ReflectionsYemeni africans, the untold story [Archives:2004/746/Opinion]

June 14 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
[email protected]

Before, I begin the subject I would like to clarify that I am not speaking here about Yemeni African half-castes or current Yemeni immigrants in Africa but about something else, so let us begin with some bits and pieces of this land's olden days:
The Kingdom of Sheba in Yemen spread its influence all over the Arabian peninsula and parts of the Horn of Africa, namely today's' Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea and did have commercial links with most of Eastern Africa where Yemenis used to purchase local goods and African Slaves.
The main Yemeni African Salves seaport is still named until this day Zinjibar on the Arabian Sea (i.e. land of the Negroes). Yemeni settlers settled in Ethiopia and Eritrea and are represented nowadays in tribes such as the Amara, Tigray and Affars.etc at the later stages of the Himyarite Kingdom the central government in Yemen weakened and hence the Yemeni African offshoot founded a state named AXUM. The Axumites who as I said are descendants of the Yemeni settlers tried many times to invade Yemen the land of their ancestors but were always rebuffed and the last Yemeni Himyarite King to vanquish them was none other than the famous “SHAMARR YAHARAASH”.
Yemeni Himyarites and Yemenis in Africa embraced Christianity as their official religion but it happened that one day the ruler of Yemen who was only 20 years old received Jewish rabbis who were kicked out from Palestine by the then Byzantine Christians.
These Rabbis convinced the Yemeni adolescent king that Judaism was the perfect religion and that it behooved him to convert into Judaism along with his people so as to avoid the wrath of almighty god. The king unwittingly believed them and issued a decree ordering that all Yemenis must discard Christianity and embrace Judaism. So most of the Yemeni Industrialists (Goldsmiths, Silversmiths, Textile producers) merchants and the elite obeyed the order and converted to Judaism while Yemeni farmers, Shepherds and fishermen refused and remained Christian. So the king ordered ditches to be dug and to throw into them those disobedient causing them to burn until death. So Christian Yemenis sent a messenger to the Byzantines for help.
The Byzantines knowing how difficult it is to cross the desert into Yemen decided that the right thing was to ask the Axumites to rush help for their Christian brethren. So Yemeni Christians welcomed the Ethiopian assistance while Yemeni Jews kept fighting until they were defeated and the Yemeni king committed HARI-KARI by throwing himself into the waves of the red sea so as to avoid disgrace.
The Axumites assisted by Christian Yemenis ruled Yemen for fifty continuous years and exiled obnoxious Jewish Yemenis into the jungles of Ethiopia where they mixed with locals and formed today's Falashas (Ethiopian Jews). Yemeni Jews kept waging guerrilla attacks until the Persian Chosroe king agreed to send with the Yemeni Himyarite Jewish Noble SAIF BEN DHI YAZIN an army composed mostly of Persian prisoners. So the Persian Prisoner army arrived at Zanzibar on the Arabian Sea and defeated the Ethiopians. Defeated Ethiopians mostly returned to Africa or were killed and those remaining were enslaved, hence comes the word “Akhdam” which means servants.
The Persians then inducted SAIF as a king for three years after which they killed him and accused the Ethiopians for his assassination. From then on, started the Persian occupation of Yemen. Later the Yemeni Persians embraced Islam and were sanctioned by the prophet as official rulers of Yemen. Yemenis seeing that their Persian rulers are following an Arab prophet decided to convert into Islam and then left Yemen to invade and Arabize today's Arab World including Persia where many Yemeni families have become Persian Arabs and some would like to declare a state named ARABISTAN.
Whilst the Persian rulers, Ethiopians and non-efficient Arabs remained behind. Persian rulers continued during the Omayad and Abbaside period until the time when the Barmakides tried to seize power in Baghdad. So Harun Alrashid got rid of the Persians in Baghdad and sent a Yemenite ruler for Yemen. This ruler is named Maan Bin Zayidah (he hated Persians). Being the right hand of the caliph he noticed how the Persians in Yemen were racist and haughty so he arrested their leaders and usurped all their belongings and chucked them in the streets.
The remaining Persians had to change their lineage into Hashemites fearing the same destiny of their leaders and since then luckily believe themselves as prophetic Hashemite descendants (of course better for us but not free of charge) whilst their poor leaders' descendants are today's Butcher and Vegetable Growers class who luckily are today having the upper hand and are becoming chieftains.
Today's rulers must exercise real equality so as to make such differences between the different segments of the population fade for ever and to judge people on their own merits not their color or lineage. The burning of a slum outside Sana'a housing Yemeni Africans and is believed to be induced so as to usurp the land on which the slum was built, brought me back memories about when I first noticed social discriminations in Yemen. At the age of six years I used to go down from my village to our region's small capital town there I saw the different fabric of my local community.
I belonged to a normal Farming Yemeni Family just as are most Yemenis. I remember women frightening their children in that they shall be kidnapped by a Khadim (i.e. Yemeni African) or a Jew, although most Yemeni Jews are now in occupied Palestine. This of course created fear and hatred against both denominations. On the other hand there were two other segments of the people that looked fairer than mostly brown Yemenis.
One of the two are referred to as the Sayyids (i.e. Masters) whilst the others are termed as Mazaineh (i.e. people working as singers, butchers, vegetable growers and carpenters). When I asked some people who are these people and why they are wearing like this I was told that they were of Persian descent. Going to school at an early age I read about an Ethiopian invasion of Yemen and a Persian counter invasion. So, when I came to Sana'a from my village for the very first time in 1977 I was struck by this slum housing Akhdams at the entrance of Sana'a when coming from Taiz Highway.
I told my late brother back then, that those were verily remnants of the Ethiopian invasion and that the others who consider themselves at the top are the Persians. This I said it back in 1977 when I was only 9 years old. My late brother smiled and jokingly said here we have an anthropologist! But please keep silent about this.
So I kept silent and ignored all this until sometime in 1988 when I was accompanying a group of German Tourists in the Tribal area of Hashid. In a place near Dhi Bin the German tourists were startled to see seven guys wearing traditional attires different from the others and shooting at signs bearing names in Arabic. The Arabic names read Omar, Abu Bakr, Osman and Maawyeh Bin Abi Sufian. At the time there was no restaurant in Dhi Bin so we stopped by a house of a farmer whom we asked for food.
The man offered us some bread and tea and refused adamantly to take money at all. So we asked him who were those people? The farmer said those people were fors i.e. Persians or Sayyids, I asked him what did he mean by that? And he replied this is what I have heard from my grandfather.
The tourists after hearing this were able to answer the questions of how and why some Yemenis are blond haired. We bid the magnanimous Hashid farmer farewell and continued our voyage down SINWAN VALLEY only to be stopped after two kilometers by a police checkpoint. Poor German tourists were astounded to notice that all the military at the checkpoint were black so they asked me in German if we have crossed into Africa or else what is this? The Yemeni jet black policeman searched our jeep and then made us continue our trip while continuing our trip we noticed a big farm and the looks of a military camp so I told them that these are remnants of the Ethiopians and most probably were ordered to do the shift together out of a racist attitude.
I have only spoken a bit about an aspect of the Yemeni society, which is still considered a taboo. The problem of the Akhdam segment of this society was solely dealt with by the late Southern Yemeni President Salimain who because his father was a Sultan and his mother belonged to this segment exerted efforts to merge them into the Yemeni society and was pretty successful. The government should try its best to solve this age-old problem albeit most of the population are complaining from the current status quo in all its aspects.