Category Archives: Books on Yemen

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

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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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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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)


Marriage Customs in Yafi‘


The internet is a vast resource for learning about Yemen’s traditions and customs.  For those interested in marriage customs and songs in the southern tribal area of Yafi‘, there are excerpts posted from Dr. ‘Ali Salih al-Khulaqi’s book here.  I attach here Dr. Al-Khulaqi’s introduction, but go to the website for a major excerpt.

تقديم كتاب ( عادات وتقاليد الزواج وأغانيه في يافع) يرجع الاهتمام بدراسة عادات وتقاليد الزواج وغيرها من العادات الاجتماعية, للحرص على رصد ملامحها وتوثيق خصائصها وسماتها في مجتمعنا المتغير, خشية اندثارها نهائياً, خاصة وأنها تتلاشى تدريجياً أمام أعيننا وكثير منها قد اختفى بفعل المتغيرات الحضارية التي تجرف من طريقها مثل هذه العادات والتقاليد. ولا يمكن لكتاب واحد أن يشتمل على رصد وتدوين لكامل العادات والتقاليد والتعابير والأمثال التي سادت في منطقة يافع الغنية بموروثها الفلكلوري الغني, ولهذا رأيت أن أتناول موضوعات محددة بعينها من دوحة التراث الشعبي بغية تعميم الفائدة وتدوين أكبر قدر مما أمكن جمعه من صنوف وألوان هذا التراث. وعلى هذا الطريق بدأت بجمع وشرح أمثال يافع في كتاب أسميته (الشائع من أمثال يافع) صدرت طبعته الأولى عن دار جامعة عدن عام 2000م Continue reading Marriage Customs in Yafi‘

Serjeant’s “Prose and Poetry” now in Arabic


There is now an Arabic edition of R. B. Serjeant’s classic South Arabian Poetry: Prose and Poetry from Hadramawt (1951).

كتاب (نثر وشعر من حضرموت) للمستشرق البريطاني روبرت سارجنت في المكتبة العربية الآن

صدر عن دار ثقافة للنشر والتوزيع كتاب (نثر وشعر من حضرموت) للمستشرق البريطاني روبرت سارجنت، وترجمة الأديب الحضرمي سعيد محمد دحي. الكتاب يُعد أحد أهم ما كُتب عن خصائص المجتمع الحضرمي في النصف الأول من القرن العشرين وعن طريق قراءة عميقة للنثر والشعر العامي الذي تم انتاجه في حضرموت في تلك الفترة.

ويصف المترجم سعيد دحي في مقدمته للكتاب روبرت سارجنت بأنه خير من يمثل الباحثين الأوروبيين الجادين والنشطين والموضوعين الذي درسوا تراث أمتنا العربية ونظمها الثقافية والمعرفية والشعبية والدينية وتلمس شخصية الأمة العربية في إطارها الحضاري المتميز ويهتز طربا لاحتفالاتها ومواسمها الشعبية والأعراس والمناسبات التي يتجلى فيها إبداعها بأبهى مظاهره وصوره وتنوع فنونه من خلال اللهجة العامية والأشعار الشعبية والأغاني والأهازيج والزوامل.

Continue reading Serjeant’s “Prose and Poetry” now in Arabic