Aden’s incense trade: Where has it gone? [Archives:2002/39/Culture]

September 23 2002

The Adani incense is a traditional handwork with a long-standing history. Whenever Aden comes to your memory, the first thing that you remember would be its incense. There are many different ways to prepare incense, many of which are still used today.
Since a very long time, Yemen was known for the extraction and exportation of incense to the neighboring countries and other countries of the world.
Yemen was known as the incense rout and was called then by Greek globetrotters as the Blessing Land. Trade caravans were headed to several countries of the world. They were passing through deserts to export this valuable incense trade to India, Egypt and Asham countries, (known as Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon).
Incense was widely used by Yemenis, but the question which we need ask ourselves is “what happened to this valuable trade?”
A journey with incense
Historical evidence indicate that the Arabia Felix (Yemen’s ancient name) was famous for extracting incense and exuding gum. Those products were exported to other countries of the world. Incense products used to be carried by camels and boats to the Qani port, an old Yemeni port then. These trade caravans used to head for Najran, and from there they would go to Asham countries and arrive to their final destination in Gaza City in Palestine.
In addition to this, Egyptian trade expeditions were sent to Yemen to bring incense and gum with them to be used on special occasions and religious rituals.
Incense reality today
Nowadays, it has become more and more difficult to get the original incense of Aden. The reason behind that is because different cheap ingredients are now used and mixed in original incense. That is why the incense has lost its originality in comparison with the past. Despite all of that, the original Adani incense still receives high demand and therefore its customers and lovers are still in thousands.
Kinds of incense
There are different kinds of the Adani incense such as regular, troche, and al-Araesi. The latter is the best of quality. Several expensive ingredients are used in the incense preparations.
Historical evidence indicates that the main ingredients used in the incense preparations were extracted from the gum tree.
Ingredients used in the incense preparations are as follows: ambergris, aloes, musk, perfumes, barley sugar, and white-black aloes powder.
Incense ingredients have been mainly dependent on gum trees found between Hadhramout and Aseer.
Imitation incense
Like other popular handicrafts, incense has gained wide popularity. But incense preparation of today is not similar or even close to that of the past.
Om Ahmed, a lady from Aden said, “Fake incense products have been sold cheaply. Those have been prepared by mixing some original incense with other material that results more incense but in low quality. This way, producers would gain more profit, but the reputation of the Aden’s incense would be in stake.”
When we asked the lady if she could tell us how her ‘original’ incense is made, she refused to allow us to her working place and show us how it is done because she said it was a “trade secret”.
Incense market
Incense has been prepared mostly at homes. Rare and expensive ingredients have been used in preparing high quality incense. Only limited amounts of incense products are prepared and made by housewives.
Aden’s incense is demanded and sold many Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and some of it is also exported to the US.
Until today, most incense products are prepared by individuals. But there is no doubt that its quality and demand is in the decline.
What has remained of this trade? Unfortunately nothing but its ‘old’ name and reputation, and low-quality incense sold here and there.