Last friday, the "Anthropology of Yemen" crew, composed of YCMES faculty, Drs Thomas Stevenson and Steven Caton, students, and researchers ventured to the nearby qaria of Thulla. The village retains its historical aspect above the productive hamlets of the Kawkaban region, carved into the mountainside and overlooking the southern sprawl of terraced farms and small wadis toward Sana'a. The streets are narrow and seemingly burrowed beneath the overhanging upper floors. As a seasoned anthropologist, Dr. Stevenson spent the morning socializing, eating and accepting invitations into the older styles of homes, with the livestock on the ground floor, dung cakes for heating and the traditional tandoor. The rest of us climbed to the top of the mountain to see the antiquities on top. We were accompanied by a small group of villagers who volunteered their local expertise for a small fee. According to one archaeological enthusiast, the Himyarites used the summit of Thulla as a gravesite and military outpost in pre-Islamic times. Since then, the hill station has retained its strategic importance for a long list of powerful players in Yemen's history, ranging from the earliest Islamic converts to the Ottomans, Imamates and Turks. We saw burial caves, several architectural styles stratified in the watchtowers, windswept masjids, weapon storerooms, as well as leftover munitions (everything from canon balls to .308 caliber cartridges). The mountain was very impressive from a natural standpoint as well, considering the desert vista, lizards, trees and wild roses we smelt along the way.
After three hours on the mountain, we reunited in the dabab (Yemeni for taxi-van) and drove to the village of Shibam, near the base of the hill station Kokoban. Tired from our morning adventure, we passed on the hike and ate at the famous "Hamida" restaurant and tourist hotel. We were served more food than three times our number could eat-and not just "food" either. The table overflowed with the festive Yemeni fare: Salta, Bint As-Sahan, lamb of all cuts, breads, sweets, Coca-cola, etc. Paraphrasing the words of our administrator, "we ate so much we couldn't see." Thankfully our vision cleared after a little respite for digestion and we moved to the ancient mosque of Shibam, where we again saw evidence from pre-Islamic and early Islamic civilizations carved into its foundations. We then retraced our steps to Sana'a, passing big (for Yemen) forests of qat along the way. Fortunately for us, the two anthropologists in the dabab were game for jokes and conversations about the area, complementing the great sightseeing with their wealth of knowledge and good senses of humor. Thus the trip lived up to an unofficial mission statement of the YCMES program: 1) Learn about Yemen, 2) from those who know about Yemen, and 3) by being in Yemen. And have fun while we're at it.
The approach to the Jabal: Peculiar construction in Thulla:
The way up: One of our friendly guides:
Overlooking Thulla: The hill station:
Colorful companion on the way: Village surrounded by qat farms to the West of Sana'a:
Michael, always on top of things:
Zach (USA), with additional photography from Tory (USA) [2013-05-31]
Editor's note: You can't go to Thula too often (although you probably can eat lunch in Shibam too often - I shall conduct further research into the matter). Also, in a more gossipy vein, Prof Stevenson was disappointed by the lack of pictures of old men with ploughs in the above post, a deficiency we shall address on our next visit. This won't be for a few weeks, though - the anthropologists are heading to Taiz and Ibb this weekend.