Category Archives: Folklore

Zāmil lives in War-torn Yemen

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Photographic Source: اليمن الجمهوري

by Emily Sumner
Graduate Student in Arabic Literature, Culture & Media
Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
College of Liberal Arts
University of Minnesota

In the celebrated Yemeni novel الرهينة (The Hostage) by Zayd Mutee‘ Dammaj, the protagonist, a hostage of the imam, is greeted by the soldiers living in the governor’s palace with verses of a zāmil:

يا دويدار قد أمك فاقدة لك.

دمعها كالمطر

Oh Duwaydar, your mother misses you

Her tears are like rain[1]

The inclusion of zawāmil in a Yemeni novel is indicative of their place in Yemeni life. Zawāmil accompany Yemen’s poignant historical moments, such as the fall of the imamate and establishment of the Republic. They are a lively component of Yemen’s cultural heritage, shedding light on its people’s social, political and literary history.

The footnote to the above zāmil in The Hostage defines it as a “traditional communal chant,”  نشيد جماعي تقليدي. A reductionist definition, yet it does get at the heart of what scholars have consistently said about this poetic genre: it expresses communal feeling and is performed by a group in response to a social occasion. In the case of The Hostage, the arrival of the Duwaydar prompts the zāmil; other moments that may inspire Yemenis to perform zawāmil are as divergent as the joy of weddings and the trials of war.

In his book Folk Literature Arts in Yemen (1988), ‘Abd Allāh al-Baraddūnī suggests that the zawāmil were dwindling at that time for a variety of reasons, chief among them the advent of modern weapons, which he claims stifle the zāmil’s pervasive sounds and rhythm. He contrasts the days when lines of men marched to battle while chanting a zāmil, their voices echoing in the air and overtaking their surroundings, with soldiers’ voices contained within moving cars. He concludes by asserting the zāmil is being reduced to “merely moral incitement, or the extension of a declining practice.”[2]

Yet the proliferation of zawāmil during the current war indicates their continued salience in Yemeni life and the ways in which Yemenis adapt cultural forms to suit novel circumstances. Al-Baradduni is not wrong—the zāmil is “moral incitement,” but perhaps the term “merely” is misplaced. The various sides of the current armed conflict, whether Houthis, pro-government forces, or supporters of the Coalition, compose zawāmil that are available not only to Yemenis but to a much wider audience on social media. The zāmil reverberates within Yemen and beyond its borders.

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By way of example, below is one popular Houthi zāmil retrieved from YouTube, along with my translation:

أداء: عيسى الليث

كلمات: محمد الجرف

وقت النقا حان ويل المعتدي ويله 1.     إستنفري ياجيوش الله في مأرب
والجن والإنس والأملاك تصغي له 2.     جنود ربي حماة الدار تتأهب
وبندقي في الخصم يدي مواويله 3.     الله أكبر صداها في الحشا يلهب
يابندقي لاهنت سامرني الليله 4.     صنعاء بعيده قولوا له الرياض أقرب
كلاً حزم عدته واسرج على خيله 5.     القوم شبت نكفها للقاء ترغب
حتى ولو في بطون الأرض نأتي له 6.     قولوا لسلمان ماله مننا مهرب
المعتدي يالغبي يبشر بتنكيله[3] 7.     هذا اليمن من تجاهلنا فقد جرب

 

Vocals: ‘Isa al-Laith

Words: Mohamad al-Jaraf

  1. Get ready for war, armies of Allah in Ma’rib!

The time for honesty has come. Woe to the aggressor, woe to him!

  1. My Lord’s soldiers, the protectors of the land, are getting ready.

The jinn, humans and angels all heed Him.

  1. “Allah is great!” Its echo blazes inside [of them].

My rifle in the conflict performs its songs.

  1. Sanʿaʾ is far away, tell him Riyadh is closer!

Oh my rifle  – may God protect you from humiliation – keep me     company tonight.

  1. The people’s disdain blazes and they crave an encounter.

Everyone has fastened their weapon and saddled their horse.

  1. Tell Salman he will never escape us!

Even in the bowels of the Earth we will get to him.

  1. This is Yemen! Whoever ignored us has learned his lesson!

The aggressor – that idiot – heralds his own destruction!

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[1] p. 18, translation my own.

[2] p. 147.

[3] Al-Laith, ʿĪsā, “Zāmil Ṣanʿāʾ baīdah qūlū lahu ar-Riyāḍ aqrab.” YouTube video, 5:36, posted by

Shamūkh Yamānī, December 31, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tRFJdzQwZw. Accessed February 23, 2020.

الإعلان عن إطلاق موقع يمن ابديت اون لين

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الإعلان عن إطلاق موقع  يمن ابديت اون لين

ينشر موقع يمن ابديت اون لاين البحوث والدراسات اليمنية بما في ذلك المقالات المهنية بلغتين العربية والانجليزي و مراجعات الكتب والتقارير التي يصدرها باحثو وزملاء المعهد الأمريكي للدراسات اليمنية. تتم الإضافات والتحديثات على مدار العام بعد تقديمها والموافقة على نشرها من قبل المحررين. وان كانت المقالات اقل من الف كلمة فسيتم نشرها كنص في الإنترنت. بينما يتم نشر المقالات والموضوعات الأطول بصيغة بي. دي. أف لأمكانية نسخها من الموقع. ويتخذ المحررون قرار الموافقة على نشرها. ان رغبتم في تقديم صور او رسومات يجب ان تكونوا اصحاب الحق في نشرها اولديكم اذناً بذل. أما بقية حقوق الطبع فهي للكاتب. التفاصيل على الموقع

Announcing Yemen Update Online

Yemen Update Online publishes research in English and Arabic in any field of Yemen Studies. This includes professional articles of any length, book reviews and AIYS fellowship reports. Items will be added throughout the calendar year as they are submitted and approved by the editors. If the article is less than 1,000 words it will be published as text online, but longer articles will be published as pdfs to be downloaded from the site. Decisions on publication are made by the editors. If you are submitting photographs or drawings, make sure that you have permission to do so.  All rights remain with the author. For details, check out the website.

Lecture on Rasulid map

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On Monday, October 21, AIYS President Dan Varisco gave a talk at the School for Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on the maps in the early 8th/14th century Rasulid tax document entitled Irtifā‘ al-dawla al-Mu’ayyadiyya. The talk was introduced by Dr. Sabine Schmidtke of IAS and in attendance were guests Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum, Amb. Amatalalim Alsoswa and Prof. Peter Golden of Rutgers University, as well as members of the School for Historical Studies.

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left to right: Dr. Sabine Schmidtke, Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum and Amb. Amatalalim Alsoswa

Al-Gabali Book Signing at YCSR

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Dr Salwa Dammaj, Dr Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh, Ahmed al-Gabali, Abdulbari Taher, left to right.

A cultural event was organized and held at the Yemen Center for Studies and Researches (YCSR) in Sanaa on Wednesday 17 July 2019 to celebrate the publication of Qāmūs al-‘urf al-qabīlī fī al-Yaman [The Lexicon of Tribal Norms in Yemen]. The author is Ahmed al-Gabali, the Head of the Sociology Department at the Center. The book was published by AIYS as part of a recent series to publish annually a book on Yemen’s cultural heritage in Yemen by a Yemeni author. It was really a wonderful moment to celebrate a publication of an important cultural work at this extremely gloomy time.

An elite group of senior Yemeni researchers and authors attended and contributed to the event including Yemen’s great poet Dr Abdulaziz al-Maqaleh, President of the YCSR. The event commenced with brief speech by the author and researcher Mohammed al-Shaybani in which he welcomed the audience. Then, the sponsor of the function Dr Abdulaziz delivered his opening remarks in which he voiced thanks and appreciation for the author, Ahmed al-Gabali, for his great efforts and hard work to get the lexicon accomplished. Dr al-Maqaleh also expressed thanks for AIYS for contributing toward printing the lexicon and getting it published.

Hear Dr. Maqaleh’s remarks

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After that the Resident Director of AIYS, Dr Salwa Dammaj, delivered a speech, expressing thanks for the audience and  deeply appreciating the attendance of Dr Al-Maqaleh and his extraordinary role and contribution to the Yemeni culture and literature. She said:

“It is very difficult for me, who grew up on al-Maqaleh’s poetry and his prominent humanitarian and cultural active role in the Yemeni national arena, to talk about him. I’m like my generation and several Yemeni generations who have been influenced by Dr al-Maqaleh’s literature. We are grateful for this great man who devoted his life to develop Yemeni culture, establish cultural institutions and encourage young authors and support them. His extraordinary poetical works and pioneering role will remain an outstanding landmark in the modern history of Yemeni culture and literature.

The rich Yemeni culture with its unique diversity expressively denotes the deep and great civilized heritage of our people and country. Today we are here to celebrate a noteworthy and valuable book aimed to shed light on a significant side of our cultural heritage and illustrate some of its components. I am referring to the issue of tribal norms in Yemen. Perhaps, it should be quite difficult today to talk about the Yemeni culture and its uniqueness, while Yemen has been enduring the current dilemma, suffering from misery and a humanitarian crisis. But, the opposite is true; culture is the key factor that can help over some of the country’s misery and it is a prerequisite to cope with political challenges and short-sighted visions, as we move forward to a better future.”

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Afterwards the much-respected researcher and political activist, Abdulbari Taher, made a significant comment on the importance of the ‘Lexicon’, describing the book as a pioneering work which will fill an important gap in the Yemeni literature and library. The chief researcher at the (CYSR). Qadiri Ahmed Haider, delivered a speech on behalf of the author’s friends; he highly praised the tireless efforts and hard work made by Mr al-Gabali over the years to see the Lexicon accomplished. “It is a remarkable and pioneering work, self-driven and plausible adventure that al-Jabili deserves to be congratulated for”, noted Haider.

Finally, the author expressed his pleasure for having his Lexicon published, voicing deep thanks and appreciation for AIYS for printing his book and getting it published. Mr al-Gabali talked about his work on the book over the years, describing his research methodology that involved him in field survey in different Yemeni regions to collect and verify the tribal norms and vocabularies of the Lexicon. He reiterated his thanks for Dr Al-Maqaleh’s support and encouragement. By the end of the session, Mr al-Gabali signed copies of the book, launching the distribution of copies of the Lexicon in three volumes.

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AIYS is please to announce that the annual book award will be named the “Abdulaziz al-Maqaleh Book Award for Yemen’s Cultural Heritage” in honor of Dr. Maqaleh’s contributions to Yemen’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Dr.Salwa A. Dammaj

Yemeni Musical and Linguistic Heritage for UNESCO

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A three-day international cultural seminar on the Ḥaḍramī musical genre of Dān was held in Cairo on July 5-6, 2019. The Yemeni Minister of Culture Marwan Dammaj contributed to the discussions intended to start necessary preparations for nominating Ḥaḍramī Dān music for inclusion in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Ḥaḍramī Dān is a genre of folk singing that is very popular in the governorate of Ḥaḍramawt, as well as other parts of Yemen and Indonesia. In one session, the Director of the Culture Office in Ḥaḍramawt, Ahmed bin Dowis, provided a presentation of Ḥaḍramī Dān. He described it as a component of Ḥaḍramī cultural identity, involved in praising, disparaging, description and wisdom. Popular bands of Ḥaḍramī Dān can be found in Tarim, Say’ūn , Daw‘ān and Shibām. For examples of Yemeni Dān, click here and here.

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Dictionary on Tribal Customary law in Yemen

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Culminating its support for Yemen’s cultural heritage, AIYS has recently printed and published Qāmūs al-‘urf al-qabīlī fī al-Yaman (Dictionary of Tribal Customary Law in Yemen) in three volumes. This is a remarkable work aimed to fill a gap in the Yemeni literature. The author is Ahmed al-Gabali, a senior researcher at the Yemeni Center for Studies and Research.

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Ahmad Gabali with Dr. Salwa Dammaj in the AIYS office

This dictionary is the first of its kind in the Yemeni literature. It is designed to gather, document and explain terms and idioms regarding tribal norms and rules in different regions of Yemen from north to south and from east to west. The author conducted a nationwide field survey in the most famous tribal regions in Yemen. Study of the available literature provided a key resource for the content. This was based on original tribal documents, works by Yemeni authors, as well as studies by foreign researchers. In addition, geographical and historical literature was consulted as a reference to support the work. Local folk poetry in several Yemeni regions also proved valuable help for explaining the terms and concepts. Generally speaking, the content of the dictionary is based on reliable and credible sources and authentic references. It will serve as a main reference for researchers in the future.

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The author Aḥmad Ṣāliḥ al-Gabalī has been a sociology and anthropology researcher at the Yemen Center forStudies and Research since 2004. He received an M.A. degree in Bulgaria in 1988. His previous publications include studies of the terms hajar and jawār in ancient Yemen as well as the Contract of Medina written during the lifetime of the Prophet. He began research for this book on Yemeni tribes in 2006.

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Ḥaḍramī historian ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Mallāḥī

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One of the most important recent historians of the Ḥaḍramawt is ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Mallāḥī (1936-2014). An article on his life work can be found on al-‘Arabī. Among his publications are the following:

1- كتاب بادية المشقاص .

2- الحضارم في مومباسا ودار السلام (عن الهوية الحضرمية)

3- ملامح من التداخل المعرفي بين ربابنة حضرموت وعمان .

4- تقويم باكريت النجمي (عن الفلك) .

5- البلدة بين المفهوم الفلكي والمفهوم الشعبي .

6- روزنامات الربان بامعيبد .

7- الوجيز في تاريخ الشحر .