Island of Happiness [Archives:2004/782/Culture]

October 18 2004

Ismail Al-Ghabiri
Yemen is distinguished by the possession of numerous islands which are scattering off the extensive Yemeni coastal line. The most significant of which is Socotra Island which is the largest of all Yemeni islands and is located in the Arabian sea. Its area is about 1200 square miles. It is approximately 193 miles from Ras Fertek, which is in al-Maharah governorate and is the closest point on the Yemeni coast. Archipelago is a small island located in the southern part, and belonging to Socotra Island. Two brother-islands, Sumhah Dersah and Abdo-el-Kouri island, are considered the most populated islands and the richest for pearl hunting since past eras. They are also the largest of the archipelago islands after Socotra.
Socotra is a historical island and one of deep-rooted fame. Its historical significance has been spoken of since the beginning of the flourishing trade of sacred commodities, and the commercially important route known in history as the “Olibanum Route”. Socotra, since those ancient times, was as a center for producing such sacred commodities which ancient people considered as sacred due to their association with worshipping rituals in the temples. These commodities were also used to back commercial stock that supported the economy of the ancient Hadhramout kingdom, whose King was known as the King of the Olibanum Country. The most important commodities which Socotra island became famous for producing in those ancient eras, were aloeswood (incense), a kind of frankincense, and Socotran aloe which is regarded as the best kind of aloe. Also, it has been known for producing al-mor (a kind of spice) and the olibanum and other perfumeries. Due to this highly commercial dimension, Socotra acquired a wide fame in history, and was spoken of abroad by people who looked upon it's commodities as sacred. The country producing such commodities was called “sacred land”. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to call Socotra Island the Island of Happiness. Socotra enjoys a distinguished strategic location at a junction of sea routes in the Indian ocean. Therefore, since ancient times, it has attracted the attention of invaders and pirates who were greedy for its wealth. Its people used to defend Socotra Island against the invading armies and those greedy souls by constructing forts and fortifying walls.
Socotra Island, today, is a fascinating and beautiful Yemeni corundum. It belongs to the Governorate of Hadhramout. It – along with some other islands – forms Socotra District. Socotra is divided naturally into two divisions i.e. Beduin area which is located in the middle of the island and is clutched between high hills. Its altitudes are covered by forestry and coastline. The most important of the many small scattered towns is Hedibo, the administrative capital of Socotra, followed by Qelensya, Qadheb, and Foujed. There are several unique components in Socotra that make it one of the most prominent spots in Yemen for attracting tourists. It is considered as one of the most important natural plant gardens in the world, and deserves to be designated and conserved as an area of natural beauty, due to its rare plants and animals. Socotra possess a rich and diverse flora and fauna, with natural plant life scattered all over the island and the archipelago of the islands belonging to it. It is blessed by the beauty of several rare plants which blossom in beautiful colors. There are also many wadis (valleys) and small current rivers which are covered by thick palm forests along with soft sandy beaches. So, the Island “Socotra” looks like a scenic natural painting with splendid beauty piled in its frame along with hills, palm trees, and beaches.
Socotra, being one of the largest of archipelago islands, is considered as the most important of the islands, from the perspective of its uniquely diverse plant life. Additionally, it is one of the ten most significant islands in the world for the same reason. Research indicates that there are 900 types of rare plant living in Socotra Island and the archipelago of the islands belonging to it. Amongst which are about 300 types of plant uniquely existing in Socotra, and no where else in the world. As an example of these rare plants are the two-brother blood tree, and the olibanum tree, of which there are nine kinds existing on the island. There are also weeds with medicinal properties that ancient human beings relied upon as medicines for various diseases.
The “two-brother blood tree” is the most significant of the rare plants whose fame has transcended normal horizons. Its name was conjured by the island, due to its fame and its importance, many eras ago. This tree grows at the peaks of hills, and its height is within the range of 6-9 meters. Its has the appearance of an over turned umbrella. The people of the islands make holes in the stems, through which leaks a sticky red substance. The substance is left aside until it dries, then accumulated and prepared for export. It is then used throughout the world, as an agent in many of industries and as a medicine for curing diseases.
Several fabulous tales and stories were composed about the origin of this tree, one of which is that this tree has grown up from the blood of two brothers – Habiel and Qabiel when the first murder in history took place. The blood flow is said to have caused the tree to grow. Another legend is that the tree grew up from the clotted blood of a dragon and an elephant, spilt during their fight to the death.
Besides these plants there are several kinds of rare bird in Socotra Island, which along with the plants, form an alluring environment for tourists. There are approximately 141 kinds of rare bird which are living in the islands. Nine kinds of which uniquely inhabit the island and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
The visitor to Socotra usually pays special attention to a unique strange small animal in the island, as it forms one of tourist landmarks of the island. The animal is known by its name “Wild al-zabad Cat” (Wild Civet Cat). It is similar to the normal cat in shape, but, bigger in size. It lives within the forests of palm trees. The people of the island used to hunt it by using special nets. After catching it, they press strongly on its rear gland or use a knife making a hole in that gland so as to produce the civet out of it.
Al-zabad (civet) is a smelling black colored substance that is mixed to make a kind of Arab perfume that smells like rose musk called (al-zabad perfume). After extracting the civet from the cat's rear gland, the cat is released and returned to the palm tree farms.
Socotra Island is one of the most important natural plant protectorates and one of the most prominent tourist landmarks in our country. Our Government has provided architectural, health, and educational services to these islands, and is leading it towards advancement and connection to the world.