Incense: To Scent or to Exorcize? [Archives:1998/16/Culture]

April 20 1998

Nowadays, incense is widely used in Yemen especially in Hodeida, Sanaa and Taiz. People consider incense as quite important in their lives. They buy it with considerable sums of money from people in Aden and Lahaj who still make and sell incense to all other parts of the country.
In Aden and Lahaj, women perfume their bodies with incense after anointing with Palmolive oil. They also incense their clothes by putting live coals into a censer and letting smoke permeate through the clothes. They do this for 2 or 3 hours and later they take the clothes and spray them with perfume. They wear the scented clothes when they visit friends or attend parties or wedding ceremonies.
Basic Incense
1 kg of sugar
1 bottle of rose water
Bird’s nails
3 bottles of tea spices
2 bottles of “Khair Lana” fragrance
2 bottles of sandalwood fragrance
2 bottles of musk
2 bottles of “Janat Al-Naiem” fragrance
1 bottle of “Luqmani” fragrance
1. Mix the rose water and sugar and heat until sugar is fully dissolved
2. Crush the sandalwood, aloe and birds nails. (birds nails should be soaked in henna and water for 2 days)
3. Pour 1/4 kilo of nails, a little dye, a bit of aloe and ambergris into the rose water and sugar.
4. Mix 3 bottles of tea spices, 2 bottles of “Khair Lana” fragrance, 2 bottles of aloe fragrance, 2 bottles of musk, 2 bottles of “Janat Al-Naiem” fragrance, 1 bottle of “Luqmani” fragrance. Pour 1/2 of these fragrances into a metal bowl. Pour the heated mixture into the bowl and then pour the remainder of the fragrances into the mixture. Leave them to cool and harden, then break the incense into small pieces to be stored.
Uses :
Married women and brides usually perfume their clothes with incense. At wedding ceremonies, incense is used to perfume the bride and guests. It also used in birth celebrations and banquets.
Women in Aden used to buy Lahaj censers, since Lahaj is well known for censers. They also used to import censers from Somalia. There are small and big censers and some with covers in the form of a triangle or a dome.
People in Lahaj used to make “Mushjab,” made with palm leaves to put clothes over to be perfumed. Incensing can be done by putting live coals and incense into a censer under the Mushjab, and then put clothes over the top. Men in Aden and Lahaj perfume their clothes with sandalwood only.
In the northern towns, people did not know about this incense except a few families in Hodeida
Incense for evil eye and envy
It is made of alum, some onions, 7 seeds of red pepper and black cumin. To treat a person who is stricken with an evil eye, people follow these steps:
1. Put live coal into the censer.
2. Hold the above mentioned ingredients by hand.
3. Go around the person stricken with the evil-eye while reading some verses of the holy Quran.
4. Put the above mentioned ingredients into the censer. This should be done for 3 days at sunset. Alum usually takes the shape of a human being. If the evil eye is of a Satan, the alum shows a dreadful face.
Satan-repellent Incense
It is used to expel Satan from houses by incensing with olibanum at sunset and in the morning. Also, “shadab” can be hung down over entrance doors and walls of bedrooms and living rooms.
Water Incense
This kind of incense is made of the “mostaka sultani.” It is used to incense water by putting the “mostaka sultani” with live coal into a special censer. Then, the jar is turned upside down in order to be put into the censer until the live coal goes out and a small amount of water is immediately poured into the jar and covered until water absorbs the smoke. After that, the rest of the water is poured. Carnation and cardamom can be added.
Censers are used in Arabic countries, especially those which are made of copper and metal. Nowadays, electric censers are widely used in Yemen and in the Gulf countries.
Special Incense
It is made of crushed sandalwood, essential oils such as “Khair Lana,” tea spices, and sugar. This recipe is called “Maafasiya” in Aden and Lahaj. People use “maafasiya” to perfume their houses when they receive guests or if there is a party or a wedding ceremony.
Birth Incense
It is made of olibanum, asafetida, myrrh and aloe. After birth, incense is used to perfume the house, especially when visitors come. The newborn child is perfumed with this incense as well as the mother during her postnatal period. People believe that this is useful for them.
By Athena Al-Absi