Here are two old postcard photographs of doors in Hodeidah.
Here are two old postcard photographs of doors in Hodeidah.
by Robert Burrowes
Dr. Abd al-Karim Al-Eryani (AKI) was diminutive—I mean short, really short. From time to time, a professor in the PhD program in Yale allegedly would come into class and exclaim: “Can’t believe it, but I just saw a driverless car with no one behind the wheel speeding across the campus.” The car he was alluding to was in fact one being driven by AKI who could only look through and not over the wheel.
If it wasn’t Dr. AKI who told me this tale, it was probably Middle East specialist Michael Hudson who did. He and AKI were PhD students at Yale at the same time, Mike in political science and AKI in biology. And this reminds me that it was Mike who facilitated my meeting Dr. AKI, and it also lets me illustrate things about the man. As the following tale suggests, and regardless of his place in government, society or family, Dr. AKI did not tower over people—and this was not a function of his physical size. He was by nature a welcoming, open and generous man.
At the urging of a political friend in Taiz, I had come to Sanaa in spring 1976 in order to meet Dr. AKI, head of the Central Planning Organization. An unemployed American academic and a refugee from Lebanon’s Civil War, I only made it halfway up the stairs to Dr. AKI’s office before I totally lost confidence, stopped and retreated. Luckily for me, following me down the stairs was my friend Mike Hudson who had just met with his friend, Dr. AKI. When Mike told me he was going the next day down to the Tihama with Dr. AKI for three days for a ceremony at the Wadi Zabiid Project, I proclaimed my envy. Mike said: “No problem. Show up with your bag at the hotel tomorrow morning. I will introduce you to Dr. AKI and he will invite you to go along. And that is precisely what happened.
We had a wonderful three days together, going down to and from the Tihama, in Wadi Zabid and for two nights in a modest hotel in al-Hodeidah. Over these days, I learned more about the politics and recent political history of Yemen than I had over the previous half year in the country. This proved to be the beginning of my political education—and nearly forty years of friendship. He welcomed me with open arms dozens of times. Some three decades later, not long after the Yemeni unification that he had helped engineer, Abd al-Karim invited me and several others for a week’s stay on an extraordinary island, Socotra. We had a wonderful time, as did the Yemeni politician with the PhD in biology from Yale. I think Mike Hudson was with us.
Was Dr. AKI politically naïve? Yes—and no. I think he was forever a political optimist, and at times I thought he was too much so. When exasperated colleagues urged that after decades it was time to be rid of Dr. AKI, President Salih is alleged to have said “No, we need him and are going to work and ride him like a donkey until he drops over dead”.
In his second tour as prime minister, Dr. AKI chose as a main task the reform of a greatly inflated, incompetent and costly civil service that had gotten worse over the decades. After months of effort, he was able to go before President Salih and announce that he had finally achieved agreement on a plan that would eliminate thousands of “shadow” positions, save lots of money and allow the leadership to focus on creating an effective government work force. In response, the president announced to Dr. AKI that he had just reinforced tribal support for the regime by creating and financing thousands of “shadow” military jobs for tribal militias. And so it went.
On the other hand, Dr. AKI often revealed a strong sense of political insight and awareness. Introduced to the Arab world in the late 1950s, I was for decades a disciple of Gamal Abdul Nasser, and coming to Yemen in 1975, a year after Ibrahim al-Hamdi seized power, I quickly became something of a disciple to the person many hailed as “the little Nasser”. Early on, I noticed in Dr. AKI a lack of enthusiasm for President al-Hamdi, and at some point I questioned him on this. He answered with a story: “On one of the few times I met alone with Ibrahim he drew close to me, tapped me on my knee, and softly said this: “‘Abd al-Karim, I have one great weakness—I don’t trust anyone.’ Quickly, Ibrahim’s distrust poisoned his regime and spread to everyone. And, in the end, his colleagues in the military got him before he got them.” Clearly, Dr. AKI’s take on al-Hamdi was much better than mine.
Another story told to me by Dr. AKI or someone else in the Al-Eryani family relates to the above. When the rare military member of the family, the one who had previously advised President Abd al-Rahman al-Eryani on military affairs, returned to Yemen from exile, he told members of the family that the distribution of troops around Sanaa could only mean that the military was positioned to overthrow al-Hamdi. When he asked family leaders whether he should warn al-Hamdi of the danger, he was told by Dr. AKI that the president, long suspicious and distrustful of the al-Eryani family, would reject the warning, accuse the family of sowing discord, and punish the al-Eryanis.
To donate to the Memorial Fellowship Fund for Yemeni Scholars in honor of Dr. Al-Eryani, click here.
AIYS held two well-attended panels at MESA in Boston last week. Here are some of the photos from the panel organized by Dan Mahoney on the destruction of Yemen’s cultural heritage:
Dr. Lamya Khalidi, Dr. Krista Lewis and Dr. Dan Mahoney at MESA
Dr. McGuire Gibson at the heritage panel. Dr. Gibson was the founder of AIYS in 1978.
Dr. Lamya Khalidi, who also provided a video of Dr. al-Sayani, the current Director of the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums in Yemen.
And here are photos from the panel organized by Dr. Marieke Brandt:
Here is my personal blog post on MENA Tidningen regarding the UNESCO meeting I attended a few days ago in Paris. AIYS was well represented at the meeting. I gave an introductory talk on Yemen’s history and culture the first day, followed by presentations on Yemen’s intangible and movable cultural heritage by AIYS associate and anthropologist Najwa Adra, ethnomusicologists Jean Lambert and Scheherazade Hassan, Anne Regourd (University of Copenhagen), Leila Aliaquil (jewelry expert), Alessandra Avanzini (University of Pisa) and St. John Simpson (British Museum). Speaking on Yemen’s archaeology were Iris Gerlach (DAI), Alexander Sedov (National Museum of Oriental Art, Russia), Sabina Antonini (Association Monumenta Orientalia), Michel Mouton (CEFAS), Zayd Zaydoon (AFSM) and Jean-François Breton. Yemen’s architecture and built heritage were discussed by Renzo Ravagnan and Massimo Khairallah (Instituto Veneto del Restauro), Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj (GIZ), Marylene Barret (Conservator) and Cristina Iamandi (architect and urban planner).
The meeting was opened and closed by H.E. Ambassador Ahmed Sayyad, Ambassador of Yemen to UNESCO. It was fortunate that Mohanad Ahmed Al Syani (Chairman of GOAMM) and Nagi Saleh (Chairman of GOPHCY) were able to make the arduous journey from war-torn Yemen to Paris and brief the delegates on the current damage to Yemen’s heritage and future needs for restoration.
انا من بلاد تسمى تهامه احب الامان واهوى السلامه
وماقيل يوما قطعت طريقا ولا قيل يوما خطفت حمامه
ولا قيل منا اميزومنهم امير الى ان تقوم القيامه
دفغت فواتير كل العصور وما زلت احيا عصور الامامه
وكم صفق الناس جهلا كمثلي لكل قرار عديم الشهامه
وما قدر الحاكمون سلوكا كهذا السلوك وصانو ذمامه
ومن حسن ظني بمن ارغموني منحت الجراد حقوق الاقامه
وقاومت جوعي وحتى طموحي وقلت كفاني طموح الدمامه
انا في بلادي شبيه الغريب وكل البلاد لتلك القمامه
وكل البلاد تعاني حروبا كحرب البسوس وحرب اليمامه
وتلك البنوك تضج رصيدا لمن اولموا من شقائي ابتسامه
فتمتد نحوي بلا رحمة فتهدم وتبني زعامه
فيا ايها الناس هيا انهضوا وثوروا على الظلم حتى القيامه
انا الاشعري وهذي بلادي ولكن اضاعوا بلادي تهامه
فلا النفط نفطي ولا الماء مائي وكل انحراف يسمى استقامه
الشاعر حسن غالب العلي
The New York Public Library has a website reproducing images from its collection. Here is one of a Banian merchant in Mocha from 1787. The source is from Costumes civils actuels de tous les peuples connus, accompagnés d’une notice historique sur leurs costumes, moeurs, religions, etc. (Paris : Pavard, 1787-1788) Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, Jacques (1757-1810), author.
يقوم الرجل بالقفز عن الجمال بعد لف وسطه بقطة قماش زرقاء و من الطقوس الأخرى المصاحبة لرياضة القفز عن الجمال الرقص الذي لا تنقصه أيضا الرشاقة و البراعة كما يظهر من الصور
في نطاق محافظة الحديدة جنوب اليمن تنتشر قبيلة الزرانيق ذات التاريخ العتيد، وعرفت منذ بدايات القرن الثامن الهجري إبان حكم الدولة الرسولية.
للزرانيق سمات وصفات عديدة يشتهرون بها عبر العصور فيتصفون بالسرعة والحركة والقوة والجلد ومشهود لهم بالليونة والصبر في تحمل المتاعب ما لم يستطع تحمله أحد في العالم فيقومون بصيد الغزلان قبضا باليد ومطاردتها لمدة تزيد على خمس إلى ست ساعات فيكل الغزال ويسقط على الأرض وهم يعملون ايضا بالتجارة وصناعة القوارب الخشبية والشباك ودباغة الجلود والصناعات الأخرى الشاقة ولهم أسواق تزار من كل صوب من اليمن ويتسمون ايضا بقدرتهم الفائقة على القيام بأشهر الرقصات الخاصة جدا بهم، وهي رقصات فيها خطورة وتسبب احيانا في حدوث اصابات للراقص قد تعقده مدى الحياة. ومن هذه الرقصات رقصة “الهقفة ويتم الرقص فيها على عزف الناي وايقاع خفيف ورقصة الحنجلة وهي رقصة فريدة صعبة للغاية حيث يقوم الراقص بوضع كعب قدمه اليمنى فوق ركبة قدمه اليسرى وهو واقف دون استناد رافعا يديه بعيدا عن جسمه ويظل كذلك حتى تتغير نغمة العزف، وهناك ايضا رقصة “الهندمة وهي غاية في الصعوبة ايضا حيث يقوم الشخص بلف جزء من ازاره حول فخذه ويبقى حافي القدمين ويحمل الراقص خنجرين أو سكينا ثم يجلس على قدم واحدة ويرفع أخرى بوضع يديه وفيها الخنجرين بين فخذيه حتى يلاقي بين احد الخنجرين “رقصة البتريش” ورقصة أخرى تسمى “أمشرجي” حيث يقوم الراقص وسط جمع من الناس يحمل عصا طويلة يضعها فوق اصبع يده السبابة ويحركها كالمروحة وهو يرقص بقدميه في رقصة تشبه الدبكة الشامية على عزف الناي والطبل ويستمر في الرقص لمدة تزيد على ثلاث دقائق ويتوقف بسقوط العصا ويقوم الحضور باعطاء العازف مبالغ مالية توضع في فمه تعرف ب “نجد”.
One of the most important sources, if not the most important, on the history of the madrasa in Yemen was written by Qadi Ismail al-Akwa‘. An article based mainly on what Qadi Ismail collected is available online in Arabic. Another study by Dr. ‘Abd Allah ‘Abd al-Sallām al-Haddad is available here.
The most important historical port on Yemen’s Red Sea coast is no doubt the old port of Mocha, which gained fame in the West for its association with the Yemen coffee trade. In her book, The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port, Nancy Um provides a fascinating social history of the trade through this seaport during the Ottoman period. Here is how the book is described on the publisher’s website.
Gaining prominence as a seaport under the Ottomans in the mid-1500s, the city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen pulsed with maritime commerce. Its very name became synonymous with Yemen’s most important revenue-producing crop – coffee. After the imams of the Qasimi dynasty ousted the Ottomans in 1635, Mocha’s trade turned eastward toward the Indian Ocean and coastal India. Merchants and shipowners from Asian, African, and European shores flocked to the city to trade in Arabian coffee and aromatics, Indian textiles, Asian spices, and silver from the New World.
[Joseph Osgood was a Black American sailor who visited the Yemeni port of Aden about a dozen years before the start of the American Civil War. He offers a rich, descriptive account, including information on the coffee cargo that may have brought his ship to this Red Sea port in the first place. The following is his rendition of a popular origin tale for the popular brew.]
Any communicative Arab will tell the following story about the early history of Mocha, with more or less modification.
A little over two centuries ago, there dwelt near the beach, enclosed by two sandspits forming the harbor, a worthy fisherman, whose learning, wisdom, and pious observance of all the tenets of the Moslem faith, had collected around his humble hut the dwellings of a band of devoted pupils to be instructed in the religion of their great Arabian legislator and prophet. One day a ship from India, and bound to Jiddah, was driven by adverse winds into the cove, and, while there detained, the crew visited the settlement near the beach, and were entertained by the holy Sheik, who regaled them with coffee, a beverage till then unknown to his guests. The Sheik, learning that the captain was ill on board his vessel, extolled the sanative virtues of coffee, and sent some as a present to the captain, by the returning crew. The prescribed medicine was taken, the captain recovered his health, visited the shore, made confidence with the people, bartered his cargo for coffee and sailed for home, where the worth of the rare and newly discovered product was quickly acknowledged, and successive voyages soon established a lucrative commerce, and thus founded and gave a world wide repute to the city of Mocha and many of the neighboring inland towns. The holy Sheik’s reputation was continued to him among his people till his death, when a costly mosque was erected as a memorial of his virtues, on the site of his fisher’s hut. In so high veneration was this edifice held by the Mocha Arabs, that when the Bedoween Arabs seized Mocha they destroyed the building, jealous that Sheik Shathalee was more reverenced than Allah. It was afterwards rebuilt and remains at the present day, inside the walls of the city. A well and one of the gates of the city also bear the name of this patron saint…