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)



المدرسة المعتبية في تعز

This word just in.  An AIYS panel proposed for the 2014 MESA annual meeting in Washington, D.C. has been accepted. The panel was organized by AIYS President Varisco and the abstract of the panel is provided below:

Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Endowments, Monuments and Qat

Panel Abstract:
Scholarship on Islamic history has paid less attention to Yemen than to Iraq, Syria or Egypt.  Despite an important corpus of manuscripts and the publication of several significant primary sources, the historical reconstruction of Islamic Yemen lags behind these other regions.  This panel brings together historians who work on various periods in Yemen to illustrate how the current historiography is being made.  Archaeological fieldwork on the Islamic era has been limited with the notable exception of the Royal Ontario Museum project on Zabid.  Based on the excavation of water works in Zabid, one paper compares the material evidence with the description of water engineering schemes in the 16th century Yemeni text History of Zabid by Ibn al-Dayba’, thus showing the importance of archaeology for fleshing out the tantalizing details in written texts.  Another paper focuses on the 10th century multi-volume al-Iklil of the Yemeni savant al-Hamdani, who provides a rhetorical landscape of monuments as an aid in the formation and maintenance of the South Arabian political identity in a fashion akin to modern cultural heritage texts. At the same time, al-Hamdani’s reconstruction of Yemen’s pre-Islamic past serves as a mirror of the politics of his own time, with the retreat of the Abbasid presence and the recent arrival of both Zaydis and Isma’ilis to northern Yemen, more than a century before the Ayyubid invasion.  The Zaydi presence in Yemen’s north since the late ninth century is the focus of a paper on the tax policies of the Zaydi imams, especially the tension between the traditional zakat on production and other kinds of taxes.  This paper discusses both the theological debate about tax collection and recorded information on how taxes were actually collected. Another paper examines the evidence for the introduction of both coffee (Coffea arabica) and qat (Catha edulis) into Yemen, probably during the Rasulid era. Recent research has resolved the issue of the origin of the term “qat” and there is a need to update discussion of the stimulant in previous sources, including the EI.  This paper will examine historical, literary, legal and lexical sources as well as Yemeni folklore.  Overall the panel provides both an indication of current research and an invitation for other scholars to help make Yemen’s history as well.

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