A three-day international cultural seminar on the Ḥaḍramī musical genre of Dān was held in Cairo on July 5-6, 2019. The Yemeni Minister of Culture Marwan Dammaj contributed to the discussions intended to start necessary preparations for nominating Ḥaḍramī Dān music for inclusion in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Ḥaḍramī Dān is a genre of folk singing that is very popular in the governorate of Ḥaḍramawt, as well as other parts of Yemen and Indonesia. In one session, the Director of the Culture Office in Ḥaḍramawt, Ahmed bin Dowis, provided a presentation of Ḥaḍramī Dān. He described it as a component of Ḥaḍramī cultural identity, involved in praising, disparaging, description and wisdom. Popular bands of Ḥaḍramī Dān can be found in Tarim, Say’ūn , Daw‘ān and Shibām. For examples of Yemeni Dān, click here and here.
Continue reading Yemeni Musical and Linguistic Heritage for UNESCO
Captain Haines of the Royal British Navy purchased the port of Aden from the sultan of Lahj in 1837, returning in January 1839 with 700 troops to take control and built a refueling depot for the British Navy en route to India. He served as the administration assistant of Aden from 1839-1854. At the time it is estimated that the population of Aden was a mere 600 people, about half of whom were Jews. In seven years the town had been rebuilt and it was home to 25,000 as a free port.
But in 1833 he was on a different mission, an attempt to purchase the island of Socotra from the Mahri sultan in Qishin. Here is his account of meeting with the sultan, who refused to sell his tribal inheritance to the British crown. Imagine if he had and the port of Aden had been ignored…
‘Rough Pencil Sketch from the Point Bungalo Ras Marbut, Aden’ by Stafford Bettesworth Haines
“Memoir of the South and East Coasts of Arabia.” By Captain STAFFORD BETTESWORTH HAINES, I. N.
Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 15:104-166, 1845
[p. 107] A direct communication by steam being the anxious object of the Supreme Government of India, it was considered probable that Sokoṭrah might answer as a depôt. I was, consequently, sent on a mission to Keshín to obtain the island by purchase.
Continue reading Imagine if the British chose Socotra over Aden
The war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen has sparked a series of recent publications on the situation there, a situation which seems to change daily and yet remain the same quagmire. Given the relative lack of reporting earlier in the war, the more books on the Yemen crisis the better. In 2017 there was Marieke Brandt’s Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict (London: Hurst), Ginny Hill’s Yemen Endures: Civil War, Saudi Adventurism and the Future of Arabia (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Sarah Phillips’ Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis (NY: Routledge), and Helen Lackner and Daniel Martin Varisco’s edited Yemen and the Gulf States: The Making of a Crisis. Berlin: Gerlach. Among the recent entries in 2018 are Helen Lackner’s Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State (London: Saqi Books), Laurent Bonnefoy’s Yemen and the World: Beyond Insecurity (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Isa Blumis’ Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World (Berkeley: University of California Press), and Marie-Christine Heinze’s edited Yemen and the Search for Stability: Power, Politics and Society after the Arab Spring (London: I. B. Tauris).
Marie Christine Heinze’s edited volume has 13 articles in addition to an Introduction by the editor. The articles were originally written for a conference at the University of Bonn in 2014 with a focus on the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Events since the start of the Saudi-led war are not covered, but the volume is important for analysis of this transition period. Among the topics covered are the role of intellectuals in Yemen after the Arab Spring, feminist resistance and gender dynamics, the mobilization of tribes in Mahra, Southern views of the Yemeni state, the governance of the reform process, women’s empowerment in the NDC, the competing roles of the Huthis, Islah and the Salafis, the impact of youth, fashion and theater, the threats to Yemen’s heritage and the future role of federalism.
AIYS members Charles Schmitz and Sheila Carapico have written positive endorsements of the volume on the back cover.
This volume can be ordered here.
Ottoman officers and Mahris in the very early 20th century
Sam Liebhaber (Middlebury College) has just published a new book on Mahri Poetry, When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra. Associated with the new release is a website exhibit.
Details of the exhibit are described below:
The Mahra people of the southern Arabian Peninsula have no written language but instead possess a rich oral tradition. Samuel Liebhaber takes readers on a tour through their poetry, collected by the author in audio and video recordings over the course of several years. Based on this material, Liebhaber developed a systemic approach to Mahri poetry that challenges genre- based categorizations of oral poetry from the Arabian Peninsula. By taking into account all Mahri poetic expressions—the majority of which don’t belong to any of the known genres of Arabian poetry—Liebhaber creates a blueprint for understanding how oral poetry is conceived and composed by native practitioners. Each poem is embedded in a conceptual framework that highlights formal similarities between them and recapitulates how Mahri poets craft poems and how their audiences are primed to receive them. The web-based medium allows users not only to delve into the classification system to explore the diversity and complexity of the Mahra’s poetic expressions, but also to experience the formation of a poem in the moment. Through a series of questions designed to define the social context in which a poem is being created, the reader is taken on an experiential tour through the corpus that highlights the embeddedness of poetry in the Mahras’ everyday practices.
“Featuring Arabic as well as Mahran texts translated and annotated in English, When Melodies Gather is a superb educational resource for appreciating the verbal and performative skill of modern tribal bards.”—Flagg Miller, University of California, Davis
“Of vital importance to the documentation of Mahri, When Melodies Gather enables native speakers and scholars alike to examine and appreciate an endangered genre within an endangered language.”—Janet Watson, University of Leeds
The website Yemen Archive has a number of Yemeni texts available as pdfs or reading online, especially by al-Baraddūnī. There is also a Facebook site.
Sam Liebhaber with Gregory Johnsen in Sanaa, 2004, having an evening cup of shay halib at Ali al-‘Imrani’s café in Sana’a, next to the Qubaat al-Mahdi, overlooking the Sayla.
by Sam Liebhaber
It is a daunting task for me to list the ways that the AIYS has guided and supported my research in Yemen; they are almost too many to count. Indeed, my experience in learning about Yemen and developing proficiency in its languages is inseparable from my relationship to the AIYS, which has stood as one of the few constants in a changing – and often tumultuous – landscape.
My first encounter with the AIYS dates back to my earliest steps in learning Arabic at the beginning of my graduate career in 1998. I spent the summer studying Arabic at the Center for the Arabic Language and Eastern Studies (CALES) in the Old City of Sana’a and a colleague brought me to the AIYS, which at the time was located on al-Bawniya street. During that summer, I spent many pleasant hours studying and reading about Yemen in the AIYS library – a lovely, glass-enclosed space that looked out onto a courtyard garden.
When I returned to Yemen the following year for further language study, I was once again welcomed to the AIYS by the resident director, Marta Colburn, who offered me guidance and advice on future research and studies in Yemen. On a side trip to Asmara in 2000, I befriended Bob Holman, New York-based poet/performer and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, at a conference and cultural celebration marking Eritrean independence. Bob was gathering information for his TV documentary, On the Road with Bob Holman, and when I told him about Yemen’s vibrant poetic culture, he returned back with me to Sana’a. Marta Colburn graciously arranged for Bob and myself to attend the weekly gathering of literati in the home of Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih, Yemen’s “poet laureate”, who was impressed by Bob’s extemporaneous composition and performance of a poem about the beauty and elegance of Sana’a. This led to an offer to Bob and myself to translate Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih’s Book of Sana’a – myself an Arabic neophyte and Bob a Nuyorican slam poet. Marta Colburn wisely engaged a friend of hers, Muhammad Abd al-Salam Mansur, to help us with the translation. Muhammad Abd al-Salam remains a close friend and served as a frequent mentor to me during my subsequent visits in Yemen. After a few years of work, our translation of the Book of Sana’a was published in Yemen thanks to the effort and support of the AIYS, especially that of Christopher Edens who assumed the role of resident director after the departure of Marta Colburn and who oversaw the final editing and annotation of the Book of Sana’a.
Continue reading Sam Liebhaber on AIYS
A conference on endangered languages of the Arabian Peninsula, including Mahri, was held in Doha at Qatar University in February. Below is the account in The Peninsula, February 20, 2018, p. 6.