Silver-smithery: Sublimity of the great art [Archives:2002/10/Culture]

March 4 2002


Silver-smithery is one of the oldest and the most popular handicrafts in Yemen. It has been handed down from one generation to another. Well-known places in silver-making can be found in many different cities in Yemen including Shabwa, particularly in al-Awalek district, which is our focus in this interview. The silversmiths in the al-Awalek are well-known for their dexterity which is deeply rooted in the past.
They make beautiful types and antique forms. They make very beautiful rings, necklaces, medals, Yemeni swords, etc. Lots of people tend to decorate their Jambias with golden pieces.
Many tourists are fascinated to see all these things in Yemen and they appreciate such talented people. This is evident from the fact that they sometimes stand for hours looking at these people working in a state of meditation.
The trade of silver was restricted to some skilled people and has became a source of income for most silver smiths. Coins were made of silver and among these is the Ryal which was termed at that time as Maria Treza. It was used to be worn by women on their chests or foreheads and still be worn by women in some villages of the country.
Yemen Times has met up with one of the prominent silversmith in al-Awalek, who gained a good reputation in silver-smithery. Following is an edited copy of their conversation.
Q: Silver-smithery is one of the technical and significant handicrafts. How do you find this job?
A: Actually, it is laborious job which needs a creative mind. It should be molded in accordance with different tastes which suits any admirer. There are several silver drawings which can be molded with a special solder and liquid material used for linking pieces and forms together to get any attractive form.
Q: Are there any other industries in which silver can be used?
A: Silver-smithery is used in jewelry and used also in different industries such as the making of guns, heads of Jambias and other industries.
Q: There are several names of jewelry in your district. Can you tell us some of these names?
A: There are of course several different names in each district of Yemen. In al-Walek district, we call jewelry which are put by women on their faces Ganagen Woozek. Others worn on their chest are called Lazem or Khetr which are similar to necklaces, and there are also jewelry which is worn on women’s waists, termed in our country as Zemam, Mushalshal or Raggashat. There are also circle-like jewelry which used to be worn by old women on their humerus, and is still be worn in some villages.
Q: But what we see these days is that silver-smithery is somewhat different from that of the past. How do explain this?
A: As I have said earlier, tastes are different from that of the past and each one has his own way and taste. In the past for instance, the bride used to wear a lot of jewelry in different parts of her body, such as, her heads, arm, fingers, chest, humerus and even in her legs. but we see now is the opposite. Women wear light jewelry and in order to be attractive. We can say that time and place is the major difference of the past and the present.
Q: Silver-smithy is very popular here in Yemen, does it have a good demand in the Gulf States?
A: Frankly speaking, there is a good demand inside the country more than that the outside. The majority of people here in Yemen prefer to buy jewelry rather than gold. Yemenis who travel abroad whether in the Gulf States or the other countries of the world constitute a good thing for exporting our valuable silverware to these countries.
Q: What are the different materials used for silver-smithery including the traditional and the modern ones?
A: To talk about the silver-smithery is a long process. But we are here don’t use the traditional way of silver-smithery. It has been handed down from our ancestors. We use special herbs to polish silver which is mixed with lemon and then together with silver pieces. Then, we dry them and put them inside powder. We are still use the traditional way in silver-smithery which is preferred by all.
Q: Any last comments?
A: I thank the Yemen Times for its limitless efforts in taking care of the Yemeni heritage in general. Without its efforts, many people in Yemen would not know the tremendous treasures we have in our homeland.