Some Socotra Traditions [Archives:2001/48/Culture]

November 26 2001

Traveling to Yemeni cities is always a pleasure. Besides enjoying beautiful scenes in each city, he/she is astounded by the rich culture and various aspects of tradition and daily life. In the ‘last place in Yemen,’ that is Socotra, one encounters a totally different and unique world, not only in terms of biodiversity but in terms of people’s life there.
Some of the people’s traditions are unique to the Socotra people. Among them, we find traditions of marriage, circumcision and dances by which the population of Socotra tries to express their situation.
Usually, the Socotra girl gets married at an early age (13 years old, for example). It is a surprise that the decision of whether or not the bride is mature and capable of shouldering responsibilities of a wife is made by an adult person, not her parents. As usual, men enjoy more freedom. Even those at their 70s can marry young brides. Until the 1970s, bridegrooms would pay the dowry in livestock. Poor families would sometimes attempt to marry their young daughters to old rich men.
Children’s circumcision after their birth is not a tradition in Socotra. A man should wait until he decides to marry before being circumcised. Among a crowd of people singing and dancing, the bridegroom would stand confidently waiting to be circumcised. He should demonstrate that he is a real man who is able to endure pain. Otherwise, he would become a laughingstock in the society. People who die early should also be circumcised before being buried.
The habit of having women circumcised vanished many years ago. Only those who intend to perform a pilgrimage to the holy lands of Saudi Arabia would have to do it as a symbol of purity.
For many decades, Socotra people were far from any sign of civilization. No public services were provided. But as the saying goes, need is the mother of invention. People were therefore able to create the means to satisfy their needs. One of the marvelous features of the island is its luxurious plants and numerous trees that have been greatly used by the Socotra population to meet many of their demands. Those plants and trees provide sweet scents and perfume for women and medicine for many diseases. For example, the white clay near Hedibo, the capital of the island, also has magic effects on some diseases, especially those of the skin.