Category Archives: Culture

Yemeni Arts on al-Madaniya

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Despite the turmoil and suffering in Yemen, a number of Yemeni artists are continuing to write, draw, photograph and film. One of the more exciting online resources for this is the website al-madaniya, published in English and Arabic.  Current posts include an article on Muhammad Mahmud al-Zubayri, Art in prehistoric Yemen, Yemeni songs, the poets ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Muqalih and ‘Abd Allah al-Baradduni, several short stories and much more. All the articles are published in Arabic and English, so they are also suitable for anyone interested in learning Arabic.

As note in the “About” section…

al-Madaniya magazine is a platform for Yemeni art, culture and civil society. It aims to highlight and nurture Yemeni art, culture and civil society initiatives through contributions from emerging and established writers, photographers and creatives

The magazine aims to impact the way Yemenis view their own society by providing a space for its cultural, intellectual and artistic productions, and by highlighting initiatives bridging social divisions. By presenting all contributions in both Arabic and English language, the magazine allows the international reader to explore an undiscovered side to Yemen, which differs from images of Yemen created in mainstream media

al-Madaniya magazine is a project implemented by the Yemen Polling Center and made possible by the generous funding of the German Institute of Foreign Affairs.  Yemeni artist Ibi Ibrahim has been commissioned to lead the project and serve as the Editor in Chief.

Yemeni film at MESA

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Thanks to the efforts of Tom Stevenson, the new film Yemen: Kids and War, by Khadija al-Salami, will be shown in the MESA film festival on Friday from 2-2:55.

Below is a synopsis of the film:
It is an exceptional documentary, filmed in a country no camera can penetrate – a world exclusive. In a context in which the biggest international networks are unable to present images of this forgotten war, the Yemeni director Khadija Al Salami has entrusted her camera to 3 children who become war correspondents for this documentary in Yemen. Ahmed is 11, Rima is 8 and Youssef is 9. It is them who will recount the daily life of the Yemeni people under Saudi airstrikes. They meet other kids, collecting the testimonies of wounded children in hospital and those who lost their parents in the airstrikes. With the innocence of children, they also interview adults – a painter, a rapper, a model who has become ‘Miss War’ on social media – and ask them to send a message to those who they believe are the only ones who can stop the war – the EuropeanUnion. Constructed like a story tale, with no images of violence, this deeply moving documentary shows the cruel reality of war through the eyes of children, and the incredible hope that they place in Europe to put an end to the conflict.#Edith Paris

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #9

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This post is the last from the travel account 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; for Part #8, click here.

In addition to coffee, Osgood discusses “kaht” (qāt)…

“[p. 234] After the heart is contented with smoking, kaht is passed round and eagerly devoured by the ruminating guests. The name of this choice and expensive luxury is given to the tender leaves of a tree, resembling in appearance and taste the foliage of the apple tree. It is brought to Mocha from the inland towns three or four days’ journey distant, in a tolerable condition of freshness, secured by the mode of packing. So delicious [p. 235] is it thought, that the day would be of little event which did not expend three or four dollars from the coffers of a rich Arab in the single item of kaht. While thus smoking or chewing, Arabs expectorate but little, although to do so would be thought no breach of politeness. Should he not be joined by those who thus make friendship end in smoke, sleep, ever ready to keep his drowsy thoughts from mischief, disposes of him until mid-day prayer, after which comes dinner.

[p. 238] After dinner the merchant washes and goes to his counting room, to smoke, chew kaht, write letters, and transact the business of the day.”

Yemen at MESA 2018

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The annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in San Antonio, Texas, is only a little over a month away. Yemen will be well represented this year, both in AIYS sponsored panels and individual papers. The AIYS General Information meeting, to which all are invited, will be Friday, November 16, 4-5 in room Mission B (2).

Here are the panels and papers on Yemen:
Friday, November 16, 11-1, AIYS Panel
(5224) Anthropology in War-Torn Yemen: Challenges, Dilemmas, and Alternative Methodologies.
Organizers: Susanne Dahlgren and Marina de Regt
Chair: Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart & William Smith Colls.
Marina de Regt, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam-Finding Ways to Work on Yemen: A Plea for Engaged Scholarship
Susanne Dahlgren, U of Tampere/National U of Singapore-Securitized Yemen: Studying a Popular Revolution in the Shadow of War, Drones and Terrorism
Nathalie Peutz, NYU-Abu Dhabi-Fieldwork in a Yemeni “Village” Displaced and Constituted by War

Saturday, November 17, 8:30-10:30
(5307) Unorthodoxies Shi’ism, Sufism, Feminism
Michael Dann, U of Illinois-Zaydi and Imami Appropriations of Early Shi’i Hadith Narrators

Saturday, November 17, 11-1 AIYS Panel
(5057) The Birth of Modern Yemen: Internal Views of the 1960s Civil War
Organizer: Marieke Brandt
Chair: J. E. Peterson, Tucson, Arizona
Marieke Brandt, Austrian Academy of Sciences-A Tribe and Its States: Yemen’s 1972 Bayhan Massacre Revisited
Joshua Rogers, SOAS, U of London-Aid and Taxes: A Political Economy Analysis of the Civil War in North Yemen 1962-1970
Gabriele Vom Bruck, SOAS, U of London-Domestic Photography and Memories of Loss in Northern Yemen
Zaid Alwazir, Yemen Heritage & Research Center-The Third Force’s Role in Yemen’s Peacemaking and Achieving National Reconciliation (1964-1970)

Saturday, November 17, 3-5
(5118) Challenges Facing Yemen’s Millennia-Long Cultural Heritage (Roundtable)
Organizer: Mac Skelton, Johns Hopkins U
Chair: Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the Arts
Alexander Nagel, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History
Najwa Adra, American Institute for Yemeni Studies and Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Nathalie Peutz, NYU Abu Dhabi
Sabine Schmidtke, Institute for Advanced Study

Saturday, November 17, 3-5
(5059) Beyond the Written Word: Unity and Diversity across Transmission and Transformation of Medieval Textual Traditions in the Arabian Peninsula
Anne Regourd, CNRS, UMR 7192-Questioning the Birth of a Tradition
Corrado la Martire, U of Cologne-How to Conceal the Tradition into the Text: Tayyibi Isma’ili “Codes of Conduct” (adab al-du’at) between Yemen and India

Sunday, November 18, 1:30-3:30
(5105) The Indian Ocean without Boundaries: A Historical Perspective
Organizer: Daniel Martin Varisco
Chair: Roxani Margariti, MESAS Department, Emory U
Craig Perry, U of Cincinnati-The Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean before 1500: Evidence and Interpretive Challenges
Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences-Local Knowledge in Pre-Colonial Maritime Interactions
Marina Tolmacheva, Washington State U-Managing Monsoons: Mamluk-Era Voyaging East
Daniel Martin Varisco, American Institute for Yemeni Studies-Sailing with and against the Winds: Navigation in the Red Sea Indian Ocean Network in the Ayyubid, Rasulid and Mamluk Eras

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5279) Composing a Community of Words in the Islamic World: From Medieval to Modern
Emily Sumner, U of Minnesota-“In Our Sea Their Sins Must Drive Them”: The Righteousness of the Huthi Zamil

Sunday, November 18, 8:30-10:30
(5061) Medical Mobilities and Transformations in the Global Middle East
Shireen Hamza, Harvard U-Stretching the Body: Preparing to Travel in the Indian Ocean World

“Muhammashin” in Yemen

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A girl from the Akhdam community stands outside her family`s house in a slum area in Sanaa March 4, 2012.

An article by  Bogumila Hall entitled “’This is our homeland’: Yemen’s marginalized and the quest for rights and recognition” is available online at Arabian Humanities.

Here is the abstract:

Reflecting on the muhammashīn’s distance towards the 2011 popular revolution, this article sets out to explore the complicated relationship between the Yemeni marginalized and the nation, and politics of the marginalized more broadly. I discuss how the rough boundaries of belonging and exclusion are drawn, and how they are negotiated in complex ways by the muhammashīn, who seek better lives, rights and recognition as worthy human beings. Going beyond the dominant focus on subaltern oppositional subjectivities, this article points to the more nuanced acts of negotiations, whereby the dehumanized muhammashīn choose to declare themselves as loyal Yemenis and ideal citizens yearning to be incorporated into the body of the nation. Our reading of the revolutionary period from the perspective of its most vulnerable actors aims to contribute to the recent literature on the Arab uprisings, and to unearth the voices and meanings of the Yemeni marginalized, whose projects and aspirations remain largely invisible.

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

Nathalie Peutz on AIYS

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Nathalie Peutz in Homhil, Soqotra (2003, AIYS fellowship)

It was during my first summer in Yemen as a novice Arabic student at the Yemen Language Center (YLC) in 1999 that I discovered the American Institute for Yemeni Studies and all that it had to offer. Conversations with prominent scholars based at or passing through YLC and a fortuitous meeting with AIYS resident director Marta Colburn led to my applying for a NMERTA/AIYS language fellowship for the following summer and, over time, to a fulfilling career that I owe entirely to Yemen and the repeated forms of AIYS support that helped launch it. Looking back, it is difficult for me to imagine how I would have navigated my anthropological research in Yemen or my academic career without the financial, material, logistical, and social support in addition to the physical base that AIYS provided.

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Justin Stearns on the roof of the AIYS hostel on al-Bawniya Street (2003)

Continue reading Nathalie Peutz on AIYS

Yemeni Rap Artist

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The article “Amaani Yahya: Reaching out through Rap” was published on the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington website.

Amaani Yahya might not be the first Yemeni woman to rap, but she is one of the first to use the artform to try to reach people outside Yemen. Rapping in English, Amaani has been able to address Yemeni issues not only among her community but with people around the world. Rap for her is “a mission” – a means to communicate with the young generation, and particularly to advocate for women’s rights. AGSIW spoke with Amaani about what she has added to the artistic scene in Yemen and her endeavors to push social boundaries and find a place for herself and her causes.

AGSIW: How was the rap scene in Yemen before you entered it? Were there many other Yemeni rappers?

Amaani: In general, Arabic rap was mainly used for “dissing” others – speaking disrespectfully or to criticize others. As such, rapping and rap listeners in the Arab countries had mainly a negative connotation, and the same thing applies to Yemen. There were some Yemeni rappers but they were not very famous or popular.

Continue reading Yemeni Rap Artist

Two Talks on Yemen in Vienna

On July 3 Dr. Najwa Adra will present a talk at the Institute for Social Anthropology in Vienna, Austria entitled: “What Does it Mean to Be Tribal in Yemen?”

On July 5 Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco will give a talk at the same institute on “Agriculture in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen.”

Both talks are free and open to the public. For details, see https://www.oeaw.ac.at/en/isa/events/upcoming-events/

Details on both talks are provided below:

What Does it Mean to Be Tribal in Yemen?

A large majority of Yemen’s population self-identifies as qabili /pl. qaba’il, terms normally glossed in English as “tribal.” Qabyala a uniquely Yemeni term that can be translated as “tribalism” comprises tribal ideology, customary law, behavior in formal contexts and a set of presumed personal characteristics ascribed to tribal Yemenis. This talk, based on long term field research, explores the behaviors and events associated with qabyala, in contrast to activities that do not connote tribalism; describes the interaction of tribes with urban elites; and suggests ways in which Yemeni tribes can collaborate with the state in peacebuilding and national development.

Najwa Adra (www.najwaadra.net) holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Temple University. She is   a cultural anthropologist with long-term experience in field research and development  consulting in Yemen. She has studied tribal identity and customary law in Yemen’s Central Highland Plateau as these have changed over the past 30 years and the ways in which these indigenous institutions can contribute to state building. She has written on Yemeni tribal mediation for ISA and is currently completing a book on tribal identity in Yemen. Her research also extends to Yemeni dance traditions, women’s role in Yemeni agriculture and literacy.

Agriculture in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen

Yemen has a rich tradition of agriculture, stemming from the South Arabian kingdoms through the Islamic era. Yemeni scholars, anthropologists and agricultural experts have written about Yemen’s agriculture in the past half century, but less is known about the state of agriculture during the Mutawakkilite Kingdom in Yemen of the Zaydi Imams Yahya and Ahmad (1918-1962). This talk draws on Arabic resources, accounts by foreign travelers and the report of a 1955 FAO agricultural mission to Yemen in describing the role of agriculture and cultivated crops in the area ruled by the imams in the first part of the 20th century.

Daniel Martin Varisco holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania for ethnographic research on water resource use and agriculture in Yemen. He has also conducted ethnographic and historical research in Yemen, Egypt and Qatar. He serves as President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, editor-in-chief of CyberOrient (www.cyberorient.net), and was editor of Contemporary Islam (2006-2016). He has published on the history of Yemeni agriculture in the Journal for the Economic and Social History of the Orient, the Journal of Semitic Studies, History and Anthropology and in his Medieval Agriculture and Islamic Science (1994).