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  Book review

Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s

Ulrike Freitag and William Clarence-Smith (Eds)

Pp. x + 392. Notes. Glossary. Maps. Bibliog. Index. Hb. 60.

The origins of this book lie in an international gathering at S.O.A.S. in April 1995 of scholars working on the history of Hadhramaut and its diaspora. The book comprises revised versions of some nineteen of the thirty-one papers presented in 1995, plus three additional chapters. It is the only comprehensive work of its kind to have been published to date and includes much painstaking research on different themes and disciplines.

In his excellent introductory chapter, Hadhramaut and the Hadhrami Diaspora in the Modern Colonial Era, Clarence-Smith skilfully draws together the substance of the published papers. As he points out, Hadhrami emigration was limited almost exclusively to the Indian Ocean in contrast to the case of other Yemenis who went as labourers to Europe and North America. Nevertheless, the Indian Ocean basin covered a wide area — stretching from Egypt to Australia, and from South Africa to China. Within this immense region, Hadhramis were especially active — commercially, politically and as proselytisers of Sunni Islam — in what is now Indonesia and Malaysia, in south-western India and the Deccan, on both shores of the Red Sea and in the Gulf ofAden, and on the East African littoral and adjacent islands down to the Comoros. Clarence-Smith concludes that the history of Hadhramaut during the past two centuries can only be understood in the context of its far-flung diaspora, and that due to their successful networking Hadliramis played a much greater role in their host societies than the small size and population of their homeland might have suggested; they displayed a remarkable ability to blend with the local scene while still retaining a distinct identity. Clarence-Smith mentions studies on Hadhrami emigrants by Van den Berg (1886) and Ingrams (1937) but oddly omits any mention of the important contribution of Salah al-Bakri, although there are references to Bakri’s work in Alexander Knysh’s paper on religious reformism in Hadhramaut. Bakri was born in Java and together with intellectuals like Ali Ba Kathir became deeply involved in the cultural, political and literary activities of the Hadhrami diaspora.

Syed Farid Alatas’ paper, Hadhramaut and the Hadhrami Diaspora, deals largely with issues of historiography. He believes that Ibn Khaldun’s concept of ‘asabiyya’ is relevant to our understanding of the role of the ‘hawta’ (religious sanctuary). In discussing the social hierarchy of Hadhrami communities in former times, he fails to mention the ‘qaba’il’ (tribes) and the freedmen — a group which had a strong presence in India supplying recruits for the Nizam of Hyderabad’s African Cavalry Guard (the ‘Risala-e-Huboosh’). Perhaps he may have intended to club the former with the ‘mashayikh’ and the latter with the ‘masakeen’! Moreover, ‘hawtas’ were not merely associated with the ‘saada’ but also with some ‘mashayikh’, although not many. A point worth emphasising is that the Arabs involved in the spread of Islam in the Far East were primarily from South West Arabia.

Friedhelm Hartwig has made a bold attempt in his paper, Expansion, State Foundation and Reform: the contest for power in Hadhramaut in the nineteenth century to introduce the waters of a sea into ajar and, like Freitag, Boxberger, Khalidi and others, he has largely succeeded. He has used an impressive range of Arabic sources, including Salim bin Muhammad bin Hamid al-Kindi’s Tarikh Hadhramaut (1991). Hartwig, however, overlooks the reason why so many Yafa’is were willing to accompany Badr bin Muhammad al-Marduf to Hadhramaut in 1705 AD. it was not gold nor land, for Badr had neither to offer, but local Zaidi pressures and the fact that the (Sunni) Mansab of’Ainat had urged them to support Badr (the Mansab’s family had enjoyed spiritual influence inYafa’ since the time of Ali Harhara, a popular preacher who had trained in ‘Ainat). Incidentally, Hadhrami historians tend to refer to the lawless conditions prevalent in the region without pointing out that no ruler, however well-intentioned, could hope to bring warlike tribes to heel and control them without funds. The high quality of Hartwig’s paper does not immunise it from the odd factual error. For example, the Aal Abdullah (Kathiris) did not buy al-Ghurfa from a ‘Yafa’i family’ but from a Tamimi clan called al-Qaraamisa. And it is wrong to suggest that the Qu’aiti dynasty established themselves in Hadhramaut ‘with massive help from British forces’. They did so inspite of British opposition to them — persisting almost to the very end of their needlessly prolonged struggle with the Kasadi Naqib, and at tremendous cost. The British attitude was driven by the perception that Qu’aiti rule would mean an expansion of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s influence beyond the borders of India. Indeed, there is firm evidence (from the records of the Bombay Presidency) that the only help which the British agreed to give the Qu’aitis — in the latter’s efforts to retrieve al-Shihr from the Kathiris in 1866 AD. — was limited to the sale of materials such as rope, lead and gunpowder! This, moreover, was in return for Qu’aiti/Hyderabadi support for British India during the Mutiny — a crisis which had led the Bombay Presidency to telegraph, ‘all is lost if the Nizam goes’. Later on, when the Qu’aitis and Kasadis quarrelled, the Aden Residency initially supported the Kasadis. It was the Qu’aiti family’s financial strength and proven ability to police the region which ultimately won it British acceptance (although the British remained unhappy about Qu’aiti links with Hyderabad). Another misconception has been that the Qu’aitis — because of their littoral possessions — were a coastal dynasty, whereas historically their seat of power lay inland; their first involvement in Hadhrami affairs was in Wadi Hadhramaut where they intervened to retrieve Tarim, Seiyun and Shibam for locally settledYafa’is who had lost these towns to the Kathiris.

Linda Boxberger’s paper, Hadhrami Politics (1888-1967), represents an admirable effort to come to grips with this complex subject. Since she mentions the monthly salary paid by the Qu’aitis to the paramount chief of the Hamum to compensate him for the privations of good behaviour, this writer cannot resist pointing out that the latter’s salary was one third (20 thalers) more than that paid by the parsimonious British to the Qu’aiti Sultan!

With regard to the 1918 agreement between the Qu’aiti and Kathiri Sultans to make Hadhramaut a single realm, it was not the Kathiri who objected but his fellow clansmen enriched in the Far East (e.g. Bin ‘Abdat) and with ambitions of their own. It is noteworthy that for a long time security in Seiyun and Tarim was maintained by Qu’aiti soldiers — until Sultan Umar bin Awadli al-Qu’aiti decided to trim expenditure and withdraw them.

Without wishing to detract from Harold Ingrams’ role as peace-maker in the late 1 930s, I would like to mention that Sultan Umar bin Awadh’s tour of the interior in 1934 was the catalyst for the conclusion of a number of truces which Ingrams was later able to extend or build upon. Miss Boxberger is to be congratulated on being the first person to present an accurate account of the riot in Mukalla over the appointment of Shaikh Gaddal as Minister during Colonel Boustead’s term as Resident Adviser and British Agent.

The paper presented by Engseng Ho, a young anthropologist of Malay Chinese origin, Hadhramis Abroad in Hadhramaut: the Muwalladin, discusses the tensions that often arose between ‘pure’ Hadhramis back home and racially mixed Hadhramis (‘muwalladin’) overseas who were seen by some conservative leaders in Hadhramaut as morally lax and a source of contamination. It is worth noting that originally the term ‘muwallad’ simply denoted those born outside (Wadi) Hadhramaut (the people of the coast refer to the interior as ‘Hadhramaut’ and those oftheWadi refer to the coast as ‘al-Sahel’, although in former times the coast was known as ‘al-Shihr’) — and did not necessarily imply those born abroad. For example, Sayyid Hamid al-Mihdhar in his biography (1983) of his grandfather Sayyid Hussain, mentions that those born on the coast of Hadhramaut were also referred to as ‘muwalladin’ while those born in the interior referred to themselves as ‘wilayati’. Thus the term ‘muwalladin’ is, in general, purely a reference to Hadhramis born beyond the Wadi and abroad; someone, for example, born of mixed blood in Hadhramaut is not called a ‘muwallad’.

Freitag’s concluding chapter, The Diaspora since the Age of Independence, discusses changes in the pattern of Hadhrami emigration in the post-war and post-colonial period, notably the shift from settler migration to mostly non-Arab countries, towards short-term labour migration to the Gulf states. She also draws attention to the negative impact of Marxist rule in South Yemen on relations between homeland and diaspora, and to the growing pressures on Hadliramis resident outside the Arab world to assimilate at the expense of their cultural and linguistic heritage.

This book has much to offer both the general reader and the specialist but its price places it beyond the reach of most private pockets. We must hope that the publishers will soon make it more widely accessible by bringing out a paperback edition.