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BellaOnline's Middle Eastern Culture Editor


An Introduction to Yemen Culture

Guest Author - Rachel Schaus

It's hard to believe that such a tiny country - only 20 million Yemenis on the southwest tip of the Arabian Peninsula would be so important to the rest of the world. The Republic of Yemen has Saudi Arabia as its neighbor in the north, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the south, Oman in the east. The strait of Bab-Al-Mandab controls the strategic entrance of the Red Sea.

It has gone through decades of unrest and civil war, most recently the Arab Spring uprising extending into late 2011.

Sites to See
There are numerous ancient sites to see in Yemen. Sana'a is arguably the oldest inhabited city of the world, and is still important today - it is the capital of Yemen. It is said by the locals that Sana'a was founded by Shem, the eldest son of Noah. Another tradition states that Shem founded the city of Ma'rib, near Sana'a.

Ma'rib was the capital of the Sabaean Kingdom, which ruled the area from the 8th century B.C. to 275 A.D. The remains of an ancient temple from the Sabaean period can still be seen. The Sabaean kingdom, with its capital at Ma'rib where the remains of a large temple can still be seen, thrived for almost 14 centuries.

Some have argued that this kingdom was the Sheba described in the Old Testament. It was known as a wealthy kingdom, involved in major agriculture, trade of spices and other goods.

The ancient Arabian market of Sana'a is well worth visiting to see the mix of architectural styles, the smells, sites, and sounds of the bustling crowded bazaar.

Another connection with the Bible is the city of Aden. It is mentioned in Ezekiel 27:21-23. Aden was a trading partner with Tyre, a Mediterranean port city, also mentioned numerous times in the Bible. The city is main harbor city with natural defences, making it a strategic location on the trade route between India and East Africa.

When the Sabaeans took the area, they used Aden as a link in their route for trading gold and incense to Dhafar and Marib. By Roman times the port was known as Eudaemon Arabia, and became famous for trading ivory, cotton, indigo, diamonds, sapphires, wine, spices and incense.

The Jambiya
Besides all the sand, one of the first things you'll notice about Yemeni men is the dagger which so many men have at their waist. It's used as a decoration, like a western man who wears a tie...well, Yemeni men wear a jambiya. At the old market you can pick one up for as little as $10, or up to the fancier ones which will cost you $100 and more.

The rhythym of daily life is different in Yemen as well. Everything comes to a complete halt in the afternoon heat. Why? It is all because of the Qat-leaves.

The Qat tree is found throughout Yemen in the mountainous areas. In the afternoons the men close their shops and go to the Qat market to buy their qat leaves for the day. Then they go to one of their friends and chew the qat for the whole afternoon in a living room setting and discuss important matters.

It has a bitter taste, but it is chewed because of its stimulating properties. Chewing it for 3 hours is like having 10-20 cups of coffee!

Yemen holds many fascinating adventures for those willing to travel. Yemenis like to say that their country is one of the most conservative countries in the world. Two of the most important virtues are modesty and humility...fitting in a staunchly Muslim country.
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