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Yemeni Crafts: A Valuable Yet Forgotten Legacy

Sawt Al-Amal (Voice of Hope) – Hebah Mohammed

When you look at the various types of craft industries in Yemen, you see an authentic historical piece of art created by a Yemeni person who excels in a variety of artisan industries. Yemen has a variety of handcraft industries according to the region and raw materials available. The Yemenis who possess the artistic sense and talent, also created handicrafts and crafts that have been known throughout history for their distinction and uniqueness. A significant number of families who manufacture handicrafts rely on the handicraft industry as a source of income and as a tool for economic development.

Craft Industries and their Types

Yemeni folklore is rich in many industries and handicrafts that have succeeded in preserving its aesthetic value and unique artistic qualities. Sana’a, for instance, is one of the most famous Yemeni cities in terms of crafts and handicrafts, as confirmed by a citizen who works in the trade of some of these handicrafts.

According to Hassan Abdullah, an old crafts merchant in the old market in the city of Ibb, silverware is one of the most well-known handicrafts in Yemen and the Arab world. It is also one of the most traditional and attractive crafts. It has symbolized the Yemeni people’s adherence to their identity and originality since ancient times. “The best kind of silver is Al-Bosaniah. Its origins can be traced to Haron Al-Bosani, a well-known trader in it. It was then followed by a variety of other types of silver, including Al- Badihiyah, Al-Mansuriyah, and Al-Akwaeyiah. Next came Al-Zaidiyah silver, which was known for being produced in Al-Hodeidah governorate and formed with plant designs,” he continued.

He emphasized that there is a high demand for silverware markets, which are becoming more popular outside of Yemen. Furthermore, many people are competing to buy engraved silver rings, necklaces and belts at exorbitant prices. “Another type of handicraft industry emerges in Yemen, such as pottery vessels made of clay and stone, colloquially called “madar and harad” and used to serve popular Yemeni meals, such as: porridge, salta, and sussi, in addition to the manufacture of pottery incense burners, pestles, pots, and ceramic dishes, which are used for decoration or serving food,” he continued. Abdullah also mentioned the manufacture of Yemeni cheese, bamboo hats, incense, and copper jugs engraved with beautiful decorations.

In the same context, Abdulqadir Al-Bughaili, an owner of a silverware and aqeeq shop in Ibb Governorate, claimed that traditional silverware styles, such as Al-Bosaniah and Al-Zaidiyah, began to disappear and be forgotten in favor of Turkish and Jewish silverware. He emphasize the importance of the role played by the Ministry of Culture in holding heritage exhibitions that showcased the ancient Yemeni crafts and fashion, which were well-liked by foreign tourists.

On the other hand, Samir Al-Odaini, the oldest trader in Al-Janabi market in Ibb Governorate, confirmed that Yemen is famous for the janbiya industry, which they inherited from their parents and grandparents, and which Yemenis consider a symbol of Yemeni manhood and identity. He pointed out that the Old City of Sana’a is the oldest province known for making janbiyas made from the horn of a rhinoceros. It is likely that janabiyas date back 1,300 years.

Challenges Facing the Craft

Hassan Abdullah, a merchant in several handicraft industries, claimed that because foreign industries had entered the market and were more affordable than local ones, consumers were less interested in buying the majority of ancient handicrafts. “Many workers in the craft industries were reluctant to continue working due to the lack of raw materials and their high prices, as well as the entry of Chinese, Iranian and Indian made crafts, which are considered cheaper than pottery,” he added.

Al-Bughaili, who has been working in the handicraft industry for 12 years, pointed out that workers in these industries face misleading practices by competing merchants, through the sale of traditional industries, such as Yemeni traditional clothing, aqeeq and silver, causing customers to lose confidence in local industries.

Tribal Legacies and Craft Industries

Walid Muhammad, who works in the trade of ancient Yemeni trade and silver in all its forms and types, confirmed that many women grow up with some of the tribal inheritances that they inherited from their fathers and grandfathers. Therefore, on the week of her wedding, a bride is required to wear the Asbah, that is made of silver and placed at the front of the forehead, as well as the old Yemeni dress, or what is known as the Sana’ani dress. She also wears silver bracelets on her hands. In addition, the place where the bride is received is decorated with the old Sana’ani sitara (a traditional colorful fabric once worn by Yemeni women) adorned with the qafsha, the hat made of palm fronds, and covered with the Sana’ani sitara.

A janbiya merchant explained to us that the Yemeni janbiya is a tribal heritage which men inherited from their fathers and grandfathers, and maintained by most Yemeni tribes as a tribal custom. The janbiya is also used as a symbol for settling serious disputes between two people or two tribes by presenting it for arbitration between the two.” He added that the janbiya appears in social events and folk dances where people dance with it to the tunes of the so-called Bara’a or Zamil.” He stressed in his speech, “We have a great need to develop and preserve these craft industries to ensure their survival and continuity.” He also emphasizedthe importance of the relevant authorities in documenting all craft industries, surveying them in the field, holding craft heritage exhibitions, and preventing the import of foreign products.

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