Al-Ma’sarah of OldSana’a challenge time [Archives:2006/937/Last Page]

April 13 2006
Camels are still used in the traditional oil press in Sanaa.
Camels are still used in the traditional oil press in Sanaa.
By: Saddam Al-Ashmori
“I inherited this press from my father and he also inherited it from his father. It has been a bequest of our family for more than 400 years. I have worked on it since I was a child and it is all the wealth I have,” oil press (ma'sarah) owner Nabil Abdullah Masoud recalled.

“I prefer no work other than my press. I feel happy when I press oil and sell it to people for their different uses. I feel that I'm providing a useful service. Now I teach my children this job because they will work on this press when I grow old. I will tell them to teach it to their sons because I consider it our legacy,” he added.

The press

Made of a special type of a stone called Al-Habash, the press rises vertically on a three-meter high platform and is carved in the middle to form a container. A 25-centimeter diameter circular piece of wood is placed in the middle and tied to another stone in the form of a wheel, which is suspended to give the wood extra pressing force. The wheel is tied to another piece of wood which in turn is tied to the camel that walks around the press, thereby also rotating the wheel.

There are seven oil presses in Sana'a pressing oil used for cooking. They also press mustard oil used for treating the bodies of those with rheumatism and joint inflammation. As for the oil pressing procedure, Masoud explained, saying, “We place the seeds we want to extract oil from into the press. We mix it with little water to moisten them. Then we make the camel move around the press pulling the wheel, which presses the wood inside the press. The wood rotates with the wheel crushing the seeds. The oil then trickles through a small opening at the bottom of the container. We then purify and sell this oil.”

Growing sesame and mustard

Sesame is grown in Tihama valleys, whereas mustard is grown in village areas like Jahran and Al-Bon. Farmers reap it and sell it to press owners or it is found in grain markets spread throughout the governorates.

Asked about modern presses and the ease and speed of their production, Masoud replied, “I wish I could own a modern press, but I can't afford it. There are other types of oil similar to what we press, but people prefer buying ours.”

Oil customer Ahmed Al-Kukabani, said, “We have used this oil since old times and prefer it to other oils because it is pressed in front of our eyes. We consider it natural medicine.” He added, “It is found in every house in old Sana'a.”

Even those living outside Sana'a can't do without it. Maryam Al-Matari, who lives in Bani Matar district outside Sana'a, buys oil from the press. When asked about the oil, she replied, “I come here every two weeks to buy oil because we cannot do without it.” She added, “The oil is used as an ointment for newborn children and for rheumatism. It is sometimes mixed with herbs and used as natural medicine.”