Category Archives: Sanaa

​Modern Yemeni Theatre: A Brief History

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Yemeni novelists and playwrites  Nadiah al-Kokabany, Wagdi al-Ahdal, Ali al-Moqri and Samir Abdul-Fatah

by Sara Forcella

Over the past two centuries, Yemen has been the scene of an important literary flowering. Despite the never-ending struggle of play-writers against the socio-political difficulties of the country, the emergence of the Modern Yemeni Theatre doubtless represents an example both of an innovative and high value literary production. Continuously facing social, political and cultural problems, Yemeni authors and players have always shown a great capability of keeping up with the times. Their works talk about doubts, questions, passions and issues of the modern man, going beyond the “local” dimension and constantly dialoguing with their Western counter-parts.

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Sa‘īd ‘Awlaqī

According to Saʿīd ʿAwlaqī (Sabʿūna ʿāmān min al-masraḥ fī-al-Yaman [Seventy Years of Yemen Theatre], 1983), the first information available about the early Yemeni dramas dates back to 1904 when the Indian acting company of Jamlat Shah came to Aden. The company went on stage with a mostly musical performance involving all its members, namely actors, dancers, musicians and circus animals. However, it was not until 1910 that the first Yemeni theatrical company was established in Aden, consisting of students that acted out a western play, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in Arabic. As al-Mubarak (Arabic Drama, A Critical Introduction, 1986) wrote, these first companies adopted the western model of playwriting once they came in direct contact with it during the 19th century, both in Greater Syria (the ancient region including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestine territories till the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918) and Egypt. Western models melded with previous forms of Arabic art performances, spanning the traditional shadow play, storytelling and poetry recitation.
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An Iraqi Heart in Yemen

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Qalb al-Yaman (The Heart of Yemen) is a book published in 1947 in Baghdad by the Iraqi military advisor Muḥammad Ḥasan. This is a fascinating account of Yemen about an Iraqi Military Mission to Yemen in 1940-1943 with details on Yemen at that time under the rule of Imām Yaḥyā.  It is now available for reading online and downloadable.

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first page of the author’s text

The text consists of 256 pages with a detailed table of contents, illustrations and a large map. The major chapters deal with Yemen’s geography and resources, history, the author’s travel experience to Yemen, the capital Ṣan‘ā’, Imām Yaḥyā, social life, major routes, local medicine, the government and soldiers, social and regional groups, women, marriage customs, festivals and greeting behavior, Yemenite Jews, the Iraqi advisors in Yemen, diplomatic relations and correspondence, Islamic sects, and his return to Iraq. There are numerous photographs, which unfortunately did not reproduce well in the publication.

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photograph of Imām Yaḥyā (who did not want his image copied as noted in the bottom left)

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beheading of soldier overseen by Sayf al-Islām Ibrāhīm

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one of the earliest photographs of Yemeni bara‘

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respective genealogies of Iraqī King Faysal and Yemeni Imām Yaḥyā

Thanking Mulk for her service to AIYS

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Mulk with her grandchildren and Dr. Salwa Dammaj

On Thursday, March 7, a reception party was held at AIYS in Ṣan‘ā’ to bid farewell to Mulk, who started working for AIYS in 1998 until 2018. Her daughters and granddaughters were in attendance. She is from the Manākha district of Ṣan‘ā’ governorate. Mulk noted that when she was working for a Yemeni family in 1998, that family introduced her to an American woman called Barbara, who helped her to get a job opportunity in the AIYS. She started working in the AIYS office when Marta Colburn was the Resident Director. Afterwards she kept her job with directors Chris Edens and Stephen Steinbeiser and most recently Salwa Dammaj.

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Mulk served in the three buildings that used to be the AIYS headquarters. After her husband died in 2006 she had to support and was responsible for the  upbringing of her six siblings.

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Mulk with an AIYS friend

She holds a lot of reminiscences about the foreign visitors and researchers who came to AIYS over the past two decades. Mulk said that she was deeply impressed by the late Selma al-Radi, describing her as very kind and helpful lady. She is very grateful for AIYS, considering her work for the institute as a very positive experience in her life. AIYS deeply appreciates Mulk’s services and loyalty, wishing her good health and welfare.

Yemen’s Culture at Risk

Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Dan Varisco discussing Yemen’s rich cultural heritage at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019

On Saturday, February 24, The Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. hosted a seminar on “Culture at Risk: Yemen’s Heritage under Threat”. This was jointly sponsored by the Sackler Gallery, CAORC and the Antiquities Coalition. The speakers included several AIYS members, including AIYS President Dan Varisco, Noha Sadek and Krista Lewis. Also speaking was Zaydoon Zaid of the American Foundation for the Study of Man and Gerald Feierstein, of The Middle East Institute and a former US Ambassador to Yemen. Information about the event is posted online and a video will be available in the future.

Below are some of the photographs of the event.

Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Noha Sadek at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
CAORC Program Director Glenn Corbett introducing Krista Lewis at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Zaydoon Zayd at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019
Luigi Marini, Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN,  Ambassador Wafa Bughaighis of Libya to the U.S. and former U.S. Yemen Ambassador Gerald Feierstein at the Yemen Talk in Meyer Auditorium Feburary 24, 2019

[Photographs provided by Cory Grace of the Smithsonian.]

Videos of Ṣan‘ā’ in 1975

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The anthropologist John Kennedy, who wrote an early study (The Flower of Paradise) on the use of qāt in Yemen, also took a number of videos in Ṣanā’ in 1975. Several of these are now online on Youtube. Most deal with making the qamariyya windows, but there is also one on architecture, another on Bab al-Sabāḥ and another on a walk through the old suq. The quality of the filming and its reproduction online is poor, but it is well worth watching. The soundtrack is also a useful guide to the actual sounds and dialogue.

Here are the links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_Z2kKyoKLo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR-WsRaGBFk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enQXk_Nrcc0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6bsbVx3nvI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfMJKbf_uM4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_Z2kKyoKLo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5e69-k2Cqo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqAyWF17r9E

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UWUd6FourU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlwyNYymL-M

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Film on Yemen Coffeehouses

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The Yemeni filmmaker Zakaria Mohammed has recently produced a short film on Yemeni coffeehouses, described on the website al-madaniya and also available on Youtube.

Cafes is a short documentary about Samaser, the old and modern cafes in Sana’a. The film chronicles these spaces in a beautiful and artistic way, and weaves their history, development and social role for the elderly and youth alike. In his film, Zakaria Mohammed focuses on the social and cultural importance of cafes for young men and women who have turned to them because of today’s war and crisis – especially as the country lacks safe spaces and suffers from a decline in leisure and recreational spaces. In addition, they value the facilities and services that these cafes are able to offer, against a background of collapsing public services across the country. Electricity and an Internet connection are among the main services that cafes provide, and that many people across the country have been unable to access at home. In his story, Zakaria oscillates poetically between the past and the present. Through a series of clips he conveys the suffering of his generation to the world, and highlights the ways in which youth resist the circumstances of war and escape their painful reality.

Continue reading here.