Al-Memdara: History of a bygone Yemeni handicraft industry [Archives:2006/982/Last Page]

September 18 2006

Sara Abduallah
Aden Bureau

Al-Memdara region in Aden historically is famed for its pottery industry extracted from the raw and natural soil. It formerly was one of Yemen's protected natural areas where one could find the thorny sesaban tree with small leaves used for kneading the mud to strengthen pottery during the production process.

In the past, Al-Memdara's sesaban and asel trees and peaceful habitat brought various bird species like hoopoe, Jawlaba and cow birds to the area, which afforded them safe breeding locations. However, the area was exposed to damage and increasing arbitrary construction, which didn't consider Al-Memdara's natural characteristics.

The area was named Memdara because of the local madder (pottery) industry, which excelled in the area. The area began with one family, who were the first professionals, then increased to seven families after British authorities wanted to construct an Adeni military communication post 2 km. east of Al-Memdara.

Al-Memdara also expanded in the 1960s when airport housing residents were resettled there via British military vehicles after a large fire damaged many airport residences.

Idrees Hanbla, owner of Hanbla Documenting Center in Aden, interviewed Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Akbor in 1958 at one of Al-Memdara's pottery producing huts. Akbor said he settled in the area 30 years ago and began his craft there.

He explained that area pottery was made from a mixture of mud and sesaban leaves kneaded by foot. The mixture then was shaped using conventional means to make various types of pottery like clay cookware, jars, azear and rushba (used for drinking and saving water) and a pottery oven for baking bread. Such items first were produced as soft materials and then exposed to sunlight until firm. Later placed in special ovens to solidify, becoming light red-colored, the pottery finally was ready to market.

Al-Memdara was an excellent example of a Yemeni area that respected environmental rules, as Akbor carefully abided by British authorities' regulations at that time. Such regulations prohibited any destructive behavior toward standing trees.

However, following independence, several offenders severely damaged the protected area in 1990, attacking all of its trees. No longer was Al-Memdara green and the birds that attracted both eyes and ears migrated elsewhere. All that remains now is the area's name and its recorded history as a home of Yemeni pottery.

According to one Al-Memdara potter, the area's pottery was exhibited at the first and most famous Yemeni fair in Leipzig, Germany before World War II.

Finally, Al-Memdara requires more state attention because it's historically known as the home of one of Yemen's traditional handicrafts. The area's natural environment, once rich with rare plants and birds, also should be cared for. The region needs official authorities and NGOs to protect its natural beauty and teach others its rich local history.