Literary CornerYemeni Annals (Hawliat Yamaniyah): 1224 – 1316 AH (Part I) [Archives:2006/980/Culture]

September 11 2006

Abu Al-Kalimah Al-Tayibah
Author: Muhsin Bin Ahmed Al-Harazi et al

Checked and Edited by: Abdullah Mohammed Al-Hibshi

Language: Arabic

Publisher: Ministry of Information and Culture

Year Published: 1400 AH/1980 AD

No. of Pages: 661

Despite the volatile and unstable history that Yemen went through especially from the Middle Ages to modern times, which for .Yemen begin in the 17th to 18th Century, chroniclers attempted to maintain a vivid description of events that unfolded over the centuries. While the printing press did not enter Yemen until the Twentieth Century, nevertheless, handwritten manuscripts are abundant, which showed the output of many scholars and prominent men of literary genius. These included the several historians that tried to keep a record of all the major developments in Yemen's long and tumultuous history.

The editor of this book is a well known Yemeni researcher and perhaps the best expert in tracing Yemeni hand-written manuscripts that exist both in Yemen and overseas. He is endowed with an excellent talent of tracing the origins of several manuscripts, as well as identifying them by their author, not to mention his knack for being able to determine the authenticity of documents attributed to leading scholars of their respective times.

This book under review is about the events that transpired in Yemen in the 13th Century of the Hegira Moslem calendar. This period is an important transitory period, during which Yemen begins to take the shape of its modern territorial and sovereign dimensions and more importantly Yemen begins to attract the attention of world powers vying for global supremacy.

The significance of this work is that it records this important period of Yemeni history in many places in first hand narrative form or through eyewitness accounts and it does so in mostly vernacular speech rather than the standard classical Arabic formal writing, which the overwhelming majority of chroniclers use to depict their historical accounts. The book also depicts the innocence of Yemeni society as it comes into contact with foreign cultures and institutions that Yemenis were unfamiliar with before this period and the obvious Yemeni penchant for holding on to their traditions and customs, regarding anything alien to them as anathema to proper codes and values that have become engrained over the many centuries that have passed and through which Yemeni culture evolved into a rich and complex horticultural society. Furthermore, from this period, which is about a century, onwards Yemen's geographical and terrestrial composition no longer served as a barrier to Yemen becoming the target for imperial expansion by the powers of the time and the trickling of some of the advances achieved by mankind in the sciences and in the social fields that work towards developing the institutions of government and social order.

The editor's analysis of the manuscripts that make up the contents of the book seems to indicate that there may have been more than one author for this manuscript as can be judged by events that were related which surpassed the year that the presumed author, Al-Harazi, passed away (1288 AH) extending well into the 14th Century. The researcher affirms that the author (Al-Harazi) is a well known scholar of his time and is indeed capable of producing a considerable amount of the material in these Annals that are attributable to him. Even if they are sometimes said to have been the words and thoughts of perhaps other scholars or chroniclers of this period, the researcher (Al-Hibshi) insists that surely it was Al-Harazi who brought them down to paper in one way or another. Al-Hibshi considers these Annals as the most detailed records of events in Yemen in the 13th Century and thus should be valued for their reference depiction of events, but more important the style of the vernacular is folklore in itself, in that very few people write in the spoken dialect.

The book starts with the Entry of the Year 1224, in the last days of the Imam Al-Mansour Ali Ibn Al-Abbass, after his sons Mohammed Al-Mansour and Ahmed Al-Mansour settled their differences and people “relieved at seeing hardship turned into easement”. Late in the year the Al-Mansour died after severe illness, after “a caliphate of 30 years and a life span of eighty years, noting that the Imam was a success story of “abundance of money with the state and generosity was meted out to the people with gratuities and gifts given to all”. He is also known for having built many of the landmareks of the Old City of Sana'a and its surroundings such as Dar Al-Bashair in Rawdha, Dar Al-Safiah in Beir Al-Azab and the Al-Zumur Mosque.

His son Al-Mutawakkil ala Allah Ahmed Bin Al-Mansour proclaimed himself Imam soon alter his father's death and the author describes him as “wise man of medicine, with good knowledge and he had gathered more money than anyone could gather (for the state) due to his care and the money he took from the Ullaifah (ministers of state from the Ulufi clan, who will be described later)”.

The author describes the attempts of the new Imam to consolidate his sovereign control of the various tribes and regions and to make sure that the roads and passageways are secured from rebellious tribesmen and he was able to control Al-Qawsi and Al-Bukheity (rebellious Sheiks. More follow with many humorous accounts of the events that will follow.