Yemen’s historic architecture (Part 3 of 4)Scientists explore the Tarimi Palaces [Archives:2003/692/Culture]

December 8 2003

By James Conlon,
Pamela Jerome
and Selma Al-Radi*

b. Dialogue, planning, and outreach
It was also our objective to establish working relationships with both governmental and non-governmental organization in Yemen, as well as with stakeholders in the local community, by taking as our model projects that begin by assembling a broad group of participants (Daher 1996). The object is to facilitate the planning and implementation of national heritage status for this buildings, and then for a full group of historic buildings and sites in Tarim. Several organizations have helped our project in the past, showing particular attention to the conservation of Tarim and Qasr al-'Ishshah, and their support continued through this season. The Historical Society for the Preservation of Tarim currently operates par of the house as a museum; however, due to large-scale collapse and a lack of funding and expertise, they have been unable to present the entire house to the public. The Society also publishes information on the cultural heritage of Tarim and raises funds for their projects. They have been amongst our most active partners. In addition to the society, the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM), a governmental ministry has played a substantial role in our efforts. They sponsored our work by providing permoits and employees to work on the project. Local GOAM employees from the Seyoun Museum were especially supportive, providing both a high level of expertise and knowledge of local architectural history, materials and building professionals. The museum also made storage space available to us during the off season. In exchange for their support, we helped train several GOAM employees in our methods of condition assessment and documentation. The local government also showed interest in our efforts this season. In an arrangement initiated by the head of the Seyoun Museum, Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf, we had the opportunity to meet with Deputy Governor Abd al-Rahman Muhamed al-'Ulfi to discuss our ideas and the general need for a more active governmenral role in the conservation of national heritage. Deputy Governoral al-'Ulfi, himself an engineer by training, was supportive of our project and set up a meeting between our group and other organizations working in the area, but to date three has been little movement towards official governmental recognition of Tarim as a protected national heritage site. We also spoke extensively with al-Kaf family members still living in Tarim, all of whom have partial ownership rights in the house. These discussions fell into the categories of ethnographic and historical interviews, and logistical consultation and evaluation. Our discussions shed light onto the site history, folklore, and building sequence of al-'Ishshah as discussed above. They also clarified which relatives legally own the house and the extent of their claims. These conversations laid out potential conflicts in the conservation process that we had not anticipated: our discussion with Deputy Governor al-Ulfi was reported on local radio, and while we considered his response to our proposal to be extremely positive, the al-Kafs we spoke with found it threatening. They expressed fears over the renewed potential of governmental seizure of their property that may accompany listing the house as a national heritage monument. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Qasr al-'Ishshah was expropriated by the government of South Yemen, and the structure received little maintenance. As a consequence, much of the damage in the building stems from this period. On top of this, the al-Kafs were never compensated for these actions and the family members we spoke with do not feel responsible for many of the repair expenses. Meeting with family members was essential in order to address the concerns of the al-Kaf family concerns over these financial burdens, as well as their new fears that came out of our discussions with the government

* Reproduced with permission from Yemen Update Bulletin of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies – Issue No. 45/2003.

For the technical reasons part 4 appeared in last issue, skipping part 3. Please accept our apology.