surdud. This had a spring line with allocation from cisterns into an extensive terrace network of agricultural plots. We settled in a room in the country house of our host, Abdullah ‘Abd al-Qadir, and were within easy walking distance of several villages. I spent many afternoons in Abdullah’s afternoon qat chew, where local matters were discussed, an anthropologist dream time. Najwa and I can never repay the kindness of the people we met in al-Ahjur; they treated us as guests and were very patient with our questions.

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al-Ahjur panorama

We met Jon Mandaville and his family when he started as the first resident director of AIYS in Sanaa. Jon invited Najwa and myself on a vacation trip to the Tihāma, where I have vivid memories of a night spent on the beach under the palms, hearing the gently lapping waves, at Khawkha. In the 1980s I returned to Yemen many times as a development consultant and to do manuscript research in the Western Library of the Great Mosque. The small library room (the manuscripts were kept elsewhere) was run by two elderly gentleman, one of whom was almost deaf. His conversations on the telephone were at times quite hilarious. It was here that I first met the Yemeni historian Muhammad Jazm and we soon became close friends.

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Dan and Muhammad Jazm

On my trips to Yemen I always stopped by AIYS, which changed buildings regularly, and was pleased to meet each new director and wave of researchers. In 1983, while I was starting an ARCE Fellowship in Cairo, I came to Yemen to write up the final draft of the USAID Social and Institutional Profile of Yemen. The AIYS President at the time, Manfred “Kurt” Wenner, had solicited articles from a number of scholars, but these had to be merged and edited into the kind of document that USAID needed. The anthropologist Barbara Pillsbury joined me for a marathon writing session and the result was a thorough analysis of the development context of Yemen as of 1983.

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AIYS director Jeff Meissner and Dan in 1987

Even after I started full-time teaching in 1992, I would return at times for consulting. In 1990 I took over the newsletter of AIYS and created a bulletin called Yemen Update, with some of its articles and book reviews archived online. With funding assistance from Hunt Oil we were able to distribute hard copies. In 2014 I became President of AIYS, having served in the past as a secretary and board member. I created a blog called Yemen Webdate, for posts on Yemeni history and culture, and a Yemen Expert Guide to list the names and contacts of individuals with expertise in Yemeni Studies. I also have promoted a Scholar-to-Scholar Program to put Yemeni and foreign scholars into contact with each other for joint research and mentoring. I encourage colleagues to send in material for our AIYS Facebook Page, where news items on the current conflict, etc are posted.

As I write these reflections, Yemen remains in a precarious humanitarian crisis with little end in sight. All of us who have worked in Yemen desire a peaceful settlement so that Yemen’s people can build up their own lives with freedom and security. America’s political choices have greatly angered many of Yemen’s people, but as an educational institute AIYS remains committed to promoting knowledge of all aspects of Yemen’s rich heritage and cultural diversity.

This post is part of the anniversary of AIYS at 40. Click here for other reflections.

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