Category Archives: Travel

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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Old Books about Yemen

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There is a very useful website with pdf downloads of old books and maps of Yemen in several languages, including a number of rare volumes.  This is accessible in the World Digital Library of the U.S. Library of Congress and UNESCO.  If you put “Yemen” in the search function you will find  over 75 books and maps, although the search will include other parts of the region later on in the list.  This includes the rare volume on Études sur les dialectes de l’Arabie méridionale  of Count Landberg and An Account of the Arab Tribes in the Vicinity of Aden by Frederick Hunter, as well as a 1914 map of the Aden Protectorate that you can zoom in on.

National Geographic on Shibam

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On April 3, National Geographic online published an article on the historic Yemeni city of Shibam.

In the heart of Yemen’s Wadi Hadramaut, a cluster of ancient mud skyscrapers soars above the desert floor—a beacon of mankind’s adaptability to the most formidable of environments.

At the edge of a desolate expanse of desert known as the Empty Quarter, the 16th-century Walled City of Shibam remains the oldest metropolis in the world to use vertical construction. Once a significant caravan stop on the spice and incense route across the southern Arabian plateau, British explorer Freya Stark dubbed the mud city “the Manhattan of the desert” in the 1930s.

Every aspect of Shibam’s design is strategic. Perched upon on a rocky spur and surrounded by a giant flood wadi, its elevated position shields it from flooding while maintaining proximity to its primary source of water and agriculture. The city was built on a rectangular grid behind a fortified wall—a defensive arrangement that protected its inhabitants from rival tribes and offered a high vantage point from which enemies would be seen approaching.

For the full story click here.

في قرية من جبال اليمن.. مزاريب الذكريات

في قرية من جبال اليمن.. مزاريب الذكريات

rayma

كان الشّتاء هو صوت المطر ليلاً حين ينهمر من المزراب الذي في السّطح ويصب في الحمام الملصق بجسد الدار كالبثرة. يبدو شرح هذا صعباً، لكن هذا المزراب كان طبيعياً يوصل بين السطح والأرض الفلاء، وبعدها أحتاج جدي لأن يضيف بطريقة ما حماماً صغيراً للطوارئ، فألصق الحمام في منطقة المزراب. لذا كنا نعرف المطر: ينهمر من المزراب المرتفع عن الأرض حوالي متراً واحداً، يصب على أرضية الحمام ذات البلاط الأبيض! ولأن مطر صيفاً غالباً ما يكون هادراً سريعاً وراعداً، فلم نكن نميز صوت مياهه في المزراب، لكن شتاءنا كان ضبابياً كثيفاً، وكانت أمطاره وادعة، ديمة كما في الأغاني، تظل طوال الليل تنقر على الأرض.

لمواصلة القراءة

New Book by Kenneth Cline

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Kenneth Cline, who visited Yemen in the 1980s has a new e-book out called Tracking the Queen of Sheba: A Travel Memoir of Yemen.

The author’s account of a journey of exploration he took with a group of archaeologists to one of the most remote and exotic regions of the world, Yemen. In ancient times, Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia,” was home to a wealthy and advanced civilization that sent one of its rulers, the Queen of Sheba, on a famous expedition to visit King Solomon, her camels laden with gold and spices. Today, the country is an impoverished backwater, riven by civil war and tribal feuds. In this memoir, the author recounts the trip he took in 1984 to the Wadi al-Jubah, in the far eastern part of Yemen bordering Saudi Arabia’s “Empty Quarter” Desert. The archaeologists were on a quest to discover more about the ancient civilization known as Saba, which was almost certainly the equivalent to Biblical “Sheba.” Come along on the journey as the group struggles to conduct their research among heavily armed tribesman notoriously suspicious of outsiders — to the point where village boys will pursue a lone foreigner with a hail of rocks. And learn too what conclusions the group reached about the power of ancient Saba (Sheba) and the story of its famous queen. Highlighting the contradictions and ambiguities in the existing archaeological data, contrast the very different interpretations reached by two of the most eminent South Arabian scholars of their day, Albert Jamme and Gus Van Beek, regarding the identity and role of the mysterious queen. And learn too how this particular group of archaeologists was directly following in the footsteps of explorer Wendell Phillips, author of Qataban and Sheba, whose legendary 1950-52 excavations in Yemen could have served as the plot for an Indiana Jones movie. Things had calmed down a bit by 1984, but Yemen still remained a place where westerners ventured at their own risk.

New Book on Yemenis in Djibouti and Ethiopia

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Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States:
Yemenis in Djibouti and Ethiopia
By Samson A. Bezabeh
Oxford University Press, 2016

Click here for information.

This fine study of Yemeni migration in the Horn of Africa by a
brilliant Ethiopian scholar should be a wake-up call for the entire
field of Indian Ocean studies. In a powerful critique of tired and
overused concepts like ‘hybridity,’ ‘transnational flows,’ and
‘cosmopolitanism,’ which have been routinely used to convey a sense of unity of the Indian Ocean world, Samson Bezabeh brings the state back in–and politics.”–André Wink, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Samson Bezabeh builds on Aihwa Ong and others to show how migrantnetworks and ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the space of flows of the Indian Ocean, are deeply structured by territorial powers of empire and state. His case of Yemeni traders in Djibouti is fascinating in its
own right and wonderfully executed. In Bezabeh’s hands it is turned
into an eloquent and important argument of taking state formations
seriously and refuse the facile opposition of flows versus hierarchies
that has marked much of migration studies, and of Indian Ocean studies as well.”–Don Kalb, Central European University, Budapest

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