This is an OPINION page. Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue! “When Survival of the Fittest Turns to Be a Noble Quest” [Archives:1997/45/Focus]
By: Tawfik Abdullah Mohammed Tahir
Yemenis are about to plunge into the age of technology and globalization. This is the world of the 21st century. Modestly speaking, we just witnessed the unification of a nation that has been split and torn apart for decades. This is followed by marvelous manifestations of gradual but visible democracy in a peaceful atmosphere, and steady development leading to a new Yemen. The entire world follows this transition with admiration and respect, given the wisdom in which it was applied.
Truly speaking, this wisdom is the cornerstone of our advancement if it is spelled out in its spirit. When we make a deep analysis of Yemeni wisdom, we will end up turning to the history books. The history of Yemen is rich with wisdom, sprinkled over the years. ý
Allow me in this article to ask humbly, “How many of us Yemenis are conscious of our own history?” What do we know about Aad, Thamoud, Maeen, Sabaa, and Himyar?
Are Yemenis aware of the fact that their land and soil is the homeland of prophets, Seers and Messengers, of God the almighty since ancient times? Hence this fact being the bottom line and core generator from which this force of wisdom is charged we ought to understand it with much care and admiration, not only for us but to share it’s light with the needy and those who appreciate it throughout the world, in an effort to beautify and shine more, both our spiritual and moral values. We observe recently our Yemeni land being a center of attraction and flooded with research teams of scholars from all over the world: theologians, anthropologists, archeologists, historians as well as tourists and investors. Aren’t they all spending a fortune to remove the massive hidden history still buried beneath the soil? Why? Maybe because human fate may rest somewhere within this fading history! History teaches us that an identity of a nation cannot be robbed, changed or even claimed by others; it takes time but eventually it will come out sooner or later. Amateur historians from some nations may keep historical artifact, robbed or smuggled scripts from some other nations in their possession for various reasons. But doesn’t that mean that the particular missing historical piece will nullify or change the history and records as to who did what? And what can we learn from that!!? ý
In respect to this effort allow me to indicate that Yemen has for millenniums embraced various mythologies and religions, a fact that made it a unique melting pot of different cultures. Meanwhile it is worth remembering that among the different religions adopted since these ages are: Old Testament Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and we would like to address the critics of this history to be carefully aware and conscious of the earlier indicated myths, when a judgment is passed. The historical period begins with a chapter on a glimpse of a early Yemeni culture: The approximate date of events are from 300 B.C to 200 A.D. The location is the Himyarite Kingdom and the ruler is Asaad Al Kamel who was called Tobba’a (meaning emperor). The kingdom lasted 351 years and the dominating religion at that time was Old Testament Judaism and some paganism. The main languages were Himyari Masnad, Asfar or Hebrew, Arabic and Sabaite Masnad. The emperor had an educational background in spiritualism, astrology, mathematics, poetry, and influential public speaking. His tasks were to manage the state and act as supreme commander of the armed forces.
Historians and scholars alike agree that Asaad Al Kamel was a controversial man in the Yemeni history and he conducted his life and the huge tasks in managing state affairs in a mystical manner. Asaad Al Kamel’s descended from a royal lineage; his father was King Meliki Karab and his birth place was, according to the scripts, in Khamir. Between his birth and succession to the throne, he witnessed very tough and difficult adventures and met adversities, As his father died a few years after his birth, Himyar was in a state of chaos and tumult, enemies wanted to besiege the throne and kingdom. from without and within. He suffered unbelievable pain and agony while educating himself. He approached the public modestly and humbly, gaining their admiration and respect with the assistance of his grandfather. At at the age of 25 he successfully captured his fathers throne and power at Daffar. He manifested justice and equality within his society and was shortly able to reunite the ethnic groups and tribes of his fellow countrymen. He followed in the footsteps of his ancestors by giving a lot of attention to agriculture, and introducing the latest irrigation methods with the aim of cultivating healthy yields and crops at the time, encouraging prosperous trade generated through the basic mining of precious stones and raw metals. Barter trade was conducted in his time; dams, bridges temples and schools were built, art and antiques reached its peak. Architects, masons, builders and carpenters sprang to demonstrate their craftsmanship. Their expert engineering was truly marvelous and splendid throughout the life of the kingdom. Asaad realized that peace, stability and respect to his nation could only be achieved through a super military force which he built at the time. Under his command he had the fiercest and most aggressive combat warriors history had ever known. Himyarites as a people learned to surrender, love and obey the king and his administration, with great loyalty and bond. This loyalty and bond was the unbreakable chain between the leader, administration and common citizen through out the Asaad’s reign (seems to be a marvelous process of harmony based on give and take) which we lack in our modern society. Laws were preserved; laws that had been enforced by both the state and the dominating religion, Asaad adopted gradually an aggressive policy beyond his boundaries and invaded vast lands and territories as far as India, China, and Russia exactly following the footsteps of his grandfathers and ancestors, obviously history does not justify the reason, but we may only speculate fame, economic necessities, culture spreading, knowledge seeking, revenge, or availing submissiveness. After lengthy study and observations, we yet have to reach the conclusive evidence pertaining to his aggressive policy.
What ever the reasons might have been Himyar under King Asaad gained, 1- Fame, recognition + respect 2- Potential wealth, internally and externally, generated through submissive taxation system + trade 3- Advanced, military, and civilian technology , including state of the art civil engineering works, 4- sufficient food – through the advanced agricultural technology of the period. ý
The outcome being – a glories leader and nation in every sense God the Almighty extended the life span of King Asaad al Kamel to 351 years, according to the scripts he died at Gamdan Palace which was located at the foot of the currently known mount Nogum in Sanaa. The scripts also indicate that he had two male boys. The elder who was actually the heir and successor to the throne namely prince Hassan and the younger known as prince Madi Karab. Prior to king Asaad’s death, he called upon his eldest son and asked him to go to Gaiman, a location which was two hours away on horseback from Gamdan Palace and at the out skirts of Gaiman there lived Asaad’s lady sorcerer or as we know it in this period, this sorcerer or witch was a close councilor or adviser to King Asaad at the time. Prince Hassan obeyed his fathers wish to deliver a short message to the witch, the message was:- “I am at the doorstep of death what is your advice?” Prince Hassan embarked on his trip to deliver his fathers message, after a search he met the witch residing in a cave at a surrounding mount. Tired and restless as he was, he delivered the message as soon as he met her He was eagerly awaiting her response and instructions when the old lady gave him a sorrowful expression and asked him to follow her in to her chamber in the cave. In her chamber, she had a fairly small stone chair and pointing to the chair she said:- “You must be tired from the trip, please sit on that chair and have some rest! Prince Hassan wanted to sit, but he saw live snakes, worms, and scorpions running on top of each other on the same chair which he was about to be sit on.
Terrified by the scene, he stepped back fearfully and sat cross legged on the floor telling the lady that he appreciated sitting on the floor more than the chair, trying to hide his fears while she followed him with the corner of her eyes. She then started stepping out of her chamber asking him if he felt both thirsty and hungry? She offered to get him something to drink and eat! Taken by fear and the sudden comfort of her tone in the manner expressed to serve him, he subconsciously replied voluntarily in accepting the offer. She walked out and came back with a large bowl and presented it to him saying please drink and eat.
As he noted that the bowl contained fresh blood and a human cranium, he was disgusted and almost threw up. But he tried to control his emotions from the second shock by jumping up on his feet, saying that he prefers plain drinking water. At this point the lady angrily said since you do not have your father’s guts and you refused my humble invitation, I have one last piece of advice for you my boy and that is to kill the first man you meet at the entrance of your fathers palace, go now for your father is suffering death. Terrified, shocked, and restless as he was, and disbelieving that he will make it out of that cave alive, he ran out on to his horse and galloped as fast as he could racing like the wind and headed towards his fathers palace. Obviously he felt safer and better when he got close to Gamdan and was trying to forget the shocking encounter that took place. Nevertheless the first man that he met at the main entrance gate of the place was his younger brother Madi Karab. The last piece of advise sparked at the back of his memory as he said to himself: This is extreme barbarism, how could I kill my younger brother?
And what would my family and people say? This is madness, I will not do it ….. He tried to hide his mixed emotions and instead gave a warm greeting to his brother who hurriedly crossed by and entered into his fathers chamber who was actually lying on his death bed suffering pains and agony surrounded by family members, and friends and officials of the state. After he made his way to his fathers bed, he stood a while after greeting him and told him that he delivered the message and added how strongly he was shocked and dismayed by the behavior of the lady at Gaiman!
King Asaad who was eagerly waiting the outcome of that encounter asked his son to tell him what happened! Prince Hassan told his father the details of the earlier encounter with the witch and how he ignored her advice, describing the whole experience as totally savage and barbaric. At that point the father held his head with both hands and he shed tears of sorrow because of fate of his most beloved son, heir and successor of the throne, He interpreted the encounter in the following manner:- Hear me my son:- I have requested that you deliver a message to my trusted counselor – meaning that I expected you to have completely obeyed the lady, you were actually tested by a certain extent to see if you would be fit to rule Hemier after my death. Of the stone chair over which you were about to be seated but refused and which you claimed as being covered with snakes, worms and scorpions, be it understood to you, that the chair is only a resemblance to the throne and the type of deadly beings that will surround you, and how you should have behaved, with patience, wisdom and diplomacy. The bowl that contained fresh blood and a human skull which you were asked to drink and eat resembled how you would have reacted to your surviving on state and personal gains. And hence my boy, you failed to understand the two earlier messages. The third message was a complementary advice of survival to kill the man who would be destined to kill you in advance, and who in reality turned to be your blood brother. Shortly after this event king Asaad Al Kamel died and was buried as he requested. At “Gaiman”, historical scripts revealed that prince Hassan succeeded his father for a short time, but was then killed by his own younger blood-brother, Prince Madi Karab and the empire started to collapse around 200 A.D. Thus history closed a dark chapter on the Himyarite kingdom and erased its accomplishments, the mounts and sands hiding the material evidence of this history. The events remained to be told from generation to generation, only God can reveal the truth. The earlier historical summary has been quoted from the Nashawan Bin Saeed Al Himyari classics – dating back to 573 Hijra, Nashwans classics were based on the Al Eklil – for Abi Mohammed Al-Hassan Al Hamdani who died at 324. Hijra is considered to have been the most knowledgeable man in Yemen’s ancient history .
Tragic, noble and bloody as this history may sound including the sad ending of a controversial civilization, what can we Yemenis achieve from learning these events?
Superficial and hypocritical people usually ignore history after being told about it, but then regret their ignorance to their own demise. Regardless, we will continue to advocate the historical message given to us by reading the bottom of a coffee cup, or by interpreting the left over bits and pieces of bread handed over to the poor!