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Daniel Martin Varisco is President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.

Thesiger of Arabia: #1


Anyone who knows anything about Arabia has no doubt heard of Lawrence of Arabia, even if only via Peter O’toole’s dazzling Hollywood version.  But there is also Thesiger of Arabia, especially his extraordinary trips across the Empty Quarter in the 1940s.  While in al-‘Ayn two weeks ago I was able to visit the old fort, now a museum displaying a number of photographs that Wilfred Thesiger took on his trip from Yemen to the Emirates and his visit with Shaykh Zayed.  The albums of Thesiger are preserved online at the Pitt Rivers Museum website.  It is well worth looking at these.

I photographed several of the images in the al-‘Ayn exhibit dealing with Yemen, and these are reproduced below:

thes5Sa’ar at Minwakh, Hadramawt, drawing water (1947)

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Flipping through Yemen a Millennium Ago


There was a time when books were hard to come by.  Either they cost too much or were inaccessible in a private or exclusive university library.  Whatever else the world wide web has done (and that is a mouthful), it now functions as an archive.  More and more, the rare and out-of-print books I used to be forced to read in a library reading room are becoming available online.  Mr. Gutenberg might roll over in his Grab at the very thought of a pdf file, but print has taken a new and universal turn.  I especially enjoy the “flipbook”, which simulates turning the pages of images of the original.  For an enjoyable read on the early history of Yemen, there is the flipbook version of Henry Cassels Kay’s translation called  YAMAN, ITS EARLY MEDIAEVAL HISTORY, published in London in 1892.  This has excerpts (not always trustworthy in their translation) from Umarah ibn Ali al-Hakami (1120/21-1174), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), and Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Janadi (d. 1332?).

The sad thing is that well over a century ago, Kay lamented that there was virtually nothing available on the history of Yemen, which had become of strategic interest to the British empire.   More  sadly,  the same can be said today.  There is no single, critical history of Yemen’s Islamic history in English or another European language, while there are many valuable historical texts written by Yemenis in Arabic.  Here is Kay’s comment:

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Qasida on the Attack in Seiyun


Damage to the Seiyun Post Office

Late last night extremists affiliated with al-Qa’ida attacked military, security and government buildings in Seiyun, the second largest town in the Hadramawt. Here is a poem written about the event by the poet Abdullah Mubarak al-Ja‘idi, courtesy of Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum

قصيده هذاالمساء عن سيون الحبيبة
للشاعرعبدالله مبارك الجعيدي:

ياأهل سيئون قلبي في هواكـم مولّــع
ريت لـي جنبكـم لا غــدر الليـل مهجــع
فيه قضّي ولو ساعة من العمــر أو دون
حبكم حل في الوجدان لا ياأهل سيئون

الطويلـــة غدت للمجـد مصــدر ومرجــع
والتقــى والنقــاء مــن حلّهـا بـه يطبّـع
وأهلــها كـل مانــادى المنــادي يلبّــون
حبكم حل في الوجدان لا ياأهل سيئون

لـو علـي وجهـوا حتـى ثلاثيـن مدفـــــع
نـــور عينـي . بقلبـي عشقها ماتزعــزع
ارتباطـي بهـا مثـل الصّبـي داخل النــون
حبكم حل في الوجدان لا ياأهل سيئون

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House of Folklore in Sanaa

اقتحام ونهب متحف الموروث الشعبي بصنعاء

السبت 17 مايو 2014 الساعة 21:14

تعرض “متحف بيت الموروث الشعبي- تراث التنوع” للسرقة من قبل مجهولين.

وقال “بيت الموروث الشعبي”، في بلاغ صحفي- إن عملية النهب والعبث والتكسير طال الأبواب والأقفال، والنوافذ الزجاجية، والمقتنيات الفضية والنحاسية، والخشبيات المزخرفة، والعديد من الملابس الشعبية، وغير ذلك من المقتنيات النادرة الثمينة.

وأوضح البلاغ أن رئيسة المتحف، الأستاذة أروى عثمان، كانت استغرقت لجمع هذه الأشياء أكثر من ثلاثة عقود، جابت خلالها معظم أرجاء اليمن، وصرفت من أجل اقتنائها وتوليفها في متحف لمفردات الذاكرة الجمعية اليمنية – تراث التنوع جل وقتها ومالها الذي اكتسبته بعرق الجبين وكد السنيين .

وكان متحف بيت الموروث قد أغلق عشية  أحداث 2011، واستمر إغلاقه حتى بعد انتقاله إلى أكثر من مقر، إلى أن أستقر به المقام في حي الوحدة “غرقة الصين” منتصف 2012.

وبسبب اضطراب الأوضاع السياسية والأمنية والوعود المرسلة من قبل الجهات المعنية وذات العلاقة، وتحديداً وزارة الثقافة وأمانة العاصمة، بتوفير مقر ملائم وآمن للمتحف استمر المقر موصداً إلى أن أقتحم من قبل من وصفهم البيان بالشرذمة المجهولة والمريبة من اللصوص المحترفين الذين نهبوه وعاثوا فيه والحقوا به الأضرار والخسائر.

South Arabia and the Berber Imaginary


Mahri camels at the International Festival of the Sahara in Douz, Tunisia,  December 24, 2012. Photo by Sam Liebhaber.

by Sam Liebhaber

One of the long-standing myths of Berber ancestry places their origins in Yemen from whence they were dispatched to North Africa in the service of ancient Ḥimyarite kings.  Although this chapter in the mythological prehistory of the Arab world can be refuted on the grounds that the Berber are indisputably indigenous to North Africa, the offhand dismissal of the South Arabian-Berber imaginary overlooks an important sociolinguistic kinship between the Berber of North Africa and one of the last indigenous linguistic communities of the Arabian Peninsula: the Mahra of Yemen and Oman.

A number of socio-cultural parallels distinguish the Berber and Mahra from the other minority language communities of the Middle East. For one, the Mahra and Berber are members of the Islamic ʾummah, unlike many of the other minority language communities of the Arab world where linguistic boundaries are frequently coterminous with religious divisions. Further, the Berber and the Mahra did not inherit a written tradition that includes religious and literary texts. As a consequence, the Mahri and Berber languages are frequently consigned to the category of “lahja,” an Arabic term that signifies any non-prestigious, vernacular idiom that lacks of historical or social value.

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Varisco on Yemen’s Date Palms


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)