Mareb: Today’s Bedouins & Civilization of Yore [Archives:1998/15/Last Page]

April 13 1998

By Hassan Sa’ad Al-Zaydi
The most famous ancient civilization in Yemen is that of Sabaa, which was established in Mareb and had Sarwah as its capital city. The people of Sabaa built palaces, constructed dams and erected other monumental edifices, the remains of which are still standing today. The civilization of Sabaa was mainly based on agriculture, hence the extensive and rather advanced building of dams to harness flood waters. More than 1,500 dams and weirs were constructed, most famous of which was the Mareb dam.
Advancement in agriculture was reflected on other aspects of life, creating an all-encompassing civilization. That was yesteryear.
Today, the situation is completely different. Life now in Mareb has nothing to do with the past glory, despite the available factors for a renaissance. People in Mareb today live a simple nomadic, almost primitive life. The bedouins or nomads constitute about 50% of Mareb’s population. They live in small and scattered communities, according to the tribal social structure. Every tribe has its own territory, designated since time immemorial, through wars and the exercise of power and influence.
Tribal Affiliations
People in Mareb belong to a number of tribes, which originally descended from the tribes of Bakeel and Madhaj:
1- Bani Jabr or Jahm,
2- Morad,
3- Obeida, and
4- Al-Jidaan.
Each one of the above tribes has its own area and territory within which its members live. Even within this traditional territory, families belonging to one tribe do not usually live in close proximity with each other. They live in scattered abodes, instead.
Tribal territories have their own recognized borders that must not be infringed upon by other tribes. Individuals are not allowed to live or own property within the boundaries of another tribe, unless they get an exceptional permission for the tribal elders.
Nomadic Existence & Strife
People in Mareb are mainly nomads who are constantly on the move in search of water and pasture. This unsettled life has precluded most of the features of urbanization and development. Even those who settle in small communities still lead a somewhat primitive life that is usually characterized by turmoil and tribal conflict.
Since the early 1980s, tribal conflicts, blood revenge, land disputes and other forms of civil strife have been raging in Mareb. People in the area still sadly remember the bloody conflict between Bani Jabr and Morad in 1981, the war between Morad and Obeida which is still raging, and the 1984-86 war between Bani Jabr and Obeida. More recent was the war between Jahm and Al-Jidaan immediately following the 1997 general elections.
These wars and bloody conflicts have negatively influenced the tribal and social ties in the region, not to speak of their enormously bad influence on the process of development and stability in the area.
Disaster & Pollution
The recent relative peace in Mareb has helped people to settle and start to build more stable communities. They rely on a primitive sort of agriculture to obtain their livelihood. However, natural disaster and environmental pollution brought about by oil production in Mareb has not helped matters.
The strong torrential floods of 1995-96 have destroyed what little the people have been able to construct. This made many people revert back to their past nomadic and pastoral existence, living in tents and tending their herds of sheep.
Health and education are the first to suffer. With a nomadic life, children are simply unable to go to school. Not much help and assistance have been extended to the people, leading to more conflict between the tribes and the central authority.
Urgent measures are needed to assist these people to settle down and start cultivating their lands in order to institute a comprehensive process of development in the area.