The most important historical port on Yemen’s Red Sea coast is no doubt the old port of Mocha, which gained fame in the West for its association with the Yemen coffee trade. In her book, The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port, Nancy Um provides a fascinating social history of the trade through this seaport during the Ottoman period. Here is how the book is described on the publisher’s website.
Gaining prominence as a seaport under the Ottomans in the mid-1500s, the city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen pulsed with maritime commerce. Its very name became synonymous with Yemen’s most important revenue-producing crop – coffee. After the imams of the Qasimi dynasty ousted the Ottomans in 1635, Mocha’s trade turned eastward toward the Indian Ocean and coastal India. Merchants and shipowners from Asian, African, and European shores flocked to the city to trade in Arabian coffee and aromatics, Indian textiles, Asian spices, and silver from the New World.
Continue reading Merchant houses of Mocha
[Joseph Osgood was a Black American sailor who visited the Yemeni port of Aden about a dozen years before the start of the American Civil War. He offers a rich, descriptive account, including information on the coffee cargo that may have brought his ship to this Red Sea port in the first place. The following is his rendition of a popular origin tale for the popular brew.]
Any communicative Arab will tell the following story about the early history of Mocha, with more or less modification.
A little over two centuries ago, there dwelt near the beach, enclosed by two sandspits forming the harbor, a worthy fisherman, whose learning, wisdom, and pious observance of all the tenets of the Moslem faith, had collected around his humble hut the dwellings of a band of devoted pupils to be instructed in the religion of their great Arabian legislator and prophet. One day a ship from India, and bound to Jiddah, was driven by adverse winds into the cove, and, while there detained, the crew visited the settlement near the beach, and were entertained by the holy Sheik, who regaled them with coffee, a beverage till then unknown to his guests. The Sheik, learning that the captain was ill on board his vessel, extolled the sanative virtues of coffee, and sent some as a present to the captain, by the returning crew. The prescribed medicine was taken, the captain recovered his health, visited the shore, made confidence with the people, bartered his cargo for coffee and sailed for home, where the worth of the rare and newly discovered product was quickly acknowledged, and successive voyages soon established a lucrative commerce, and thus founded and gave a world wide repute to the city of Mocha and many of the neighboring inland towns. The holy Sheik’s reputation was continued to him among his people till his death, when a costly mosque was erected as a memorial of his virtues, on the site of his fisher’s hut. In so high veneration was this edifice held by the Mocha Arabs, that when the Bedoween Arabs seized Mocha they destroyed the building, jealous that Sheik Shathalee was more reverenced than Allah. It was afterwards rebuilt and remains at the present day, inside the walls of the city. A well and one of the gates of the city also bear the name of this patron saint…
Continue reading Osgood on Mocha
Drawing of a Yemeni primula plant by Hugo Haig-Thomas
Hugo Haig-Thomas–A Biography of a Special Artist
Painter and Diplomat of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. of Great Britain
By John Gilbert Bodenstein,
President of The European Art Foundation
It is a pleasure to read the biography of Hugo Haig-Thomas, a special artist of our time. Some artists combine their creative activity with a normal career. In Germany Johann Wolfgang Goethe, for example, produced some of his literary works whilst holding an appointment which occupied him during the day. In France the German writer Rainer Maria Rilke was secretary to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. And the famous European author Ernst Juenger was an officer in both World Wars.
Haig-Thomas likewise was for a number of years a member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, but throughout his service he continued to paint and draw.
Continue reading Drawing Yemeni Flora
There is a trove of Yemeni music on Youtube. Here is a classic by the south Yemeni artist Ahmad al-Sinaydar, singing – حبوب حبوب لاتغضب. Enjoy.
Facebook has a webpage for the al-Kaff family of the Hadramawt. One of the major historical libraries in Yemen is the al-Aḥqāf Library in Tarīm. An index to this library is now available, as noted on the al-Kaff website. I have not yet found an online index, although there is a listing of Arabic language and grammar texts there.
This continues a thread on Wilfred Thesiger, who crossed the Empty Quarter in 1947-48. These are images from the museum in al-‘Ayn.
Mahra boy (1948)
Sa’ar tent (1947-48)
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:
Sa’ar at Minwakh, Hadramawt, drawing water (1947)
Continue reading Thesiger of Arabia: #1
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:
Continue reading Flipping through Yemen a Millennium Ago
Mukalla has been in the news recently for its security issues, but anyone who has been along the coast near Mukalla knows how beautiful this part of Yemen is. Here is a recent short film on “Mukalla … Amazing Moments.”
This is a beautiful Tihama melody performed by ‘Abud Zayn on Youtube . Information on the song, poet and performer can be found on the Facebook site of مدونة جمال السيد
Here are the words: