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

Ghosts of Hodeidah

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by Lily V. Filson

In the summer of 2005, I arrived in a Yemeni coastal port on a road trip that had brought us from the lofty tower-palaces of Sana’a, capital of Arabia Felix for the Romans, down to the Tihama plain on the Red Sea. Apart from this narrow sea, little separates Tihama from East Africa, but much more than mountains separates Tihama from Sana’a. The air got exponentially hotter and saltier, and the landscape flattened into an arid brown. Our destination was Al-Hodeidah, also seen as Hudaydah, in the Latin alphabet’s perpetual attempts to nail down those mutable Arabic vowels. Translated, it becomes “the iron,” a metal charged with magic and miracles in the long memory of Arab lore, and one which has recently been through the fire of a brutal war.

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But back to 2005: as a foreign girl, the fisherman were enthusiastic to show me everything; some I could identify, others had melted into slime. Most impressive for everyone there were the long masses of shark corpses rolled together like so many unsettling logs. Yemeni machismo won the day, and with great flourishes, a row of teeth was sawed out of one’s mouth, tied up in plastic, and ceremoniously presented. Those teeth travelled around the length of almost all of Yemen on that trip, and five years later, I was in Florence, Italy, where a graduate program was letting my creativity flourish in unexpected ways. I was exploring jewelry design, and the shark teeth which had been my gift in Hodeidah now occupied a small velvet pouch, and they became the stuff of a dream I sketched in silver that quickly took shape at a bench in a workshop in the Oltrarno. In another life in 2013 across the world again, they walked the runway as part of the inaugural New Orleans Fashion Week; those few teeth were destined for a very different life, but their ultimate connection to Al-Hodeidah on Yemen’s Red Sea coast invests them now with a gravity beyond the passing their flashing moments of past glamor.

Continue reading Ghosts of Hodeidah

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

AIYS Yemeni Fellowships 2018

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The AIYS organized a seminar In Ṣan‘ā’ on Tuesday, August 14, 2018 for the recipients of AIYS Fellowships granted for 2018.  Twelve researchers in different fields received an AIYS Yemeni Fellowship this year. Several researchers and academics attended the seminar in which nine researchers made brief presentation about their proposed researches.

These researchers are:

(1) Dr  Rajha Saad, an  assistant professor in the Library Section at Ṣan‘ā’ University. Her research topic is: “Information Literacy for Displaced People by War in Yemen: A Pilot Study.”

(2) Dr Khaled Naji, an associate professor of Biochemistry, Chemistry department, Faculty of Science, Ṣan‘ā’ University. His research topic is: “Preventive Effects of Wild Yemeni Monolluma quadrangula Extract on Oxidative Stress associated with Diabetes mellitus in Albino Male Rats.”

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(3) Taha Arrahomi, whose research is: “Role of Monetary Authority in Controlling Money Laundry in Republic of Yemen.”

Continue reading AIYS Yemeni Fellowships 2018

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

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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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Incense Production in Ancient Southern Arabia

Incense Production in Ancient Southern Arabia: Developing an Archaeological Project

by Joy McCorriston, 1995-96 Fellow
Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

Impatience.

I sensed it in ethnographer Ietha’s scowl, in S_____’s interruptions. How could I translate for her, while I struggled with even basic comprehension of what Letha tried to convey? It was all so foreign to me—the stone scatters on rocky surfaces seemed like nothing I could dig; the crumbling heaps of ancient towns were too recent to conceal the homes of prehistoric farmers. Where did producers of Yemen’s fabled frankincense live, and what were the networks that brought incense into trade caravans headed toward the Classical world?

Left to right: Ietha al-Amary, ‘AbdalKarim Barkani, and Ghufran Ahmad relax on the back of “Flower,” a trusty rented SUV.

All the research on Incense Kingdoms or Caravan Kingdoms had ignored this basic problem: the kingdoms and their caravan departures were not where the frankincense trees grew. CAORC’s Multi-Country Research Fellowship had given me an opportunity to tackle that question, and out of it grew two decades of archaeological team research, my own and others’ scholarly careers, and the training several generations of American students. With CAORC support through the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, I spent three critical months in Yemen and Oman, hiking and driving through unpaved terrain, building collaborations through sharing resources and hardships, and learning the landscape and research logistics. In the end, Ietha and I worked and camped together, argued, and acquiesced for a decade. Early scowls and struggles became smiles and semantics.

I selected a region for study and returned the next year with coveted funds from the US National Science Foundation, the first of nine more major grants I would obtain for the Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia (RASA) Project, a multi-disciplinary study of the landscape of southern Yemen’s highland pastoralists in Wadi Sana, a remote valley in the mountains of Hadramawt. We camped in the desert for months, we sweated by day, shivered by night, and told time by the stars. We excavated the earliest herder’s camp in Arabia. We found a ring of skulls from a cattle sacrifice that happened more than six millennia ago. In all, the team spent six more seasons collecting field data in Yemen, and we published 25 articles and books, including two doctoral dissertations, two masters’ theses, and my book-length answer to the question I’d started with (Pilgrimage and Household in the Ancient Near East, Cambridge University Press 2011).

The RASA team at our Wadi Sana camp, 2004.

Terrorism finally caught up with us, and with regrets at leaving colleagues in Yemen, we shifted our emphasis to nearby Dhofar, Oman, a region I’d first studied as a CAORC fellow. We received three more major grants, including a 1.6 million dollar award from The National Science Foundation. We were still studying ancient pastoralists, the people who collected and transported frankincense, still teasing questions that grew out of our foundational CAORC study.

Good research raises more questions than it answers, and even as I today understand what Ietha was saying, I am driven by new questions and a conscience that in these decades we have been not only researches and scholars but American science ambassadors, bringing together people who would otherwise never meet and shaping positive perceptions of each other through working together.