Ideological Patrimony [Archives:2001/20/Culture]

May 14 2001

The Yemeni society has undergone decades of ignorance and backwardness owing to illiteracy. This fact has made many Yemenis explain and interpret many accidents and phenomena by attributing them to supernatural powers. Their realization of a possible relation between these supernatural powers and some pious people make them regard the latter as potentially capable of fulfilling different purposes and needs.
Shrines and graves of saints and pious people have become hearthstones for many people in Abyan, Luhj, Zabid, etc., who believe in the ability of these dead people to render services such as recovery, protection, etc. On certain days, each year people flock to such shrines carrying a lot of offerings as communions. Some bring pieces of cloths and others distribute money and food to the poor. During the annual visit and camping of people near the shrines many activities are organized. These include lectures, religious songs, etc.
In some areas, on the last night a special kind of dance known as ‘Jadhbat Al-Wali’ (The Saint’s Hysterical Dance) is performed. Dried sticks are gathered and burned until they turn into embers. Then a group of 4-5 half-naked and bare-footed people, holding Jinbias, start dancing on the embers. As the drum beats get louder and louder, dancers hysterically and maniacally begin stabbing their bodies, cut their tongues, etc., amidst the audience’s amazement. This dance lasts for almost an hour. I asked one of the dancers why they didn’t bleed while or after hurting themselves. He calmly replied that they stab themselves after they receive a signal from the dead ‘Wali’ who protects their bodies. If a dancer bleeds this means that he is not pure and that the Wali is not satisfied with him.
On the last day of the gathering, the attendants cover the shrine with a very precious silky cloth. They walk to the shrine carrying the cloth on a wooden board. This cloth is always green on which some verses from the Holy Quran are written.
In other areas, especially in the Tihamah, it has become a must for couples to visit the shrine of the dead holy man before marriage to ensure a smooth and happy life. Problems developing between couples are often attributed to not getting the blessings of the Wali.
A big segment of people in Zabid believe that the Wali, Ben Ojail, is still the protector and defender of the area. When the Imam Yahia Hamidaddin tried to conquer Bait Al-Faqih, the servant of the Shrine of Ben Ojail put guns and ammunition on the shrine and announced that the Wali was calling for resistance to the Imam. People fiercely countered the Imam who later destroyed the upper part of the shrine. The shrine was renovated later when the revolution ended.
It is to be stressed that such activities are not approved by Islam. There are many devout people who are blessed by God, but these can not bless others.