Al-Akhdam in Yemen, experts in folk dancing and free business [Archives:2003/669/Culture]

September 18 2003

Mahyoub Al-Kamaly
In Yemen, there is a minority of people with dark complexion called al-Akhdam. Historically speaking, their presence in Yemen has been a result of the Ethiopian pre- Islam invasion in 525 BC. Settling down in Yemen and throughout the years have adapted a life style in which they practice many trades especially folklore dancing, handicrafts, cleaning and some other free trades. Unofficial statistics show that the population of this minority reaches 500,000 inhabitants living in Sana'a, Shabowa, Lahj, Abyan, Aden and al-Hudaida.
Salem Hamid, of al-Akhadam living in Sana'a expressed that the political, economic and cultural circumstances surrounding them have forced them into practicing low-grade trades in the society. A fact that has put them in the lowest level in the social scale, and forced them into living in such modest houses where the very basic facilities are not available. Hamid narrated their life style when he said: “the UN development program in cooperation with the government is working on integrating our minority with the society, in spite of this, al-Akhdam still live in the very poor areas except for a few in the suburbs who have a relatively better life. The Akhdam in the suburbs enjoy a better economic life because they do the folklore dances in weddings from which they earn an income.”
In the rural areas, al-Akhdam's revenue from every wedding reaches from 50-70 US$, as a reward for their musical performances, however they complain from the harassment that al-Akhdam females suffer by the local men who find weddings an opportunity to do so with pretty dancers or singers.
Demographic distribution of al-Akhdam in the suburbs is defined according to the tribes. For every tribe has its own Akhdam group of men and women. This group knows its limits and can not cross the red lines between them and the tribe they are living with.
In the cities this trend is almost extinct because in most weddings al-Akhdam's artistic services have been substituted with that of the locals, by this depriving the Akhdam of one source of income.
Recently, al-Akhdams have started to become relatively politically active, and in the democratic environment and multi-party system, they have decided to form a political party of their own calling it “Free Blacks Society” whose sole intention is to defend their rights and demand their needs to be fulfilled enhancing by that their living.
In the cities, the most common trade for al-Akhdam is working in cleaning and sweeping the streets, from which they receive a monthly salary not exceeding 85$. Others work as cobblers, and selling pare parts.
However, with the state's and NGO's efforts, many of this minority started joining schools and even universities, encouraged to do so by the republic's legislation which do not contain any laws of discrimination.
It is noticed also that lately their numbers has increased in spite of the isolated circumstances they are living in and the humiliation they keep on receiving from the others. It is feared that their circumstances becomes worse as a consequence to the increase in population and deterioration in economy.