Inside a Yemeni m’ewaz workshop in Sana’a [Archives:2006/909/Last Page]

January 5 2006

Attif Awad
In a small workshop near Hjar mosque, small primitive tools resemble those in huge electric textile factories, but the difference is that these tools are manual. A worker stands in front of the tools, working with his hands in a very simple manner spinning threads.

Abdu Ali Mohamed, owner of this workshop, inherited the job from his father. He pointed to m'ewazs, which is a rectangular piece of decorated cloth worn around men's waist like a wraparound, hanging on the workshop walls, saying he gained his fame through those types. He said the variegations and speckles in his m'ewazs attract people from all over Yemen.

Distinguishing characteristics

What distinguishes Manawa m'ewazs from other Yemeni dress, especially the lower piece which characterizes Yemenis from among all other Arabs?

The 40-year-old owner replied that there are many varieties of Yemeni dress, of which Ma'awaz is one, as well as Al-Maqtab and Al-Musanaf. “My tools can produce Al-Maqtab, however they cannot produce Al-Musanaf. Al-Musanaf requires different tools.”

When asked what distinguishes the Ma'awaz from the Al-Maqtab, he said the difference is that Al-Maqtab uses a thick speckled thread and the design is vivid and brilliant. Threads should be brilliant all over the Al-Maqtab body, whereas Ma'awaz threads should be tiny, thin and smooth.

Types and clients

Mohamed said all classes, including workers and the poor, buy his m'ewazs. Some clients buy them for 3,000 riyals or less, while others ask for ones costing 10-12,000 riyals.

When asked how his m'ewazs differ from those of the others and why the price difference, he said it depends on the type of threads from which the m'ewaz is made, noting that Japanese threads are better than Pakistani or Chinese.

Mohamed laughed when asked about Yemeni threads, saying, “In the past, there were manual spinners. Yemenis used to make their m'ewazs from these threads, but these Yemeni spinners stopped now. They could not compete with the imported ones. All the Al-Maqtab and Al-Musanaf m'ewaz threads are imported.”

The process

Asked if he inherited the spinners from his father, he answered, “Yes and I modified them. I changed the wooden parts to iron rods.”

Each tool produces a complete m'ewaz ready for sale, Mohamed noted. Workers can switch from loom to chains to control shapes and speckles on the m'ewaz.

If there are many shapes with complicated variegations, it could take a worker two days to complete a m'ewaz. If it is a simple one, it might take only a day. Workers are paid 1-2,000 riyals for each piece.

When asked about the number of workshops in Sana'a and throughout Yemen, Mohamed answered, “There are between 10 and 15 in Sana'a. As for all of Yemen, there are a lot of workshops!” Asked if Sana'a workshops are large or automated, he responded, “No, they are all manual like this one. Every one develops them in his own way.”

Regarding whether folklore organizations interested in such artifacts provide any funding, Mohamed said, “We know nothing of these organizations. However, there is a group of craftsmen who formed a society and built a workshop to train those wanting to learn this job. They stipulate that those they train work with them for five years.”

An enduring legacy

The m'ewazs on Mohamed's workshop walls are a reminder of Yemen's legacy. Yemenis still cling to their legacy in every respect. They still observe traditional methods in architecture, death and marriage ceremonies and even agriculture. To Yemenis, the old is still modern. Yemen is unlike other civilizations, which are only now being photographed and studied, in that Yemenis still love their civilization and have never deserted it. Yemeni civilization continues on two feet, wherever one goes in Sana'a or elsewhere.