SOCOTRA The Island of Wonders [Archives:2001/45/Culture]

November 5 2001

Saleh Abdulbaqi
Yemen Times
Socotra is the biggest island administratively belonging to Aden. It is a very fascinating and charming island that has attracted local as well as international interests. People call it an open natural museum.
The remains of some churches in Socotra Island make researchers believe that Christianity was known in the island. This issue still requires more studies. The great touristic and economic potentials of the island have throughout history lured great powers such as Greece, the Roman Empire, or Persia which all tried to control it.
Great importance has been attached to Socotra since the discovery of Cape of Hope. It was occupied by the Portuguese who were using it in their quest reach India. Despite the island’s significant strategic location, it has been kept away for a long time from any direct attention. Yet, it remains the island of wonders capturing the hearts of the visitors.
The island and others like Abd al-Kuri, Darsah, or Samhah were no more than volcanic islands inhabited by wildlife. A few people were scattered here and there on the shores and in the mountains of Socotra. They were split into two groups, the fishermen and the shepards, which rarely met. No people were living in the other islands but, in the course of time, fishermen started to shelter and rest on them using a very old Himiary language to interact with each other. Social development began to be more apparent in the 19th century. The number of inhabitants in these islands significantly increased with the arrival of people from neighboring areas along with increasing marriages among the native inhabitants. Socotra’s population are families which came from different areas, such as Hadhramaut, Maharah and other places in the Gulf countries and Africa. They mingled with the island’s native people forming a new rich and diversified identity.
The island is culturally very rich. The semi-cosmopolitan environment has helped so far to enrich and color its culture. The colorful cultural dimension can be clearly seen through the island people’s traditions. Despite the spread of education in the island, Socotri unique language is still the most used by its inhabitants.
The culture and folklore found in the island are not less unique and amazing than the nature of the island itself. No wonder that a Russian orientalist called Socotra the island of Spirits. An Italian traveler in the 13 century mentioned that the most powerful magicians lived there. He added that they could create winds to drive back hostile ships, or other natural phenomena. Even in the present time, people in the island still believe in supernatural powers and superstitions. Such creatures are believed to be capable of harming human beings. These beliefs are considered to be part of Socotra’s culture. Interestingly, women are involved in these superstitions. People believe in cannibal women that follow men at night time for their dinner. They attach great abilities to women devils (“jinns”) and think that they have the ability to cure sick people and to give new lives to the dead. ‘Yethami’ is a typical evil woman found in the superstitions of Socotra people. She is very tall, ugly and has long teeth and lives on men’s fresh meat.