Category Archives: Animals

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, #8

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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; for Part #7, click here.

Osgood was not anxious to visit a nearby garden by camel, but at last he did; it is a wonderful description of the act. He also discusses slavery.

[189] No wheel carriages are used here, the most general mode of transportation being by camels, for which the males alone are serviceable. The flesh of the camel forms a staple article of food, the head and neck being excepted, because one of the race unwittingly rendered these parts unholy by obtrusively poking his head and neck into Mahomet’s tomb; Wellsted says that a camel is welcomed at its birth, by the Arab, with “another child is born unto us.”

Upon the back of one of these “ships of the desert” I made a trip on a sultry afternoon, through the country, to an Arab picnic given by Syed Abdallah bin Omar Sahfee, at the country seat of a wealthy Arab merchant, Abdul Rasool. But a word or two preliminary. Having in mind Abdallah’s invitation, I had for two days scorned to engage one of the tolerable Arabian horses to be had, unwisely keeping an appetite for some better  [p. 190]
choice, till finally I found that I must walk or take an ugly and famished camel with a small head, made expressive by little ears and small black bright eyes, and with a neck long enough to have allowed him to feed upon wayside herbage, even at his fastest pace. His body was disproportionately large, like a well distended wind pouch, with a curved back, from the middle of which a single hump rose to an apex ten feet from the ground. His attenuated legs eloquently besought for some kind of pantaloon appendage to hide their disagreeable slimness. Had he been healthy and well fed, his dorsal hump would have been rough and fleshy, but a half starved existence had called upon that curious provision of nature to supply therefrom the chief nourishment of his body, until but little of it remained but the bony framework, presenting almost as many corners as a trapezihedron.

  The preceding unflattering description might safely be applied to all camels to be met with at Mocha. Having received a signal that his burden was in waiting, his ungainly legs were gathered under him, with his hind quarters towards the wind, as all camels do when left to themselves to take a posture of rest. Mounting the triangular saddle, the sight of which was enough to incapacitate one for sedentary pursuits, I gave the signal for his rise. This he accomplished by a convulsive motion of his fore legs, whereupon his hind legs, which partial nature had provided with two separate joints, the one bending forward and the other backward, were straightened. A third motion of the fore legs, and the animal was upon all fours, [p. 191] ready for travelling. Camels are frequently driven, or rather steered, by means of a string fastened ta the tail, its ends being held by the rider. Instead of this mode, a stick, with reins attached, had been passed through the nostrils of the animal I was riding.

   He started off unconcernedly with his light load at the rate of five or six miles an hour, over a good road lined on each side for several miles, with date groves, and in less than an hour brought me to the garden of Abdul Rasool, which was appropriated, like several others in the neighborhood, to the culture of a limited number of stinted date trees, herbs and vegetables, at great expense. All the plantations near the city are irrigated with water raised from wells by means of bullocks. Within Abdul Rasool’s garden I found the governor and other worthies apparently enjoying their host’s hospitality in smoking, eating, quaffing coffee, and gossiping with numbers of Arabs, Persians, Suratmen and Turks. But the requisite source of pleasure on such occasions, that of female society, was not there to be found. A strict compliance with religious tenets made it strictly a male assemblage.

Slavery is but nominal at Mocha, although many of the population are owned by wealthy persons through purchase. Cargoes of slaves are often brought to this port from Abyssinia. The men and boys are well treated, often taught to read and write, and seldom worked severely, the drudgery of labor being performed by hired coolies. Without showing any sense of degradation at their condition, the slaves frequently dress as expensively as their masters, and good behavior often [p. 192] obtains for them manumission, or offices of trust while in willing bondage. There are several instances at Mocha at the present time, of wealthy merchants and owners of many slaves, who formerly lived in servitude. An acquaintance of mine once expressed to an Arab merchant great surprise at seeing slaves so well treated. “Suppose,” was the characteristic reply, “a man has a son whom he cannot trust, and a faithful slave who will make for him a good business, why should he not make the slave the same as a son?” The offspring of male slaves are held in bondage, but if a slave marries an Arab woman, with his master’s consent, he becomes free.”

more to come

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #3

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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.

Here is Osgood’s description of providing water to Aden, and the local weather…
[p. 131] While under the dominion of the Turks, the strength of the place was greatly increased by fortifications, erected under the direction of Turkish engineers not easily to be excelled in sound judgment and extraordinary skill. A rampart with bastions, now known as the Turkish Wall, was carried from sea to sea across the isthmus to protect the city against an attack from the land side. An aqueduct was built of stone, five feet wide, and two feet above the ground, from the town to a spring, eight miles into the country; and the reservoir at its end, located in a deep ravine in the mountains, was defended by a redoubt mounted with artillery. This monstrous structure was intended to obviate the laborious, and in times of war, dangerous practice of bringing all water into the city in skin vessels on camels. In the year 1530, on the authority of Resendius, it required daily the employment of from sixteen to twenty hundred camels, to supply Aden with water.

[p. 132] As a farther provision for an ample supply of water, three hundred wells were bored by the Turks, mostly through rock, and numerous tanks were built and lined with chunam or stucco. The island of Serah was also fortified by watch towers and ramparts, and furnished with massive ordnance. The constant revolt of the Saracen tribes and the probable resignation of all hope to accomplish their desires of conquest in India, led to a final withdrawal of the Ottoman troops in the year 1633. At the time of its evacuation by the Turks, Aden is said, notwithstanding the decay of its Indian trade, to have contained nearly thirty thousand inhabitants. After its evacuation by the Turks, the throne of Yemen was ascended by the royal family of Sana, whose great ancestor was Kassem Abu Mahomed, a prime mover in the successful revolt against, and conspicuous in effecting the expulsion of the Turks. From this time the city was continued in the hands of its former owners, rapidly declining and decaying under the rapine of an Arab population, until after various vicissitudes and runious change of masters, in 1839, it again changed hands in a manner equally remarkable and oppressive with any former seizure, and became the first European settlement on the shores of Arabia.

[p. 153] In the winter months the air is often pure and elastic, and the mercury seldom rises above the ninetieth degree by Fahrenheit from the first of October to the last of March. April, May and June are the hottest months, when the mercury frequently reaches the one hundred and twentieth degree, and even higher than that. During June, July and August a dry wind, called Shumal, blows from the west, bearing suffocating clouds of dust and sand.

more to come

Philby in the Hadramawt

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The British traveler H. St. J. Philby is best known for his writings on Saudi Arabia, but he also visited the Hadramawt in the late 1930s, driving down from Najrān through the eastern extent of the Empty Quarter to Shabwa and then into the Ḥaḍramawt. It is a chatty text like an extended diary, with names of people met and places visited, including archaeological ruins with inscriptions.  Philby has his bias, as is evident throughout, but the photographs are good documentation of life at the time.

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Ian Tattersall on AIYS

AMNH PALEONTOLOGICAL SURVEYS IN YEMEN, 1988 AND 1991

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The Sanaa that greeted us in May, 1988

Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

When a paleontologist becomes interested in the fossil possibilities offered by a remote and unknown country, what does he or she do?  In the case of a group based at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and intrigued by the paleontological potential they saw in the United States Geological Survey map of the Yemen Arab Republic, the answer was to turn to the American Institute of Yemeni Studies.  Directly across the Red Sea from Ethiopia and Eritrea, northern Yemen is in many ways a geological mirror-image of those fossil-rich countries; and although it sadly lacks any equivalent of the famous Afar Triangle in which many of Ethiopia’s and all of Eritrea’s most famous fossils have been found, our preliminary review of the USGS map suggested that the largely unexplored fossil potential of Yemen was well worth looking into.

Accordingly, in 1987 Ian Tattersall, a curator in the AMNH’s Department of Anthropology, contacted Jon Mandaville, then the AIYS President.  Jon was enormously helpful and encouraging, and put us in touch with Jeff Meissner, then Resident Director of AIYS in Sana’a.  AIYS was already well established as the principal English-speaking center of research in history, archaeology and the humanities in Sana’a, but it had never welcomed geologists before.  Jeff had the excellent idea of not putting us in touch with the Antiquities authorities with whom he customarily dealt, but instead with the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR).  This was a brilliant decision, since the MOMR proved not only to be very supportive of our paleontological objectives, but also had the authority to issue us permits to prospect the entire Yemen Arab Republic for fossils.

With funding from the National Geographic Society in hand, the AIYS Center in Sanaa as a base, and preliminary research permission from the MOMR granted, an AMNH team travelled to Sanaa at the end of May, 1988, and remained until the middle of July.  The group consisted of Ian Tattersall, Mike Novacek, then a Curator in the AMNH’s Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, now AMNH Provost, and Maurice Grolier, a geologist who had worked on the USGS geological map of Yemen – and who had also chosen the spot for the first manned lunar landing.  Jeff Meissner joined us for some of our explorations, and we also benefited greatly from the advice of Dr Hamel El-Nakhal of the Geology Department of the University of Sana’a.  AIYS provided the field vehicle as well as an essential center of operations, and we remain particularly grateful to His Excellency Ali Gabr Alawi, Deputy Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources, for his understanding of and support for our goals.

ian2Maurice Grolier (l) and Ian Tattersall on the roof of the AIYS Sanaa building, 1988

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Monkey Business in Yemen

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I know that there has been a lot of monkey business lately in Yemen, but here are some monkeys that have a longer history in Yemen than anyone else, even the Himyarites.  The baboon (Papio hamadryas) came over from East Africa.  For those who are interested, there is an open access article on the introduction of baboons (rubah) to Arabia. Here is the abstract of the article:

Many species of Arabian mammals are considered to be of Afrotropical origin and for most of them the Red Sea has constituted an obstacle for dispersal since the Miocene–Pliocene transition. There are two possible routes, the ‘northern’ and the ‘southern’, for terrestrial mammals (including humans) to move between Africa and Arabia. The ‘northern route’, crossing the Sinai Peninsula, is confirmed for several taxa by an extensive fossil record, especially from northern Egypt and the Levant, whereas the ‘southern route’, across the Bab-el-Mandab Strait, which links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, is more controversial, although post-Pliocene terrestrial crossings of the Red Sea might have been possible during glacial maxima when sea levels were low.

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