Category Archives: Travel

Is there a “Middle Arabic”?

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Map of Aden in Ibn al-Mujāwir’s text

There is an important new article on so-called “Middle Arabic” from historian Rex Smith and Alex Bellem in the Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 44 (2014): 9–18. Below are the title and summary.

‘Middle Arabic’? Morpho-syntactic features of clashing grammars in a thirteenth-century Arabian text

by Alex Bellem & G. Rex Smith

Summary
There is a body of texts in Arabic the language of which has traditionally been called ‘Middle Arabic’ (MA). The term persists,
although often taken to relate to chronological and historical ‘middleness’ rather than linguistic intermediacy. One perhaps less well-known text composed in this style is Ibn al-Mujāwir’s thirteenth-century Tārīkh al-Mustabṣir.  As is typical of so-called ‘MA’ texts, Classical Arabic (CA) appears to dominate the style, with many non-CA features mixed into the CA base. Often, the non-CA features are essentially typical of Spoken Arabic (SA), so that the language is generally said to be a mix of CA and SA. There are, however, many non-CA features of Tārīkh al-Mustabṣir that do not conform entirely to either CA or SA, yet their use is not unsystematic. For these reasons we reject the term ‘MA’ in favour of ‘Literary Mixed Arabic’ (LMA).

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Yemeni Muslims in Addis Adaba

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Anwar Mosque, Addis Adaba

Sophia Pandya has published an article entitled “Yemenis and Muwalladīn in Addis Ababa: Blood Purity and the
Opportunities of Hybridity” in the Journal of Arabian Studies: Arabia, the Gulf, and the Red Sea.  Below is the abstract.

Abstract:
This is an analysis of the Yemeni Muslim community living in diaspora in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, through the ethnographic lens of the politics of religious and ethnic identity, with a particular focus on transnational and multiracial hybridity, and gender. Living in diaspora has created pressure both to identify as ‘Yemeni’ and to assimilate into Ethiopian society. Ethiopians and Yemenis in Ethiopia have discriminated against those considered not to be maintaining ‘pure’ ethnic or religious boundaries. The muwalladīn, in particular, experience degrees of discrimination in the Yemeni community, due to perceptions that they are not ‘pure-blooded Yemenis’ or that they are simply inferior because they are black. Does this hybridity also create a space in which exclusionary definitions of culture and religion can be rejected? This study examines the factors working for and against assimilation for the Yemeni (chiefly Ḥaḍramī) and muwallad community in Addis Ababa, and the social opportunities and implications of their migration (or that of their ancestors), considering socio-religious class distinctions, political and economic contexts, and gender. It explores the ways in which they have established themselves, reimagined community, and redefined their identities.

Wavell in Yemen: #2

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[Illustration, Guests in Turkey, from John Clark Ridpath, Ridpath’s History of the World (Cincinnati: The Jones Brothers Publishing Company, 1899), vol IV.]

[Note: Arthur John Byng Wavell (1882-1916) was a British soldier and adventurer who traveled in disguise to Mecca in 1908 and went on to Yemen in 1911 to witness fighting between the Zaydi imam’s troops and the Ottoman Turks. This account was originally published in 1912. For Part One of this series, click here.]

The hour was late and the smoking room almost deserted when the conversation about to be reported took place. My companion the Pasha was a tall, heavy man, on whose sunburned and lined countenance a long life in the open air and many hard-fought campaigns in tropical countries had left their traces. He had been a field marshal once, but that was in the days of Abdul Hamid, when as some one said after the American civil war, “you could not spit out the window without hitting a major-general.” It was to this latter rank that the reshuffle which followed hard on the constitution had reduced him…

The Pasha regarded me with some curiosity.

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Wavell in Yemen: #1

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Market in Lahj

[Note: Arthur John Byng Wavell (1882-1916) was a British soldier and adventurer who traveled in disguise to Mecca in 1908 and went on to Yemen in 1911 to witness fighting between the Zaydi imam’s troops and the Ottoman Turks. This account was originally published in 1912.]

The events in that country [Yemen] are worthy of a chapter in the history of these prosaic days. The counter-currents of human interest and activity that run up and down the Red Sea, linking the civilizations of the East and West, leave undisturbed this backwater. Western Europe knows little and cares less about what goes on there.

Yet for the last twenty years, while the Turks and Arabs have been struggling for the mastery, the history of the Yemen has been one of fire and sword. It is a record of battles and sieges, places taken by storm and garrisons starved into surrender; of savage massacres and fierce reprisals. Generals have made and lost great military reputations there. The campaign of 1911, with which this book deals, probably cost nearly as many lives as did the Boer War. Nor is this conflict over; it will be renewed and fought out to the end, for both sides mean to win.

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Manzoni’s Travel Book in Arabic

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One of the classic late 19th century travel books on Yemen was by the Italian Renzo Manzoni.  In addition to an informative account of his trip to Sanaa, the illustrations are fantastic.  The original Italian version, El Yèmen: Tre Anni nell’ Arabia Felice, was published in 1884 and is available as a pdf online at archive.org. Recently the Social Fund for Development has sponsored an Arabic version, also available for free in pdf online.

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Osgood on Mocha

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[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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Thesiger of Arabia: #1

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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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