Category Archives: History

New Bibliographic Resource for Yemen

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Much has been made of Iran’s alleged support of the Huthi regime in Yemen. Lost in the glare of the politics is a remarkable resource in Iran for anyone interested in the history of Yemen and its culture, and indeed for the whole history of Islam and the region. This is a website devoted to classical Arabic and Persian texts, including several which are relevant to Yemen. It boasts some 6,742 books and over 27,000 journal articles.

Among the texts available to read and to search online are al-Hamdānī’s Ṣifat jazīrat al-‘Arab, Nashwān ibn Sa‘īd al-Ḥimyarī’s Mulūk Ḥimyar wa-aqyāl al-Yaman, al-Burayḥī’s Ṭabaqāt ṣulaḥā’ al-Yaman, al-Janadī’s Sulūk, al-Khazrajī’s al-‘Uqūd al-lu’lu’iyya, plus many more. In addition there is an online searchable edition of al-Zabīdī’s Tāj al-‘arūs, the lexicon of lexicons.

yemensearchThe remarkable feature of this website is that you can search the entire collection or search within an individual text.  For example, if you type اليمن into the overall search function, it will give you hundreds of hits in a variety of Arabic books and journal articles, as noted above.

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If you go to a specific text, like al-Hamdānī’s geographical text, and type in a location (like ذمار), you get all the times it occurs in the text.

Continue reading New Bibliographic Resource for Yemen

Imagine if the British chose Socotra over Aden

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Captain Haines of the Royal British Navy purchased the port of Aden from the sultan of Lahj in 1837, returning in January 1839 with 700 troops to take control and built a refueling depot for the British Navy en route to India. He served as the administration assistant of Aden from 1839-1854. At the time it is estimated that the population of Aden was a mere 600 people, about half of whom were Jews. In seven years the town had been rebuilt and it was home to 25,000 as a free port.

But in 1833 he was on a different mission, an attempt to purchase the island of Socotra from the Mahri sultan in Qishin. Here is his account of meeting with the sultan, who refused to sell his tribal inheritance to the British crown. Imagine if he had and the port of Aden had been ignored…

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‘Rough Pencil Sketch from the Point Bungalo Ras Marbut, Aden’ by Stafford Bettesworth Haines

“Memoir  of the  South  and  East   Coasts  of Arabia.”    By Captain STAFFORD BETTESWORTH HAINES, I. N.
Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 15:104-166, 1845

[p. 107] A direct communication by steam being the anxious object of the Supreme Government of India, it was considered probable that Sokoṭrah might answer as a depôt. I was, consequently, sent on a mission to Keshín to obtain the island by purchase.

Continue reading Imagine if the British chose Socotra over Aden

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #6

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Coffee hills of Yemen (from Niebuhr’s travels)

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.

Osgood provides details on the coffee plant and its distribution to the port of Mocha:

“The coffee plant grows sixteen or eighteen feet high, with an upright stem covered with a light brown bark. Its branches grow horizontally and opposite, crossing each other, and form a pyramidical appearance. The leaves grow on the opposite side of the branches, to the length of four or five inches, and to half that width in the middle. The flowers, growing in bunches at the junction of the leaves, are white, maturing first into green, then red berries resembling bunches of cherries, [p. 181] each of which contains two kernels. But one crop is annually produced, which is gathered in the months of January and February. For the purpose of being dried in the sun, the gathered coffee is spread on the house-tops, or cleared spaces of ground, where it is frequently watered to open the koke, or shell, which is always separated by grinding before packing. The coffee raised at Annas and Sana, which is held in the best estimation, is generally dried upon temporary floors, covered with a compost of clay and cow ordure, which protects the coffee from vermin and also gives it a permanent yellowish color. How perceptibly such a compost may affect the taste of the coffee would doubtless be a matter of inquiry with the tidy, cow-loving Hindu house-wife, who uses a solution of it to purify her parlors, ornament her walls and doorways, and for numerous other purposes.

Large quantities of coffee arrive at Mocha, from March to the latter part of July, from the coffee districts within twenty days’ journey. Camels are employed in its transportation, each of which carries about six hundred pounds, contained in two sacks. They are driven in long trains of fifty or more, arranged one behind another, the head of each being tied to the tail of the camel immediately before him. Thus arranged but few drivers are necessary.

Continue reading Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #6

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #5

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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.

Osgood gives a lengthy discussion of the coffee trade at Mocha:

[p. 166] “In the year 1800, when the Americans adopted the popular idea of invigorating the body and clarifying the mind with the berry of Mocha, sixteen thousand bales of coffee were annually sent by dows to Jiddah, and thence by caravans to Constantinople, or by sea to Suez, and across Egypt to Abyssinia, whence it found its way over Europe. To Salem merchants belongs the credit of striking out at this time a new branch of maritime trade, which amply rewarded their enterprise, if anything can be judged from the fact that in 1805 a favorable trade and increasing competition had raised the price of coffee to fifty dollars a bale: and even at this price so great was the demand that eleven American vessels were at the port of Mocha at one time waiting for cargoes. Another interesting fact, and one to be proud of in our commercial history, is, that until the year 1822, at which time Mocha was paying an annual tribute of one thousand bales of coffee to the Pasha of Egypt, no direct trade had been carried on between Mocha and Europe by sea, except by [p. 167] American vessels, the cargoes of which were purchased almost exclusively with specie.

Continue reading Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #5

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #4

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Captain William Kidd

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.

Among the legends that Osgood tells, is a surprising one about the pirate Captain Kidd.  This notorious pirate went to the Indian Ocean to raid ships there. His sunken ship the “Adventure Galley” was discovered off the coast of Madagascar in 2015. His big mistake was taking a merchant ship named the “Quedach Merchant” in 1698. Owned by a Mughal merchant, its crew was international: an English captain, two Dutch officers, several Indian seamen and Armenian merchants. Even though it carried a French flag, Kidd captured the ship and renamed it the “Adventure Prize,” sailing it back to the Caribbean and eventually New York. Because of the English connection, Kidd was sent to Scotland for trial and hanged to death in 1701.

There are many rumors about his treasure, and some of these, like one of Osgood, place it in the Red Sea:

[p. 159] Having been drifted about by light winds, it was not till the third morning after leaving Aden, that we passed Babel-Mandeb Peak, rearing its lofty summit of black crumbling rock, eight hundred feet above our heads, and entered Babel-Mandeb Strait, or the Gate of Mourning. We passed through the narrow strait, which is about a mile and a fourth wide, between Babel- Mandeb Peak and Perim Island. Speaking of Perim Island, it will be remembered that Capt. Kidd, who, in 1697, sailed from New York, in the Adventure Galley, [p. 160] in search of buccaneers, turned pirate, and near here, captured a rich Queda merchantman. He landed upon this island, and who knows but that the long sought after buried treasures of the daring buccaneer may yet be unearthed at Perim Island? Surely it looks like the place of all places the twice hanged captain would have chosen to bury his bible to gain the good graces of the evil one. The English had a force stationed here when Bonaparte had thoughts of subduing India.”

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

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #2

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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.

Here is part of his account of Aden, which at the time was under the control of the British:
[120] “Further down the coast are Shahire and Maculla, ports of some importance, having considerable trade with the Red Sea ports, Bombay, and ports in Africa tributary to the Imaum of Muscat. Maculla is the [p. 121] seaport of Hadramaut, and has been visited in former times by American vessels. All bugalas going to and from the Red Sea stop here. A few Banian traders have established themselves here. The trade of the place has very much declined since the occupation of Aden by the English.

Approaching from the seaward the rugged outline of earth which shapes Cape Aden looms up like a vast island off the south coast of Arabia Felix. As the distance diminishes and the black boundaries of the cape are more distinctly defined they resolve into sharp towering peaks, gothic spires, castellated ridges, and craggy masses overhanging awful precipices. These extend over an area five and a fourth miles long by two and a fourth miles broad. It is well worth one’s time and trouble to land on the cape, even, if for nothing else, to learn from the irony responses from the beaten rocks and the large quantities of ferruginous conglomerate lying everywhere around that, in some age long gone by, igeous action had there opened a safety valve in the earth’s solid crust to relieve it of an oppressive and heated sigh. If ambitiously disposed one may climb the hot serrated heights, stepping where never human foot before has trodden, and from the highest summit look down seventeen hundred and forty eight feet upon the smiling “old ocean,” no longer “cheered with the grateful smell of  “Sabean odor, from the spicy shore Of Araby the blest,” that one John Milton said used to be blown by the  [p. 122] northeast winds from the delectable hills of Aden or the ”Land of Promise,” as its name signifies. ”Land of sterility and starvation !” will one involuntarily exclaim as he gazes forth upon the bleak, barren, unenlivened expanse of rock and sand, undiversified by the lizard hue of cultivation. No waving grain, no groves, no trees, no vegetable dress whatever, not even a solitaiy bachelor blade of sickly withering grass in all that semi- circumference of prospect to relieve the aching eye-balls from the blinding glare of the parched plains and heated rocks that day after day for several years have felt an ”unclouded blaze of living light,” tempered often at one hundred and twenty degrees of heat. During the ten years previous to my last stay at Aden there had been but two showers of rain.

Continue reading Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #2

Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #1

belisarius

The good ship Belisarius was launched in October 1794. She measured only ninety-four and one half feet in length with a breadth of only twenty-five feet. She carried most valuable cargoes and paid duties on them ranging from fifteen to twenty-one thousand dollars. After successful voyaging in the India trade for eight years, the beautiful ship Belisarius went to pieces in a gale in the Bay of Tunis in April 1810, the crew and cargo saved. Source

During the 19th century there were many sail ships that engaged in trade, not to mention military expeditions, on the Arabian coast. One of the most interesting accounts was penned by Joseph B. F. Osgood (1823-1913), the son of a sea captain. In 1854 he published his travel account entitled Notes of Travel or Recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, Muscat, Aden, Mocha, and other Eastern Ports (Salem: George Creamer). Setting out from Salem, Massachusetts, he reached the port of Majunga on the northwestern corner of Madagascar in 93 days. As an American Ibn Baṭūṭṭa, he provides a detailed and entertaining guide to the peoples and places he visited. From Majunga he sailed up the African coast to Zanzibar and then on the Zanzibar ruler’s ship “Curlew” to Muscat, where he arrived in 14 days after a trek on rough seas.

His colorful description of the coast between Oman and Aden is as follows;
[p. 118] “Our vessel was twelve days making an average passage along the east and south coast of Arabia from Muscat to Aden. Between these ports almost the entire line of sea coast is very barren, and sparsely inhabited by nomadic tribes of Arabs, who have no intercourse with civilized nations. The tribes living nearest to the sea-board are miserably poor and obtain their principal subsistence from the neighboring fishing grounds. None of them have good boats, and such of them as are not too lazy to work make use of the best floats which their ingenuity may devise. The Jenabi tribe, who occupy a desert line of coast between Suakirah and Kashaim, venture out to sea seated on inflated skins, which they manage very skillfully in heavy surfs, such as no boat could live in. While fishing for sharks they fearlessly expose their legs in the water, yet the greedy monsters do not molest them.

The people of Morebat, farther down the coast, have [p. 119] no boats or rafts of any kind. The same may be said of the few inhabitants of Hullaniyah, a small island about twenty miles in circumference belonging to the Curia Maria group, and the only one of that group that is inhabited. The want of boats is seriously felt, as these lone islanders are forced to depend for their daily subsistence chiefly upon the crabs and shell fish they are able to gather, and the fish they catch from the rocks. Captain Haines, I. N., visited this island in 1835, and found its poor and inoffensive population to consist of only seven families, amounting in all to twenty-three souls. One birth and one death was calculated upon annually. They had no idea from what part of the coast they originally came, and though they professed Mahometanism, but one of them could say his prayers. They lived in small huts built of loose stones, and covered with seaweed.

Continue reading Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #1

Yemen’s Heritage and the War

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FoxNews has published an article on the destruction of Yemen’s archaeological heritage due to the current war, especially the Saudi-led coalition bombing. I was asked to comment by the journalist and two of my comments made it into the article.  Bravo to FoxNews for drawing attention to the damage.

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Here are my two quotes in the article:

“There are more archaeological sites in Yemen than anywhere else on the Arabian Peninsula,” stressed Daniel Varisco, Senior Postdoctoral Scholar for the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. “Especially important are the thousands of inscriptions in ancient South Arabic languages and dialects. These give details on the rulers, battles, religious rituals, economy and private letters.”

“First and foremost, it is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that needs to be resolved by an immediate end to the war,” added Varisco. “Yet it is also important that the rich and unique cultural heritage of Yemen not be destroyed.”

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CAORC-Kaplan Fellowships

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The Center for Manuscripts in Zabid houses some of Yemen’s oldest and most valuable manuscripts. Photo courtesy Center for Manuscripts, Zabid.

Many countries in the Middle East continue to be devastated by ongoing conflict and violence. Beyond the catastrophic suffering inflicted on the people of Yemen, Syria and Gaza, many of whom have had their homes, families, and livelihoods destroyed, the physical traces of their history and heritage are also being bombarded, pillaged, and even demolished.

Through its Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), supported by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, CAORC is committed to helping dedicated archaeologists and heritage professionals in these war-torn countries do everything possible to preserve and secure their country’s cultural heritage. This month, CAORC is awarding seven new projects under its RPI program, with the aim of providing critical assistance to organizations in Yemen, Syria, and Gaza that are working against the clock to preserve and safeguard important cultural heritage sites and collections that remain under threat. Led by local teams of trained experts, these projects have well-designed action plans that will allow them to rapidly and efficiently address areas of urgent need at some of the region’s most vulnerable and at-risk heritage sites, with a special focus on protecting museum and manuscript collections that remain under severe threat from bombardment, warfare, vandalism, and looting.

In Yemen, the main office of the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM) will implement projects along with local archaeologists and universities to document and safeguard the artifact collections of the Saiyoun and Zafar Museums, two important but now threatened museums in Yemen’s beleaguered governorates of Hadhramawt and Ibb, respectively. At the Saiyoun Museum, housed in the beautiful Sultan Al Kathiri palace complex, militant Islamist groups whose presence in the area has grown have already vandalized the building and threatened to loot the collections. Similarly, at the small Zafar Museum, located amid the ruins of the capital city of the famed pre-Islamic kingdom of Himyar, GOAM, along with local institutions will work to ensure the collections are properly documented, preserved, and stored away in case the site is attacked or vandalized in the future, as the area itself is under constant threat of bombardment. So, too, trained specialists from the Center for Manuscripts in the ancient town of Zabid, which houses some of Yemen’s oldest and most valuable manuscripts, will seek to catalog and digitize hundreds of the center’s most fragile documents as the coastal Hudayda governorate becomes increasingly contested by coalition and Houthi forces.

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Before and after image of Yemen’s Dhamar Museum, destroyed during a coalition airstrike in May 2015. Photos courtesy GOAM, Dhamar office.

The critical need for such preventive measures is highlighted by the case of Yemen’s Dhamar Museum, located in Yemen’s archaeologically rich Dhamar governorate, which was completely destroyed during an aerial bombardment by coalition forces in May 2015. While local archaeologists and museum staff have been working to remove and preserve artifacts still buried under rubble, there remains much to be done. Through the support of the CAORC-Kaplan RPI program, archaeologists and staff from GOAM’s Dhamar office, along with local institutions will be able to continue recovering, restoring and registering damaged objects from the museum’s rubble and then relocate them to a safe, secure location. The same GOAM team along with locals from the Hada province will also work to document and preserve the collections of the Baynun Museum, located amid the ruins of one of Yemen’s great pre-Islamic fortresses but now threatened by encroaching Al Qaeda forces and the possible onset of aerial bombardment.

For the rest of this article. click here.