Memories of Ramadhan in Aden [Archives:2000/01/Culture]

January 3 2000

Saleh Abdulbaqi
Cultural Editor

The people of Yemen are distinguished by numerous popular habits and traditions which can be sorted out and categorized according to the various occasions in their life. The Holy month of Ramadhan is one of the occasions where there are many special habits practiced by the people, and here we want to focus on the Ramadhan customs in the governorate of Aden. Because Aden is the link between the East and the West, it occupies a strategic location in the area.
I have to mention some of the social customs that are still alive in the minds of people in Aden, especially those from the period between the world wars and during the British Colonization. Then they were deprived of the simplest essentials of modern life, such as water, electricity and entertainment equipment like radios and media.
The people knew when Ramadhan was coming, but they could not determine the first day of it because there were no information media through which they can get news. They only knew when it was to begin through a person who was called Almonadi or ‘Almodhrab’. This person was sent by the state to go to the main market of the city and declare the advent of Ramadhan. This person carried a small drum and a stick, and he would stand on any table of a restaurant and beat the drum to bring the people together. Then people would go back to their home and villages to inform those who did not see this man who was announcing the beginning of the first day of Ramadhan.
Regarding water problems, most of the people used to bring water from wells in traditional ways. There were some people who would carry water in small tanks. The person who carried the water was called ‘Alwara’d’. He carried the tank upon his shoulder or in carts. Those carts were driven through the streets and markets to deliver water to houses and restaurants. There was also another beautiful picture represented by those children who go to mosques to listen to the ‘Azan’, (the time of fast-breaking ), and then they would go to their houses to inform people that it was time to begin having their food, i. e., to break their fasting. The taste of food cooked in Aden is distinct from that of other cities of the country. There are different kinds of food, such as roasted meat, chopped meat, ‘Zorbian,’ (rice with chicken or meat) and other delicious dishes. The meal at which the fast is broken consists of ‘shorba’ soup, ‘labaniah’ green peas with lemon and some drinks like tea and coffee. Then they go to mosques to pray and came back to eat another meal. This meal consists of meat, rice, bread, fried meat and fruit. Then they go to relax and receive their neighbors and stay up late at night. It is known that families in Aden exchange food, especially during Ramadhan. This habit is still in place up to now. Regarding social habits, some of the people spend their nights of Ramadhan in different places, for example, everyone goes to his friends’ house to spend the whole night, or they go to mosques to recite Holy Qur’an and read Prophetic Hadiths. Some of them practice any kind of sport by playing tennis or other games until the time of dawn or what we call ‘Sahoor.’ Other people go to walk along the shore or in the parks.
It was commonly known that for each city, there was a person who would awaken the people to eat their meal, the ‘Sahoor’ that is the last permissible food to be taken before beginning a new day of fasting. As for children’s life during Ramadhan, they gather to play their favorite game that was called ‘Alqomaidhan.’ This game was the most famous game at that time for children It mostly resembled the game of hide-and-seek. A number of children cover the face of one of them, then another one of them hits that child, and asks him to determine who it was that hit him. He has to point to the one who touched him with his hand by guessing, without removing the cover from his eyes. When he recognizes the one, they remove the cover from his eyes.
There are also many other games which were played by children. During the period of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, people had witnessed major improvements in their lifestyle. For example, water pipes and electrical services entered houses. There are also other components which helped and improved the social, economic and cultural life of people at that time. After this development in the lives of people in Aden, we found that the traditional ways began to disappear because people could get their information from radio. When the TV station was inaugurated in 1964, the life of people had witnessed other developments and improvement. Islamic articles were shown on TV during Ramadhan. Social components were available, people came from different neighboring areas due to the ease of transportation and because they wanted to spent Ramadhan in the city of Aden. You find that the main streets in Aden are full of people who keep walking up until the dawn, especially during Ramadhan. Houses receive relatives who came to spend their time there or to go out to walk on the shores and beaches and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere and scenery.
Ramadhan has formed a unique religious and social phenomena for people. Old customs still exist, and are followed and exercised by generation after generation.