The earthen buildings of Shabwa [Archives:2004/771/Last Page]

September 9 2004

By Nasser Abdullah Nasser Saleh
Yemen Times Staff

The Governorate of Shabwa is distinguished by the unique landmarks, of its many beautiful high earthen buildings, and their remarkable architectural style.
Archeological finds confirm the well established tradition of using local earthen materials for the construction of villages, trade-markets, castles, and tribal houses. In fact the great civilization of Shabwa, seems to have been built from the earth. These earthen buildings are not merely the remnants of a bygone era, but are evidently still oft-preferred by the men of Shabwa to other available building materials such as steel rods, cement, and marble for example. In some towns and villages in Shabwa, 99% of the buildings are made of earthen materials.
The earth is yellow soil taken from cultivated fields and blended with water and locally produced wheat stems that make it possible to raise such splendid buildings. Some such buildings have withstood the harsh climatic conditions for over a hundred years, and many are still inhabited today. The secret of the success of earthen buildings is that they are strong, solid and resistant to the weather. In cold times the earth retains warmth, and in hot times absorbs the scorching heat. Earthen shelters have always provided comfortable shelter from the elements and protection against enemies.
With regards to the process of building the earthen buildings characteristic of Shabwa in general, and Wadi Yesh-bom in a particular, high quality earth from cultivated fields is mixed with water and the dry thrashed stems of Doakah (which is a species of wheat plant) or any other minute-seed plant. This produces a dough like mixture called Thiad, which is then used to produce hundreds of blocks of various sizes called Lebn-Abbadi, Lebn-Hadhr, Lebn-Quarish ila Boaba, and Lebn-Noas. When the blocks have set hard, they are transported to the building site via lorries or, more traditionally, donkeys. Next a team of skilled workers use the bricks to construct the building. In addition to the builder and the foreman are four key assistants known as Al-Nasher (who hands the builder the blocks), Al-Mulaqi (who passes a mixture of wet earth and Doakah), Al-Khabish (who smoothes the outside walls after the blocks have been covered with a mixture of wet earth and Thaid) and the carpenter who deals with the wood. In addition to these, there are several other key workers including: is-hab Al-Mukhalad who prepares the wet earth, Is-hab Arraah who provides wet earth upstairs, and Is-hab Allibnah, who provides blocks upstairs.
Earthen buildings are totally dependant upon local raw materials such as Nabk tree wood (which is employed in making doors, beams, columns, and windows), Sarah wood, Nabk tree wood, Mudhadh wood, palm-tree wood, and Oasher wood (which are used in ceilings).
Finally, when the building is over, Al-Khabish covers and smoothes the inside walls with earth which is then painted with lime and paints. Some buildings are covered with cement and painted with lime outside as a touch of beauty and as additional protection against the wind and rain. Old buildings used the manure of cows and Hamoor stone for tops and stairs.