Montag, 4. März 2013

Janbiya glossary

man selling ʿiswab to retailers in the Sūq al-Janābī
© Marie-Christine Heinze


I have just published a glossary on dagger-related terminology in the magazine of the German-Yemeni Society, the Jemen-Report. The glossary is the result of several years of research on the Yemeni dagger as part of my dissertation project at the University of Bielefeld. It provides an introduction to the term 'janbiya' itself and then to a multitude of highly specialized and sometimes contradictory terms one encounters in the various markets involved in the dagger business in the Old City of Sanaa. You can get a copy of the glossary by ordering a copy of Vol. 44 of the Jemen-Report through the German-Yemeni Society (schoepperle[at]djg-ev.de) or by contacting me.

For more on the Yemeni dagger, see also here and here.

Mittwoch, 14. November 2012

What Yemeni men wear behind their daggers II


A dagger accessory less often encountered in Sanaa than in rural highland Yemen is the sikkīn [knife], a short knife used for mundane cutting tasks. It is usually stuck into a leather pocket or strap behind dagger. The blade of the sikkīn has a single cutting edge and generally bends to the left in the lower half like the blade of the janbiya does. Knives with straight blades are not considered to be originally Yemeni. Because the hilt of the sikkīn can sometimes be covered with a silver decorative casing referred to as either raʾs sikkīn [head of knife] or ilya (a term referring to jewelry or decorative elements on daggers, dagger scabbards, or dagger belts), the sikkīn is sometimes also simply referred to as ilya. As such knives no longer sell as well as they used to, the creative craftsmen of the Sūq al-Fiḍḍa, the silver market in the Old City of Sanaa, have created leather scabbards to fit these and now sell them to tourists.


© Marie-Christine Heinze

right ḥilya: Jewish silver work; left ḥilya:
Muslim silver work from Zaydiyya, Tihāma
© Marie-Christine Heinze


sikkīn with scabbard for tourists
© Marie-Christine Heinze



Freitag, 9. November 2012

Material culture in Yemen I: Whitening spa salts and racism

When I went to a supermarket here in Sanaa the other day, I came across these whitening spa salts, manufactured by Siam Yoko Co., Ltd., a Thai firm. For anyone who has had the opportunity of living in or visiting Yemen for some time and particularly for those of us who have been able to interact and socialize with Yemeni women, seeing such a product on offer hardly comes as a surprise: Yemeni society, for all the kindness and generosity of its people in general, is a deeply racist society. Beauty is judged according to color of skin (the whiter, the more beautiful) and when preparing for social events (exclusively female, of course) some Yemeni women like to whiten the skin of their face in such a manner that the aesthetics of such an appearance - which usually comes along with the natural, darker skin color of the throat and numerous other colors on eyelids, cheeks, and lips - is hard to grasp for someone who has grown up into norms of aesthetics that emphasize the enhancement of one's 'natural beauty' when it comes to cosmetics.

Also, the social category most discriminated against here in Yemen i.e. 'the marginalized' [al-muhammasheen], is usually considered to be 'of black skin' and to come 'from Africa'. Next to refugees from Somalia or Ethiopia, this term particularly refers to the 'akhdām' [sg. khādim; lit: servant], an endogamous social category of people who have been living in Yemen for centuries, but continue to be considered non-Yemeni by other Yemenis to this day. They live in seperate neighborhoods, are often employed as street-sweepers or housekeepers (if at all), face all kinds of harassments by other Yemenis including state employees, find it impossible to enroll their children in school with other Yemeni children, and would never be considered for intermarriage with a non-akhdam Yemeni. Not even the application of whitening spa salts made by Siam Yoko Co., Ltd., will be able to change this as long as concepts of nationality and citizenship here in Yemen continue to be based on blood and descent.


© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze

Donnerstag, 11. Oktober 2012

Realms of Memory in Yemen I (al-Hamdi)

'Realms of memory' (lieux de mémoire, a concept introduced by the French historian Pierre Nora) are spaces, ideas, persons, concepts, songs, etc. in which the collective memory of a society condenses. They are thus highly symbolically charged and take an important place in the construction of collective identities, including nationalism. Examples of (European) 'realms of memory' are the battle of Kosovo for the Serbian nation, the Marseillaise for the French, Auschwitz for Germany as well as Israel, etc.

Today marked the day of the assassination of Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who could well be considered a Yemeni 'realm of memory'. He was North Yemen's third President after the revolution against the Imamate and ruled the country from 1974 until his assassination on October 11, 1977. Today, he is particularly remembered in Yemen as a man who aimed to curb the influence of tribal shaykhs on the political system of the country as well as of trying to build a modern army that was loyal to the country and not to particular persons or other affiliations - notions that many Yemenis hope their future country leaders will pursue when calling for a 'civil state'. While Yemeni society is currently highly politically divided, Ibrahim al-Hamdi is a symbol of hope to Yemenis of highly varied political backgrounds. He stands for the potential of building a new and better Yemen if the country's current leaders are willing and courageous enough to take decisive steps.

Below are a few pictures from a march organized by the Nasserite Party in Yemen as well as independent activists to the grave of al-Hamdi in Martyrs' Cemetery in Sanaa with the aim of a) demanding that those who killed al-Hamdi be finally held accountable (the exact circumstances of his death remain in the dark until today); b) reminding people as well as politicians of the important and highly sensitive period Yemen is going through today; and c) calling for the political elite to take decisive steps towards the building of a 'civil' state.


© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze

© Marie-Christine Heinze





Montag, 25. Juni 2012

(K)Eine Revolution im Jemen? Zum Umbruch in 'Südarabien'

photography by Abdulrahman H. Jaber

Ich halte morgen einen Vortrag zu den politischen Entwicklungen im Jemen seit Beginn der Proteste im Januar letzten Jahres. Der Vortrag findet statt im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe "Vom arabischen Frühling zum islamistischen Herbst?", organisiert vom Orientalischen Seminar der Universität Köln. Er beginnt um 19:30 Uhr, Ort ist der Hörsaal XXI im Uni Hauptgebäude. Mehr zur Reihe gibt es hier


Donnerstag, 7. Juni 2012

Donating for Yemen - Updated

As more and more horrible pictures documenting the humanitarian crisis in Yemen emerge I thought I'd repost this list of possible international organizations to donate to. The original post is from July 2011 and I have updated some of the info and the links.

CARE International has been active in Yemen since 1993. At the heart of its work are poverty reduction and the promotion of social justice with a focus on women's literacy, water management, capacity building of local organizations, natural resource management, and relief assistance to refugees. Next to these long-term programs, CARE also offers emergency relief to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yemen. From what I understand, you cannot donate directly to Yemen, but can help support the Rapid Response Fund (from which humanitarian relief in the current Yemen crisis is funded) here.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen is active in a number of fields in the country, amongst which are support to IDPs in Yemen due to the conflicts in North and South as well as refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, support for detainees in Yemen prisons and vocational training for women prisoners to support social reintegration as well as advocacy for humanitarian principles. You can donate to the Red Cross in Yemen under "other operations" on this page.

Oxfam has been active in Yemen for about 25 years. At the core of its work in the country is advocacy for greater justice for women in Yemen, which includes campaigning against early marriage, increasing women’s economic empowerment, access to healthcare in remote villages, and working to secure legal protection. In regard to disaster preparedness, Oxfam cooperates with the Yemeni Red Crescent. You can donate directly to the 'Yemen crisis' here.

The World Food Programme (WFP) in Yemen focuses on food assistance to the most vulnerable. It has been active in Yemen since 1967 and has in recent years added several special programs to this broader aim, amongst which are emergency assistance to families affected by the conflict in Sa'dah, relief and recovery assistance to refugees from the Horn of Africa, and food for girl's education. You can learn more about the WFP's activities in Yemen here and there's a 'Donate'-button on the upper right side of the page if you want to contribute. It seems impossible, though, to donate to Yemen directly.

Mittwoch, 23. Mai 2012

What Yemeni men wear behind or around their daggers I

In line with the topic of my PhD thesis and following a recent discussion with my friend Marieke Brandt on the topic, I have decided to establish a new category on this blog displaying pictures of Yemeni men using their jihaz (= the complete dagger outfit including belt, scabbard, and the dagger itself) as a means of displaying status or worldview, but also as a mundane peg from which to hand things so that one will have one's hands free for other things. I will start with the ubiquitous qat bag, which tells us that this man has just been to the qāt market and is now on his way either to a restaurant to enjoy the inevitable pre-qat salta or on his way to the place where he will be chewing this afternoon. Qat bags hanging from janabi (pl. of janbiya) will thus never be encountered in the morning. They are an afternoon phenomenon. Note that this man has also wrapped his prayer beads around the scabbard, a common sight in Yemen (at any time of the day). Men might wear these as accessory to their jihaz to denote their religiosity although this might be a pre-reflexive gesture as most Yemeni men are deeply religious and would not feel the need to emphasize this. For some, the prayer beads are also a tool to play around with when bored.


(© Marie-Christine Heinze)