1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Yemen
YEMEN (Yaman), a province of Arabia, forming the S.W corner of the peninsula, between 12° 35′ and 18° N., and 42° and 47° E., bounded on the N. by Asir and on the E. by the Dahna desert and Hadramut. Ptolemy and the ancient geographers in general include the whole peninsula under the name of Arabia Felix (εὐδαίμων), in which sense they translate the Arabic Yemen, literally “right hand,” for all Arabia S. of the Gulf of Akaba was to the right from their standpoint of Alexandria; the Mahommedan geographers, however, viewing it from Mecca, confine the term to the provinces S. of Hejaz, including Asir, Hadramut, Oman and part of southern Nejd. The Turkish vilayet of Yemen includes Asir, and extends along the Red Sea coast from El Laith in the N. to Shekh Said at the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb; its land boundary on the E. is undefined, except in the S.E., where the boundary between Turkish territory and that of the independent tribes under British protection was defined by an agreement between Great Britain and Turkey in 1904, by a line running approximately N.E. from Shekh Said to the Dahna desert. The main physical characteristics of the province are described in the article Arabia. A lowland strip 20 to 30 m. wide extends along its western and southern coasts, skirting the great mountain range which runs along the whole western side of the Arabian peninsula, and attains its greatest height in the Jibal, or highlands of Yemen; beyond this mountain zone the interior plateau falls gradually towards the N.E. to the Dahna desert.
The lowland, or Tehama, is hot and generally sterile; it contains oases, however, near the foot of the mountains, fertilized and irrigated by hill streams and supporting many large villages and towns. The most important of these are Abu Arish, Bet el Fakih and Zubed in the western Tehama, the latter a thriving town of 20,000 inhabitants and the residence of a Turkish kaimakam; and Abyan and Lahej, the chief place of the independent Abdali tribe, in the southern Tehama. Hodeda and Aden are the only ports of commercial importance, Lohaia and Ghalefika have sunk to insignificant fishing villages, and Mokha, the old centre of the coffee trade, is now almost deserted. The Jibal forms a mountainous zone some 50 m. in width rising steeply from the foothills of the Tehama to an average height of 9000 ft.; many summits exceed 10,000 ft.—the highest fixed by actual survey is Jebel Manar, 10,565 ft., about 10 m. E. of the town of Ibb. With its temperate climate and regular rainfall, due to the influence of the S.W. monsoon, the Jibal must be considered the most favoured district of Arabia. The villages are substantially built of stone, often picturesquely situated on the spurs and crests of the hills, the houses clustering round the dars or towers which dominate the cultivated slopes and valleys. The principal crops are wheat, barley, millet and coffee, the last-named more particularly on the western slopes of the range within reach of the moist sea-breezes. In many places the hillsides, otherwise too steep for cultivation, are cut into terraced fields supported by stone walls; the name given by the Greek geographers to the range of S. Arabia was no doubt intended to describe the step-like appearance of the hills due to this method of cultivation. A special characteristic of the Yemen highlands is that fields and inhabited sites are found at the highest elevations, the mountain-tops forming extensive plateaux, often scarped on every side and only accessible by difficult paths cut in the cliffs which encircle them like the escarpments of a natural fortress; a remarkable example of this is Jebel Jihaf on the Aden border, 8000 ft.
above sea-level and 4000 ft. above the Kataba valley, an isolated plateau some 6 m. long, containing thirty or forty villages.
The principal town of the Jibal is Ta‘iz, the seat of a Turkish mutassarif; its present population docs not exceed 4000, but it was formerly a large city, and from its position in the centre of a comparatively fertile district at the junction of several trade routes it must always be important. It contains five mosques and the Turkish government offices and barracks, and in the business quarter several cafes and shops kept by Greeks. The climate is unhealthy, perhaps owing to its position in a low valley, 4400 ft. above sea-level, at the foot of the lofty Jebel Sabur (9900 ft.), and even in Niebuhr's time many of the houses in the city were in ruins. Thirty miles further N. are the small towns of Ibb (6700 ft.) and Jibia, about 5 m. apart, typical hill towns with their high stone-built houses and paved streets. To the E. on the main road to the coast via Zubed is Udēn, the centre of a coffee-growing district; 80 m. to the N. is Manakha, a Turkish post on the main road from Hodeda to the capital, and the chief place of Jebel Haraz, which produces the best coffee in Yemen. Another group of hill towns lies still further N. in the mountain mass between the Wadi Maur and Wadi La‘a, where the strongholds of Dhafir, Afār, Haja and Kaurkabān held out for long against the Turkish advance; the last-named town, now almost deserted, was once a city of 20,000 inhabitants, and the capital of a small principality which preserved its independence during the earlier Turkish occupation between 1536 and 1630.
The inner or plateau zone of Yemen stretches along the whole length of the province, with an average width of 120 m.; it lies entirely to the E. of the high range, and has therefore a smaller rainfall than the Jibal; its general character is that of a steppe increasing in aridity towards the E. where it merges in the desert, but broken in places by rocky ranges, some of which rise 2000 ft. above the general level, and which in the Hamdan district N. of Sana show evidence of volcanic action. It is intersected by several wadi systems, of which the principal are those in the N. uniting to form the Wadi Nejrān, in the centre the Wadi Khārid and Shibwān running to the Jauf, and in the S. the Wadi Bana and its affluents draining to the Gulf of Aden. The plateau has a gradual fall from the watershed near Yarim, 8500 ft. above sea-level, to less than 4000 ft. at the edge of the desert.
The northern part nearly down to the latitude of Sana, is the territory of the warlike Hāshid and Bakīl tribes, which have never submitted to the Turks, and in 1892 and again in 1904–5 drove the Turkish troops from almost every garrison in the province, and for a time held the capital Sana itself for the Imam Muhammad Yahiya, the representative of the old dynasty that ruled in Yemen from the expulsion of the Turks in 1630 till its reconquest in 1871. The principal places are Sa‘da, the residence of the Imām, an important town on the old pilgrim road 120 m. N. of Sana, Khaiwān and Khamr. In the N.E., bordering on the desert, is the district of Nejrān, a mountainous country with several fertile valleys including the Wadi Nejrān, Bedr and Habuna, all probably draining N.E. to the Wadi Dawasir. Further S. is the oasis of Jauf, a hollow or depression, as its name signifies, containing many villages, and of great antiquarian interest as the central point of the old Minaean and Sabaean kingdoms, known to the ancients from the earliest historical times through their control of the frankincense trade of S. Arabia. Ma‘in, identified by Halevy as the seat of the former, is on a hilltop surrounded by walls still well preserved. Numerous other ruins were found by him in the neighbourhood, together with inscriptions supporting the identification. Mārib, the Sabaean capital, was celebrated for its great dam, built according to tradition by the Queen of Sheba, and the bursting of which in A.D. 120 is said to have led to the abandonment of the city. This was, however, more probably due to the deterioration of the country through desiccation, which has forced the settled population farther westward, where Sana became the centre of the later Himyaritic kingdom. The Arhab district drained by the Wadi Kharid and Shibwan between Sana and the Jauf is covered with Himyaritic ruins, showing that the land formerly supported a large settled population where owing to the want of water cultivation is now impossible.
South of this independent tribal territory the principal places are Amran and Shibām on the road leading N. from the capital Sana; Dhamar (a town of 4000 inhabitants, the residence of a kaimakām, and the seat of an ancient university) and Yarim are on the road leading S. to Aden; and two days' journey to the E. is Rada in the extreme S.E. of Turkish Yemen, formerly a large town, but now much decayed. From near Rada the boundary runs S.W. to the small town of Kataba through which the direct road passes from Aden to Sana. The territory to the S. and E. is occupied by independent tribes under British protection, of which the principal are the Yafa‘, the Haushabi and the Abdali.
The inhabitants of Yemen are settled, and for the most part occupied in agriculture and trade, the conditions which favour the pastoral or Bedouin type found in Hejaz and Nejd hardly existing. As in the adjoining province of Hadramut, with which Yemen has always been closely related, the people are divided into four classes:— (1) The Seyyids or Ashrāf, descendants of the prophet, forming a religious aristocracy; (2) the Kabail, or tribesmen, belonging to the Kahtanic or original S. Arabian stock, who form the bulk of the population, and are the only class habitually carrying arms; (3) the trading class; (4) the servile class, mostly of mixed African descent, and including a number of Jews. These latter wear a distinctive garb and occupy separate villages, or quarters in the towns. Owing to the hardships to which they have been exposed through the disturbed state of the country, many are emigrating to Jerusalem.
(R. A. W.)