AIYS at MESA 2014: Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within

[P3658] Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within

MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Sunday, 11/23/14 11:00am

•    Chair:  Dr. Najwa Adra
•    Poetry and Tribalism in Yemen by Dr. Mohammed Sharafuddin
•    The Future Political Role of Yemeni Tribal Sheikhs in Light of the Expected Outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Adil Mujahid Al Sharjabi
•    The True Role of the Tribe in the Arab Political Scene: The Case of Yemen by Dr. Fuad Al-Salahi
•    Tribalism in the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Abdul Karim S. Al-Aug
•    Discussant:  Dr. Charles Schmitz


An estimated 80% of Yemen’s population is rural, and a large majority of this population self-identifies as tribal. Further, many recent urban migrants, as well as some influential political leaders and wealthy business magnates also self-identify as tribal. Tribal participation in peace building efforts and entrepreneurial economic activity indicate that tribes in Yemen are not peripheral to political, social and economic processes, nor are they homogeneous. In this panel Yemeni scholars present their research on the place of tribes and tribalism in Yemeni society today.

The wealth of literature in Arabic on Yemeni tribes, dating back at least to al-Hamdani’s work in the 9th Century, has not been easily available outside of Yemen. This panel introduces the nuanced and varied views of four Yemeni social scientists on tribalism in Yemen today. The first paper situates Yemeni tribes through their poetry, the preferred tribal medium of self-representation. It argues that a lack of communication between Yemen’s tribes and the outside world has led to misunderstanding and misrepresentation of tribalism. The second paper analyses the political roles of tribal leaders during the previous regime of past-President Ali Abdallah Salih and during the current transition period. It examines the potential impacts of political change on the power of tribal leaders. The third paper begins with the observation that tribalism in Yemen is neither homogeneous nor stagnant. It analyzes tribal participation in Yemen’s Spring Revolutionary process and explores recent changes within tribal society that both encourage and abet political participation. The fourth paper brings together the issues discussed so far and explores the potential significance of recent tribal participation in politics to the shape of Yemeni political processes: do they indicate a democratization of Yemeni politics or a “tribalization” of democratic process?

A Jewel of a Book by Marjorie Ransom


AIYS member and long-time supporter Marjorie Ransom has just published her beautifully illustrated and diligently researched book on Yemeni silverwork.  This is a must for anyone interested in Yemeni culture.  It can be purchased from AUC Press or Amazon.  Get your copy today…

The photographs are exquisite as the sample here shows.


Here is the description of the book by the publisher:

Continue reading A Jewel of a Book by Marjorie Ransom

Bless the bees


A report in al-Masdar Online notes that Yemen has officially exported 50,000 tons of honey in the past year, in addition to other ways in which it has been distributed.  There may be as many as 100,000 beekeepers producing honey in an estimated 1.28 million hives.  Honey has long been an important product in Yemen.  The Rasulid almanac of al-Malik al-Ashraf ‘Umar mentioned several varieties of honey based on the main flowering plants of the season.  One of the most famous areas for honey in Yemen is Wadi Daw‘an.  One of the best articles on beekeeping in Yemen is by Giovanni Canova, originally published in 2001 in Yemen Update and online here.

Mud Brick Architecture in Hadramawt


العمارة الطينية .. تراث أصيل عُرف به الحضارم
( صور + تفاصيل )

هنا حضرموت / تصوير / علي بامطرف
الجمعة 20 يونيو

فن العمارة في وادي حضرموت الذي تميز به منذ الازل ولازال الى يومنا هذا يحرص المواطنين على المضي على نمطهم في العمران الذي تميزوا به وميزوا وديانهم المتعددة التي تبنى منازلها أيضا من الطين .. فكيف يتم البناء بالطين .. يبدأ هذا من نقطة البداية الا وهو اختيار نوعية التربة فالطين يجب ان يكون من النوع النقي من كل شائبة بمعنى أوضح ( الصلصال) ,, يجمع الطين في كومه كبيرة يعمل في وسطها حفرة واسعة ويصب فيها الماء ويرش عليه التبن .. ويدخلها الرجال الأشداء فيدوسون التراب بأقدامهم ويخلطونه بأيديهم وتسمى هذه العملية ( المقلب ) أي يقلب الطين مع بعضه بواسطة الماء والتبن ( والتبن هو الحشائيش البيضاء القاسيه ) من أعواد القمح ) . بعد ذلك تتناقله الأيدي ليوضع على خشبه معدة لذلك تسمى ( الرعــه ) وهي عبارة عن خشبه ذات أربع زوائـــد أفقية تضع عليها الطين المقلوب ويحملها اثنان من الرجال وتبدأ المرحلة الثانية بحيث يستلم الطين عمال آخرون بأيديهم مربعات خشبية توضع وسطها الطين وتسمى ( المفتــل ) وهو عبارة عن خشبة ذات فتحتين يصب فيها الطين بشكل قوالب وعلى هذا النمط يضع تحت أشعة الشمس الحارقة ليتم تجفيفه وينقل بعد ذلك .. ويسمى ( المـــدر) .
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Going Qatless in Britain

qatbanThe Yemeni press is reporting the news that Britain has banned the growing, distribution, selling or buying of qat in Britain. The penalty is said to be up to 14 years in prison.  Actually, the ban had been planned with much criticism in 2013 . To me this sounds like a bizarre ruling, since fresh qat leaves are certainly not a dangerous drug.  There is an obvious ban on any derivative drug that can be extracted from the qat plant, but this is an attempt to regulate social behavior with criminal consequences.  I know of no evidence that qat induces violent behavior and it is certainly not a mind-altering drug like heroin.

An article in The Guardian, however, tells a more nuanced story.

Police have been officially advised to use their discretion in deciding how to enforce the ban that comes into force on Tuesday on qat, a mild herbal stimulant, that has been widely used in Britain’s Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities.

Official guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers tells constables that in applying a “three strikes” enforcement policy they should take into account that qat has “historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture of certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa.”

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Merchant houses of Mocha


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 PortNancy 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.

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Osgood on 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…

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