Category Archives: Environment

The End of Frankincense?

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The New York Times recently published an article about the possible extinction of the frankincense plant in the wild.

Frankincense is exported by the thousands of tons each year. But as demand increases, over-exploitation and ecosystem degradation are bringing populations to the brink of collapse. The study’s authors estimate that without new trees to replace the old, half the intact forests — and half the frankincense they produce — will be gone within 20 years.

Check out the article here.

All about Aden

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One of the most impressive Yemeni sites for the culture and history of Aden and southern Yemen is alamree.net. You can literally spend hours exploring this rich site. As you can see in the above image from the main page, there is information on Aden itself, coffee and mountains in Yāfi‘ the Aden zoo and the mosque of al-‘Aydarūs. There is also a treasure trove of images and photographs on Aden, some of which are very old. More photographs and videos are also available on the Facebook site of Hussain Alamree.

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Tawāhī in the 1960s

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Ma‘alā sūq, 1920

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Local dance in Shaykh ‘Uthmān, 1947

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

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