MINABBAH: The Town Time Forgot [Archives:1997/48/Last Page]

December 1 1997

Asaad Ahmed Al-Dhafir, Yemen Times, Saada.
Most people would agree that Yemen as a whole was forgotten by time. The country only opened up to modern civilization in 1970. It is thus backward and even primitive in some aspects, and is only gradually catching up. Even by Yemeni standards, however, Minabbah – a region in the Governorate of Saada situated along the Yemeni-Saudi border – is more forgotten by time than the rest of the country. This sleepy little town is almost totally isolated from the rest of the country due to the rough terrain, which renders transportation quite difficult. However, the nature and scenery of the region are out of this world. The green-clad, cloud-crowned mountains stand majestically, echoing the people’s pride. Small water falls and springs are scattered in this beautiful mountainous area. Most of the people in Minabbah are farmers planting mostly bananas and coffee. A few of them also engage in other jobs such as smuggling qat, firearms and other contraband goods to and from Saudi Arabia. The majority of the people in Minabbah are simple folks who rely on instinct and old wisdom in conducting their daily life. Schools are few. Young people tend to stop their education once able to read and write, roughly once they are in the fourth/fifth grades. Men in Minabba usually wear simple and clothes consisting of the traditional ‘foota’ or long loin cloth and an ordinary shirt. The jambia tucked on the belly of adults (and sometimes children) are exceptionally sharp, as they use it as a knife, and/or weapon. Women, on the other hand, usually wear bright and colorful shiny clothes, and are often adorned with silver jewelry, such as the traditional necklaces and anklets.
Women, and sometimes even men, comb their hair in a strange way. It is parted in the middle with a band of beads on top of the head and sprigs or stems of perfume plants on both sides. Both men and women put black kohl around their eyes. Platonic love plays a major part in lives of the young people in Minabbah. The ancient ritual of ‘timallah’ has remained to this day. It is the habit of young men and women going in the afternoon to the green valleys of the region to sing or recite poems of love and affection. Boys and girls, men and women, freely associate and mix.
Men and women exchange cigarettes and the ‘shamma’ – chewing tobacco powder. If a boy and a girl go steady – the association becomes stronger, then people consider it as an engagement. Several young men often compete to win the hand of the most beautiful girl in the village, before she consents to go ateady with any one of them. This is all done with the knowledge and agreement of the parents and the village. However, once a relationship is firmed up, it is consummated in marriage. Dowries are exorbitant, and the parents of the bride-to-be are sometimes unreasonable. Dowries, which can reach up to YR 2.5 million, is usually paid in silver coins not in paper money. Wedding ceremonies are very lively events. Dances are performed by mixed groups of men and women. Unlike segregated wedding ceremonies in other parts of Yemen, the wedding guests in Minabbah – men and women – sit together, in circle after another, on the ground. Here it is the women who compete for the single men. Two competing young women dance around a young man of their choice until he responds to either. This is repeated in the center of every circle, and everybody is excited by the rhythm of drums. The event continues joyfully into the night. Such gatherings and celebrations are not necessarily limited to wedding parties. Party-prone, the people of the village hold convivial gatherings of song and dance quite regularly.