Category Archives: Culture

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)

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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.

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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).

Mahra Poetry Site

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Sam Liebhaber (Middlebury College) has just published a new book on Mahri Poetry, When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra. Associated with the new release is a website exhibit.

Details of the exhibit are described below:

The Mahra people of the southern Arabian Peninsula have no written language but instead possess a rich oral tradition. Samuel Liebhaber takes readers on a tour through their poetry, collected by the author in audio and video recordings over the course of several years. Based on this material, Liebhaber developed a systemic approach to Mahri poetry that challenges genre- based categorizations of oral poetry from the Arabian Peninsula. By taking into account all Mahri poetic expressions—the majority of which don’t belong to any of the known genres of Arabian poetry—Liebhaber creates a blueprint for understanding how oral poetry is conceived and composed by native practitioners. Each poem is embedded in a conceptual framework that highlights formal similarities between them and recapitulates how Mahri poets craft poems and how their audiences are primed to receive them. The web-based medium allows users not only to delve into the classification system to explore the diversity and complexity of the Mahra’s poetic expressions, but also to experience the formation of a poem in the moment. Through a series of questions designed to define the social context in which a poem is being created, the reader is taken on an experiential tour through the corpus that highlights the embeddedness of poetry in the Mahras’ everyday practices.

“Featuring Arabic as well as Mahran texts translated and annotated in English, When Melodies Gather is a superb educational resource for appreciating the verbal and performative skill of modern tribal bards.”—Flagg Miller, University of California, Davis

“Of vital importance to the documentation of Mahri, When Melodies Gather enables native speakers and scholars alike to examine and appreciate an endangered genre within an endangered language.”—Janet Watson, University of Leeds

Yemen Papers at MESA 2018

The following papers relating to Yemen will be presented at the upcoming MESA meeting in San Antonio in November. Details are available at: https://mesana.org/mymesa/meeting_program.php?program_bookyr=2012

  1. [P5057-21163] A Tribe and Its States: Yemen’s 1972 Bayhan Massacre Revisited by Marieke Brandt (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  2. [P5285-21167] Adding to the Controversy? Civil Society’s Evaluation of the National Dialogue Conference (2013) in Yemen by Moosa Elayah (Sunday, 11/18/18 11:00am)
  3. [P5057-21194] Aid and Taxes: A political economy analysis of the civil war in North Yemen 1962-1970 by Joshua Rogers (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  4. [P5288-21975] Dhimma Space: The Protection Relationship as a Socio-Political ‘Field’ by Kerstin Hunefeld (Saturday, 11/17/18 3:00pm)
  5. [P5057-21165] Domestic photography and memories of loss in northern Yemen by Gabriele Vom Bruck (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  6. [P5148-21662] Double Displacement: Structural Barriers to Diaspora Advocacy for Yemeni Refugees by Stacey Philbrick Yadav (Thursday, 11/15/18 5:30pm)
  7. [P5224-21620] Fieldwork in a Yemeni “Village” Displaced and Constituted by War by Nathalie Peutz (Friday, 11/16/18 11:00am)
  8. [P5224-21612] Finding Ways to Work on Yemen: A Plea for Engaged Scholarship by Marina de Regt (Friday, 11/16/18 11:00am)
  9. [P5315-21370] Geographical and Genre Boundaries: On Qasimi’s Curious Use of Jishumi’s Tafsir by Shuaib Ally (Friday, 11/16/18 8:30am)
  10. [P5297-22221] Hamid al-Din Yemen & The United States in the Early Postwar Period: Diplomacy, Modernity and Challenges, 1946 – 1954 by Richard Harrod (Sunday, 11/18/18 1:30pm)
  11. [P5059-21377] How to conceal the tradition into the text: Tayyibi Isma’ili “codes of conduct” (adab al-du’at) between Yemen and India by Corrado la Martire (Saturday, 11/17/18 3:00pm)
  12. [P5258-22336] Imam al-Mansurr bi-llah Abdullah b. Hamza: A Zaydi ruler and author by Hassan Farhang Ansari (Thursday, 11/15/18 5:30pm)
  13. [P5071-21180] Ottoman Exploration in Yemen, 1849 by Sahar Bazzaz (Friday, 11/16/18 11:00am)
  14. [P5059-21855] Questioning the birth of a tradition by Anne Regourd (Saturday, 11/17/18 3:00pm)
  15. [P5290-21408] Reclaiming Yemen: What Role for the Yemeni Diaspora? by Noha Aboueldahab (Saturday, 11/17/18 5:30pm)
  16. [P5258-21918] Reflections on Metaphysics in 7th/13th-century Zaydi kalam works by Jan Thiele (Thursday, 11/15/18 5:30pm)
  17. [P5057-21339] The Third Force’s Role in Yemen’s Peacemaking and Achieving National Reconciliation (1964-1970) by Zaid Alwazir (Saturday, 11/17/18 11:00am)
  18. [P5279-22205] “In our sea their sins must drive them”: The Righteousness of the Huthi Zamil by Emily Sumner (Sunday, 11/18/18 8:30am)

AIYS Funding for Yemeni Authors

اعلان
تمويل المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية لطباعة أبحاث أكاديمية يمنية
الموعد النهائي لتقديم طلب التمويل 31يوليو2018

يعلن المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية عن منافسة لطباعة كتب بحوث أكاديمية باللغة العربية للباحثين اليمنيين في اليمن. إننا ندرك الوضع الصعب الذي يواجه الباحثين اليمنين في الوقت الراهن ونريد تقديم المساعدة لنشر بحوثهم. الباحثين اليمنين الذين لديهم مسودة كتاب أو دراسة في مجال العلوم الإنسانية, الآداب أو العلوم الاجتماعية جاهزة للطباعة والنشر ويريدون نشرها عليهم تقديم مخطوط الكتاب او الدراسة في ملف  ورود أوب يدي أف (Word or pdf) وتعبئة استمارة تقديم الطلب الموجودة أدناه. سيتم منح الأفضلية للكتب التي تركز على الموروث التاريخي والثقافي اليمني. وسيتم تقييم ومراجعة الطلبات من قبل لجنة النشر المكونة من أعضاء المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية. الموعد النهائي لتقديم الطلبات خلال هذه لدورة هو 31 يوليو.  المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية سوف يقدم تمويل الطباعة والنشر في اليمن.

الاسم:

الأميل:

الوظيفة الأكاديمية للباحث:

الدرجة الأكاديمية الأعلى: (مكان الحصول عليها, المجال والتاريخ)
مجال الدراسة المراد نشرها:
عنون مخطوط الكتاب:
نبذة مختصرة عن الكتاب ( لا تتجاوز 250 كلمة)

يرجي تقديم نسخة في ملف aiyspublishing من مخطوط الكتاب مع هذه الاستمارة الي: aiys.president@aiys.org.

سيتم مراجعة وتقييم المخطوط من قبل اللجنة لكن لن يتم توزيعها الى أي شخص آخر وسيبقى  المخطوط خاصا غير معلن لأحد.

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Dan Varisco on AIYS

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Dan Varisco in al-Ahjur, 1978

by Daniel Martin Varisco

In early 1978 I arrived in Yemen to conduct ethnographic fieldwork on water allocation and springfed irrigation in the Yemen Arab Republic. Najwa Adra, my wife, would also be carrying out her dissertation research on the semiotics of Yemeni dance. I had a Fulbright-Hayes dissertation grant and Najwa had a National Science Foundation grant, so between the two of us we managed to support ourselves for a year and a half in the field. On the way to Yemen we had an unintended stop over in Egypt when our connecting Yemenia flight decided to leave three hours early from Cairo.  When we finally arrived in Sanaa, we were met at the airport by a family friend who had an apartment overlooking Tahrir Square. Soon we found a temporary place to stay with a Yemeni family, while waiting for clearance and looking for an appropriate field site.

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Najwa and Dan in al-Ahjur

This was before AIYS had officially started, but the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer Marjorie Ransom helped us through the process of getting permission to do our research and we were put under the umbrella of the Yemen Center for Studies and Research. On the way to Yemen we had stopped over in London and had a chance to visit Prof. R. B. Serjeant at Cambridge, where we also saw Martha Mundy at work on her thesis about irrigation in Wadi Dhahr. In Sanaa we were privileged to meet Qadi Ismail al-Akwa‘, one of Yemen’s most prolific modern scholars. One of our dearest friends was Père Etienne Renaud, who had a great love for Yemen and contributed to the study of Zaydi law.

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Dan and Etienne Renaud in Rome in 1983

In a couple of months we found our site, the breathtakingly beautiful valley of al-Ahjur, a headwater of Wadi Surdud. This had a spring line with allocation from cisterns into an extensive terrace network of agricultural plots. We settled in a room in the country house of our host, Abdullah ‘Abd al-Qadir, and were within easy walking distance of several villages. I spent many afternoons in Abdullah’s afternoon qat chew, where local matters were discussed, an anthropologist dream time. Najwa and I can never repay the kindness of the people we met in al-Ahjur; they treated us as guests and were very patient with our questions.

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al-Ahjur panorama

We met Jon Mandaville and his family when he started as the first resident director of AIYS in Sanaa. Jon invited Najwa and myself on a vacation trip to the Tihāma, where I have vivid memories of a night spent on the beach under the palms, hearing the gently lapping waves, at Khawkha. In the 1980s I returned to Yemen many times as a development consultant and to do manuscript research in the Western Library of the Great Mosque. The small library room (the manuscripts were kept elsewhere) was run by two elderly gentleman, one of whom was almost deaf. His conversations on the telephone were at times quite hilarious. It was here that I first met the Yemeni historian Muhammad Jazm and we soon became close friends.

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Dan and Muhammad Jazm

On my trips to Yemen I always stopped by AIYS, which changed buildings regularly, and was pleased to meet each new director and wave of researchers. In 1983, while I was starting an ARCE Fellowship in Cairo, I came to Yemen to write up the final draft of the USAID Social and Institutional Profile of Yemen. The AIYS President at the time, Manfred “Kurt” Wenner, had solicited articles from a number of scholars, but these had to be merged and edited into the kind of document that USAID needed. The anthropologist Barbara Pillsbury joined me for a marathon writing session and the result was a thorough analysis of the development context of Yemen as of 1983.

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AIYS director Jeff Meissner and Dan in 1987

Even after I started full-time teaching in 1992, I would return at times for consulting. In 1990 I took over the newsletter of AIYS and created a bulletin called Yemen Update, with some of its articles and book reviews archived online. With funding assistance from Hunt Oil we were able to distribute hard copies. In 2014 I became President of AIYS, having served in the past as a secretary and board member. I created a blog called Yemen Webdate, for posts on Yemeni history and culture, and a Yemen Expert Guide to list the names and contacts of individuals with expertise in Yemeni Studies. I also have promoted a Scholar-to-Scholar Program to put Yemeni and foreign scholars into contact with each other for joint research and mentoring. I encourage colleagues to send in material for our AIYS Facebook Page, where news items on the current conflict, etc are posted.

As I write these reflections, Yemen remains in a precarious humanitarian crisis with little end in sight. All of us who have worked in Yemen desire a peaceful settlement so that Yemen’s people can build up their own lives with freedom and security. America’s political choices have greatly angered many of Yemen’s people, but as an educational institute AIYS remains committed to promoting knowledge of all aspects of Yemen’s rich heritage and cultural diversity.

This post is part of the anniversary of AIYS at 40. Click here for other reflections.

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Sam Liebhaber on AIYS

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Sam Liebhaber with Gregory Johnsen in Sanaa, 2004, having an evening cup of shay halib at Ali al-‘Imrani’s café in Sana’a, next to the Qubaat al-Mahdi, overlooking the Sayla.

by Sam Liebhaber

It is a daunting task for me to list the ways that the AIYS has guided and supported my research in Yemen; they are almost too many to count.  Indeed, my experience in learning about Yemen and developing proficiency in its languages is inseparable from my relationship to the AIYS, which has stood as one of the few constants in a changing – and often tumultuous – landscape.

My first encounter with the AIYS dates back to my earliest steps in learning Arabic at the beginning of my graduate career in 1998. I spent the summer studying Arabic at the Center for the Arabic Language and Eastern Studies (CALES) in the Old City of Sana’a and a colleague brought me to the AIYS, which at the time was located on al-Bawniya street.  During that summer, I spent many pleasant hours studying and reading about Yemen in the AIYS library – a lovely, glass-enclosed space that looked out onto a courtyard garden.

When I returned to Yemen the following year for further language study, I was once again welcomed to the AIYS by the resident director, Marta Colburn, who offered me guidance and advice on future research and studies in Yemen. On a side trip to Asmara in 2000, I befriended Bob Holman, New York-based poet/performer and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, at a conference and cultural celebration marking Eritrean independence.  Bob was gathering information for his TV documentary, On the Road with Bob Holman, and when I told him about Yemen’s vibrant poetic culture, he returned back with me to Sana’a.  Marta Colburn graciously arranged for Bob and myself to attend the weekly gathering of literati in the home of Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih, Yemen’s “poet laureate”, who was impressed by Bob’s extemporaneous composition and performance of a poem about the beauty and elegance of Sana’a.  This led to an offer to Bob and myself to translate Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Maqalih’s Book of Sana’a – myself an Arabic neophyte and Bob a Nuyorican slam poet.  Marta Colburn wisely engaged a friend of hers, Muhammad Abd al-Salam Mansur, to help us with the translation.  Muhammad Abd al-Salam remains a close friend and served as a frequent mentor to me during my subsequent visits in Yemen.  After a few years of work, our translation of the Book of Sana’a was published in Yemen thanks to the effort and support of the AIYS, especially that of Christopher Edens who assumed the role of resident director after the departure of Marta Colburn and who oversaw the final editing and annotation of the Book of Sana’a.

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Yemen’s Akhdam

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Luca Nevola has just published an article on the so-called Akhdam in Yemen at Open Democracy. Here is the first paragraph, but click here for the full article.

In 2013, Nu‘man al-Hudheyfi – a man of akhdam origin – participated at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) held in Sanaa as part of the crisis reconciliation efforts following the 2011 Yemeni Arab Spring. At the time, Hudheyfi was the President of the National Union for the Marginalised and a member of the General People’s Congress, the majority party in the country. In the past, he has defined the ‘marginalised’ as all “those people excluded from property and instruction, forced to live at the margins of society”. But during the conference, his focus was mainly his fellow people, the akhdam, as he condemned the NDC’s racism (‘unsuriyya) by pointing out that Yemen’s three million ‘black people’ had only one representative at the NDC.

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Pomegranate seller, Yemen. Rod Waddington/flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Delores Walters on AIYS

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Delores Walters in Wadi Dhabab, 1994

Delores M. Walters, Ph.D.

I first went to Yemen in the summer of 1981 on a FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) Fellowship to study spoken Arabic, having minored in Modern Standard Newspaper Arabic at NYU. My Arabic language study was in preparation for a doctoral dissertation fellowship in cultural anthropology funded by SSRC and Fulbright between 1982-84. Steven Caton, who was director of the Peace Corps in Sanaa, headed the language-training program, which included several Yemeni teachers. Peace Corps residents in Sanaa that year included American, Dutch, British and German volunteers.  Steve introduced me to Leigh Douglas who was resident director of AIYS at the time.

It was quite a shock to learn later that Leigh Douglas was one of three men, including two British citizens killed in Beirut in 1986 in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Libya.  Leigh had taken genuine interest in my research and was particularly helpful in insuring that Lee Maher, my partner at the time, would be able to accompany me when I returned to Yemen in 1982 to begin my field research. He had made the introductions at the Yemen Center for Research & Studies (YCRS) to begin the process of obtaining residency and research clearance.  AIYS and the resident directors were chiefly responsible for connecting Americans to the Yemeni research center and were especially helpful in that regard. Once introduced, the staff and director of YCRS, Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Maqalih, (also a literary scholar and poet) were remarkably helpful, kind and attentive. Lealan Swanson became resident director of AIYS early during our stay. Occasionally, Lee filled in for Lealan when the latter was away for short periods.

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Delores and Lee Maher, 1982

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