Cultural Yemen

The tribal and social structure

The population of the Haraz mountains is organized on a triabal basis. Although the structures here are not so strict as in some other parts of yemen. There are clearly defined topographical boundaries between trives, often along wadis.  A member of a tribe must have an unbroken bloodline, be able- bodied and entitled to vote. There are no visible differences between  the different tribes either in clothing or appearance. One is born into a tribe, In exceptional cases it is possible to change tribes but the result is in a decline in status and social standing and most remain in the trive of their father and grandfather.

The head of the tribe is the sheikh,  who is elected by male members of a tribe. At a tribal gathering. Sheikhs are often in office for long periodbut if they do not satisfy their voters, can be voted out of office, In practice however the sheikhs usually come from well-off families and the office remains in the family for generations.


Shibam owes its fame to its distinct architecture, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The houses of Shibam are all made out of mud brick but about 500 of them are tower houses, which rise 5 to 11 stories high,[2] with each floor having one or two apartments.[3] This building technique was implemented in order to protect residents from Bedouin attacks. While Shibam has been in existence for an estimated 1,700 years, most of the city’s houses originate from the 16th century. Many, though, have been rebuilt numerous times in the last few centuries.

Shibam is often called “the oldest skyscraper city in the world” or “the Manhattan of the desert”, and is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction.[4] The city has the tallest mud buildings in the world, with some of them over 30 meters[5] (100 feet) high, thus being early high-rise apartment buildings. In order to protect the buildings from rain and erosion, the façades are thickly coated and must be routinely maintained.

The nearby town of Tarim contains the tallest structure in the Wadi Hadhramaut valley, the mudbrick minaret of the Al-Mihdhar mosque. It stands at a height of approximately 53 meters (175 feet.)[3]This is the tallest minaret in the southern Arabian peninsula.[6]

In 1999 the documentary film Architecture of Mud was made on the subject by the filmmaker Caterina Borelli.[7]

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Al Mukalla (Arabic: المكلا‎ Al Mukallā) is a main sea port and the capital city of the Hadramaut coastal region in Yemen in the southern part ofArabia on the Gulf of Aden close to the Arabian Sea. It is located 480 km (300 mi) east of Aden and is the most important port in the Governorate of Hadramaut, the largest governorate in South Arabia. Al Mukalla is the fourth largest city in Yemen with a population of approximately 300,000. The city is served by the nearby Riyan Airport.


Say’un (Arabic: سيئون‎, also transliterated as Saywun or Seiyun) is a town in the Hadhramaut region of YemenPostage stamps from the formerAden Protectorate sultanate of Kathiri (Aden-Kathiri) are sometimes inscribed “Kathiri State of Seiyun.” As of 2006 the population was 75,700.

The most prominent landmark is the Sultan Al Kathiri Palace, built in 1920s.

It is served by Seiyun Airport.


Seiyun is one of the most important administrative towns in Wadi Hadramaut. Such as nearly all towns within the oasis situated in the valley, it is surrounded by palm groves and irrigated fields. Red shimmering nearly vertical rock cliffs soar on both sides of the Wadis. A round trip through the old town and the Souq from Seiyun present an impression of the changes that have occurred in this remote region during the past 20 years. The regions history and traditions are illustrated in the small museums and the former Sultans Palace of Seiyun. One has a wonderful view across the centre of the up and coming provincial town from the roof of the majestic and towering palace.


Tarim lies in the “in itself” gradually constricting eastern part of the Wadi Hadramaut. For hundreds of years the town has been considered to be the centre of Islamic scholarship, but its trading families are also of nationwide importance. For hundreds of years, residents of the Hadramaut have been drawn to India , Southeast Asia , and to African commercial towns to conduct business. With age, many returned to their native country, and brought riches and their families with them from the foreign countries. Many of the rich trading dynasties have their headquarters in one of the numerous palaces of Tarim, of which the architecture shows a colourful mixture of various styles. The town’s landmark however, is the 60-metre tall minaret of the Al-Mihdhar-Mosque, which as all buildings of the Hadramaut, is made of air-dried clay bricks.


The first Europeans named this fascinating place the Chicago of the desert. The up to eight storey high clay houses of the walled town are built very close together. Narrow alleys wind their way through the town, of which the oldest houses are 500 years old. Shibam was probably founded in the second century after Christ, and is supposed to have looked very much like it does today. Such as the old town area of Sana’a, Shibam belongs to the cultural heritage of the human race.

Wadi Dowan

Hadjarain lies on the ridge of a mountain above the large river-pebble filled Wadi and the periodically flooded fields. The sparse remains of the ancient settlement of Raybun (findings and reconstruction plans are at the museum in Seyun) at the north entrance to the Wadi Dowan, make one become familiar with the ancient colonisation of this tributary valley of the large Wadi Hadramaut. Particularly the south part of the valley is famous for its picturesque scenery and bold architecture. As from Hadjarain, the Wadi narrows down and is then followed partially by oasis’s thickly covered with palms. The palace like houses of many villages suggest a surprising amount of wealth – such as in ancient times, many from this area are drawn abroad as traders. In Yemen itself, the Wadi Dowan is above all famous for it excellent honey produced by its apiarists.
Hadjarain lies on the ridge of a mountain above the large river-pebble filled Wadi and the periodically flooded fields.
In Sif (25 kilometres away from Hadjarain, approximately 45 minutes journey along un-tarred roads), a few colourfully painted houses brighten the place up a little.
Buddah (23 kilometres away from Sif, approximately 40 minutes journey) is the market centre of the inner Wadi Dowan. It is here, that one track branches off towards the west, and leads across a part of the Djol Plateau within the Wadi Hajr, which is rarely visited by tourists. This journey is not always possible due to the track being flooded for a number of days after the seasonal rainfalls. From Buddah however, a further track climbs in an easterly direction up to Djol, and then carries on up to the main connection road between the Wadi Hadramaut and Al Mukalla. When travelling up out of the Wadi, a spectacular view is presented of the Wadi below.