Literary CornerThe History of Yemen (1 of 3) [Archives:2005/871/Culture]

August 25 2005

By Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
This is perhaps one of the earliest published books written by a Yemeni scholar giving detailed information on major events in Yemeni history, while at the same time providing interesting insights into various geographical and demographic circumstances in pre-Revolution Yemen.

Needless to say the book was originally written at a time when very little information on Yemen was available in any composite and easily accessible format and most Yemeni sources of information were still in handwritten manuscript format.

The author is a well known Yemeni scholar, who was reared in the traditional educational system of Mosque schools and other religious institutes. He is highly regarded for his research capabilities and the book is inundated with many references, including the works of foreigners.

While there may be some inaccuracies to be found (such as suggesting that the population of Yemen, then was estimated at 15 million people), these are usually based on what would be deemed to be expert opinion, or people relating their own experiences, or observation.

The book also is staunchly nationalistic in outlook with Yemen and Yemenis given high praise. The book does not delve into the obvious deprivations and backwardness of Yemen, as many scholars of the time tended to believe that, sometimes this was the price that Yemen had to pay to maintain its unique religious character and to avoid being corrupted by the evils of modern progressive culture.

Yet the book is considered of significant importance in that it gives the reader a vivid exposure of many of the peculiarities of Yemen, before modernization has had a chance to set foot in the country.

Although the book is titled the “History of Yemen”, it is really much more a chronicle of the modern history of Yemen, while it depicts many of the geographical, social and demographic features of the country.

On the other hand, the book incorporates many documents that are of great significance for the history of Yemen in the First Half of the Twentieth Century, as Yemen became an independent state and struggled to affirm its sovereignty and its territorial hold of as much of the country.

This was also the period when Yemen first set out to establish its place among the community of world nations, and the book includes many of the Treaty of Friendships and Cooperation signed with many of the leading powers of the times.

It also gives an interesting depiction of the Yemeni Government, economic and social structure under the rule of Imam Yahya Hamid-Eldin (who ruled from 1904-1948) and gives an interesting account of some of the foreign missions and dignitaries that had a rare outsider's glimpse of Yemen.

The book is rich in its description of many of the many different Yemeni cities and the tribal affiliation of many of the geographical regions of the country. Many of the significant contents of the book will be given more detailed coverage here, because there is really very little that allows non-Yemeni and specifically non-Arab readers a closer scrutiny of life and events in Yemen.

Although many of us may have become aware of many of the events described in the book, from hearing them from our parents and kin who lived through them, there are very few documented records, in Arabic, let alone in other languages that can provide a close look at this important period in Yemen's history.

Mr. Al-Wasi'y comes from a prominent scholastic family, from the traditional perspective and he has done much in his life to help print many of the significant handwritten books of historical or theological value.

He was an expert on many writings on Yemen and thus was able to refer to many significant references for his information. He was also aware of how much has in fact been produced by non Yemenis, who either have studied or visited the country and written about their findings.

He also shows interesting insight into the first inklings of the international challenges that Yemen had to counter, as the world powers of different decades sought to extend their influence in the area.

The author was also one of the first modern prominent Yemenis to be exposed to culturing and education in other lands.

He completed his traditional education under prominent Yemeni scholars of the time. He then went to the Hejaz and studied under many leading scholars of Mecca who certified his scholastic achievement there.

He then returned to Yemen. Soon afterwards he traveled to Egypt, the Levant (Syria-Lebanon-Jordan-Palestine), Iraq, India and Java (Indonesia) and other countries.

The author notes that he began to work on the book in the month of Rajab 1326 AH (i.e. almost a hundred years ago at the start of the Twentieth Century. He notes that the book is broken into two sections: Yemen from the early history, the advent of Islam up to the current Imamic period of Imam Yahya. The second section deals with the geography and politics of Yemen, which he said are of “great valuable benefits”.

However, the significance of its historical coverage is not really noteworthy as it only briefly touches on the historical ancient history of Yemen.

This may be due to the very scanty information, which was available at his time (very few excavations have been undertaken then) and most information is derived from Arab and Yemeni chroniclers, who related what was passed down from previous generations of chroniclers. We delve into more details in the next LC.