Varisco on Yemen’s Date Palms

 datesuae

On Monday, May 12, AIYS President Dan Varisco gave a lecture at the University of the United Arab Emirates in al-‘Ayn on the history of date palms in Yemen.  The lecture covered the history and geography of date palm production with a focus on information from the Rasulid agricultural texts.  For the coastal town of Zabid, the early 13th century traveler Ibn al-Mujawir related the following anecdote about the introduction of dates there:

اول من غرس النخل الامير علي بن محمد الصليحي ويقال الحبشة في اول دولة علي بن المهدي لما حضروا الحبشة وصلت  عير من ارض الحجاز حملها لتمر فكانوا يأكلون التمر ويرمون النوى فمن نداوة الارض طلع النخل فلما رأت اهل البلاد ذلك وعرفوا غرسه غرسوه وكثر النخل
ابن المجاور، تأريخ المستبصر

“The first person to plant date palms [in Zabīd] was Amir ‘Alī b. Muḥammad al-Ṣulayḥī.  It is also said it was the Abyssinians at the beginning of the rule of ‘Alī b. al-Mahdī.  When the Abyssinians were there, a caravan arrived from the Hejaz, carrying dates.  They would eat the dates and throw the stones down.  Because of the dampness of the soil, date palms grew. When the inhabitants of the area saw this, they learned how to plant [palms]; they planted them and they became numerous.”  (Rex Smith translation, 2008)