Yemen Culture and Traditions
Asia,  Middle East

Yemen Culture and Traditions


As an Arab country where Islam pervades every aspect of life and society, Yemen nevertheless preserves precious signs of the pre-Islamic era and of the other cultures of which, in some way, it has undergone the influence, from the Hellenic to the Chinese. According to Countryaah, Yemen is one of countries starting with letter Y. The geographical position at the crossroads between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean has in fact favored, over the centuries, the landing and the more or less prolonged settlement of travelers, conquerors and merchants, although then the rigid Islamic imprint has hindered the economic and cultural opening towards the world for a long time. If in urban centers there are signs of modernity and industrialization, the lifestyle of a large part of the population remains rural, linked to traditional customs and practices. The past and history of the country still live above all in the architecture of the houses in the villages, in local handicraft products (fabrics, jewels, daggers), in traditional music, which boasts many exponents known throughout the Arab world, in works of ancient art preserved in museums. Today the figurative arts manage in some cases to free themselves from the Islamic precepts that bind them and numerous works of modern and contemporary art appear in the galleries. The National Art Center and the National Museum of Sanʽā are among the most active and important institutions in the country in promoting national works. The legacy of the past can also be found in the Ottoman or Asian architecture that are added to those of the more recent mosques. UNESCO has included three sites in the World Heritage Site: the old city of Shibām and the city walls (1982); the old town of Sanʽā (1986); the historic city of Zabīd (1993).


A country closed to any external influence for centuries, it is no wonder that it has preserved intact the customs and traditions of an agro-pastoral civilization. A large part of the population is devoted to agriculture and only some tribes still practice nomadic pastoralism. Weddings and maternity are the richest moments in folkloric expressions, such as dances, performed separately by women and men, who often use weapons such as daggers and swords in their choreography. In addition to family holidays, Islamic recurrences are celebrated and, among the civil ones, the anniversaries of revolutions and the day of independence (30 November). The clothing is rich and made with silks or precious fabrics. The past bellicosity relives in the use of men to wear a curved dagger with a richly worked sheath on their belt. Even richer and more elaborate is the female dress: a long silk veil with red and white discs on a black background covers the face; a whole series of handkerchiefs in various colors and designs are placed on the hair and on all of them there is a triangle of colored fabric, knotted at the nape, and a brightly colored veil. The whole person is then wrapped in a cloak. On the feet, women wear red or black slippers of fabric or leather. During the holidays, the face and hands are painted with various designs. The cuisine includes a national dish, the salta, spiced meat accompanied by legumes; different types of bread are consumed, and one of these forms the basic ingredient of The cuisine includes a national dish, the salta, spiced meat accompanied by legumes; different types of bread are consumed, and one of these forms the basic ingredient of The cuisine includes a national dish, the salta, spiced meat accompanied by legumes; different types of bread are consumed, and one of these forms the basic ingredient of bint al sahn, a dessert prepared with honey and butter. Favorite drink is tea, natural, flavored with mint or with the addition of milk.


During the Mineo reignsand Sabaean Yemen experienced a great artistic flourishing whose testimonies, already scarce due to the destruction ordered by Muhammad, have not yet been fully studied. However, it is possible to recognize in the pre-Islamic monuments of South Arabian art a dense network of relationships with the rest of the ancient world, particularly with the Persian and late Babylonian ones; in a later phase, at the beginning of our era, there are also links with the Hellenistic civilization, particularly with Seleucid and Roman Syria. The buildings were generally built with the technique of layers of stones and wooden armor which allowed the construction of palaces up to twenty floors. The temples, of a square and very severe character, generally had a rectangular plan (Mineo temple of ‘Attar near Qarnāw, Sabaean temples of Sirwāh-Arhab and el-Huqqa), but there are also examples with a square (Gaybum), rectangular apsed (Sirwāh) or elliptical plan, such as the temple of Almaqah in Mārib; externally they were decorated with painted stucco or stone slabs carved with typically oriental motifs (palmettes, vine shoots, griffins). Of the sculptural production, noteworthy are the stone slabs with inscriptions completed by borders with animal and plant motifs; the steles with engraved figures in profile; statuettes of ancestors in limestone, alabaster or bronze in which it is possible to grasp the transition from more rigid and severe forms to greater expressiveness and softness determined by Hellenistic and Palmyrene influences. Almost nothing remains of the Christian churches built by the Abyssinians. Islamic art introduced completely new forms (mosque in Sanʽā, domed mosque-mausoleum in Dhāmar); the minarets in this area took on the form of back floors.

Yemen Culture and Traditions