24 January, 2006

Know Hadhramaut

Hadhramout or Hadhramaut or Hadhramawt : Hä′dhrä môt′ (Arabic: حضرموت‎ ) Ha·dhra·maut
In Arabic it's spelt حضرموت. And only that. And pronounced Ḥaḍramawt or Hä′dhrä môt′. But spelt in Latin letters, حضرموت has many spelling variations. It is spelt: Hadhramout or Hadhramaut or Hadhramawt or Hadramout or Hadramaut or Hadramawt; some even spell it as Hadhramot or Hadramot. In the Bible, it's called Hazarmaveth. The people of Hadhramout are referred to as Hadharem and Hadhramy for singular.

Mountain landscapes, clear blue skies and seas, golden beaches, exotic nights, pristine deserts, spectacular unspoiled nature and the stunning splendor of amazing architecture - unique to anywhere else on Earth. With an area of about 58,500 sq mi (151,514 sq km.) - extending about 640 km. from East to West. That's Hadhramaut. Inhabited since the Stone Age and was the seat of the ancient Arab Civilization. Hadhramaut, mentioned in the Noble Quran  as where God's Prophets: Saleh and Hood, lived and preached. And in the Bible, it is referred to as Hazarmaveth.

Briefly: Hadhramaut Governorate (Province) now, is what was of the former Sultanates of Al Qa'ety and Al Kathiri. Both of which were British Protectorates, indirectly governed by the British representatives in Aden until Southern Yemen's independence in 1967; Aden was the largest city in the then Southern Yemen and became its capital after independence. Historically, Hadhramaut's capital was in Shabwa and extended from Shabwa in the East, all the way to Mahra and the border of Oman in the West.

Hadhramawt was long ago referred to as the Land of Al'Ahqaf. Legend has it that Hadhramaut was named so, after Amar Bin Qahtan, who is said to have invaded Al'Ahqaf; after the disappearance of the A'ad people who are mentioned in the Noble Quran. Folklore has it that, whenever Amar Bin Qahtan entered a battle, many people died. And thus, the Land of Al'Ahqaf was called Hadhr (meaning in Arabic: 'has come' or 'was present') and mout (meaning 'death' in Arabic). While Biblical dictionaries, seem to indicate that the name Hadhramout, is what is referred to as Hazarmaveth in The Bible - Genesis 10:26 and Chronicles 1:20. Hazarmaveth is said to have been derived from the Greek word hydreumata; meaning enclosed or fortified 'watering stations' found in valleys.

Presently, Hadhramaut is the Province with the largest territory in the Republic of Yemen. It lies in the south of the Arabian Peninsula with the Gulf of Aden and the Provinces of: Shabwa, Mareb and Al'Jawf bordering in the West; the Arabian Sea in the South; Saudi Arabia in the North and the Province of Mahra and Oman to the East. There are no recent population census of Hadhramout; but there could be up to one million people or more in Hadhramaut now, mostly concentrated in the very fertile Wady Hadhramout and along the Coast. Those in the Wadi, are mainly pastoralists and subsistence farmers growing mainly grain and fodder; while those living along the coast, are mostly traders, fishermen and subsistence farmers too. All people of Hadhramawt are Muslims and Sunni; and its people are known for their vast knowledge of Islam and being very conservative.

Hadhramout has a diverse relief, of coastal plains on the Arabian Sea comprising of many pristine, fascinating beaches. And inland, there are extensive mountains, some reaching up to 2,000m above sea level; and valleys - stretching all the way to the vast, sandy desert of Rub El'Khali (The Empty Quarters). Of the valleys (wadys), the largest and most densely populated is the very fertile, palmed, 165km. long Wadi Hadhramaut; its largest tributary is Wady Do'an, which is also very fertile and populated. The plateaus and vast northern deserts, are uninhabited and almost completely barren

Hadhramout has two main seasons: from May to September, it's very hot with temperatures inland some times, in June and July, reaching up to as high as 50°C and along the coast up to as high as 43°C; from October to March, it gets cooler. During December and January, temperatures inland can some times, especially at nights, drop to below 0°C; along the coast, temperatures in winter average to a moderate 20°C to 28°C. Through out the year, the Coast is mostly humid, more so during summer; and inland, especially in the valleys, it's dry through out the year.

The Highlands of Hadhramaut

A few kilometers from the narrow coastal plain, are the highlands of Hadhramout: a rather broad, barren, pebbly plateau averaging from about 1,300m to 1,400m above sea level, intersected by a few valleys; some deep and some shallow; some narrow and some wide. The uplands are very sparsely populated by a few Bedouins; while the valleys, like Wady Hadhramout and Wadi Do’an, are densely peopled.

A few kilometers from the Coast, the mountains begin. At some points - there are steep escarpments and at some, the hills gently rise. And as the land rises, it gets cooler and drier; the heat and the humidity decrease.

High up on the Plateau, it's mostly cool and air is totally dry through out the year; during winter, it can get and be - very cold, with temperatures dipping to zero Celsius or even lower, at nights. People have been known to freeze to death due to the cold winters there. Most people who have never been to deserts, do not realize that hot deserts can get to be very cold; and as the cold is dry, it can be very discomforting. And dangerous to health if one is not properly dressed in warm clothing.

It's mainly when the rains fall heavily on these highlands, that the valleys below get flooded. Which can be very good for agriculture; but, many times, the populace below, in the valleys, do not know when it has rained heavily up on the Plateau. And so, when the waters come streaming and gushing down - many are caught unawares; and at times, the floods can cause enormous devastation to crops and buildings; and many people get killed. During winter, these mountains, at times, especially late at nights and in the mornings - are covered with fog and mist. Sometimes, from a distance, the mists look like floating clouds; and when one is higher, that can be a sight to behold: seeing clouds floating below. As the mists and fog can get very thick and very much reduce visibility, driving on the roads, snaking up and through the Plateau can be very dangerous. Many, and some of the deadliest, accidents in Hadhramout, happen during this time; on these highlands.

With the harsh weather conditions and very rugged nature of these highlands, very few people are willing to live on the highlands; a few Bedouins can be found in some of the valleys on the Plateau. Oil is already being produced under some of these highlands. It's said that some of the largest fresh underwater reservoirs in the Middle East, are found here.

Wadi Hadhramaut

About 200 km. inland from Al Mukalla - the main urban center at the Coast and the largest city in Hadhramawt - is the very fertile valley of Wadi Hadhramout; and it is where the historic city of Shibam is.

Shibam is under UNESCO's program for safeguarding cultural heritages - and is believed to be the first 'city of skyscrapers' in the world; Manhattan has a striking resemblance to it. Flying by air above - it is even more strikingly so. Shibam, is built wholly of mud bricks - like most houses in Wadi Hadhramaut. The mud bricked buildings of Shibam, rise 5 to 9 story's high.

Shibam: surrounded by a fortified wall, five or more centuries old; several times it has been the capital of Hadhramout. It has been, in the past, an important center for trade in the Arabian Peninsula. It is often referred to as "the oldest skyscraper-city in the world", or "the Manhattan of the desert". And now: it still is a place very much worth visiting. Still, ancient in many ways. And still, inordinately fascinating. That's Shibam.

From Mukalla, traveling inland - takes about three hours by road to cover the almost 300 km. to reach Shibam. One has to drive through the mountainous high plateau; about 70 km. from Shibam, the plateau ends and one enters the spectacular entrance of Wady Hadhramout! From the high plateau, abruptly, one descends into a very steep slope and as suddenly - the valley below opens up. It is like entering another world. Another planet. The date palm trees, the mud houses - some seeming to cling on mountain sides - and the valley itself, are just spellbinding. Too spectacular for words!

Wadi Hadhramaut is the longest valley in the Arabian Peninsula; it is about 170 kms. long and between 500 m. and 13 km. wide.

Districts of Hadhramaut

List of names of all the districts in Hadhramaut: Zamakh wa Manwakh, Qof al Awamer, Thamood, Rum'mah, Abr, Hajar Al Sai'ar, Al Qat'n, Shibam, Seiyoun, Tareem, Soum, Rakh'yah, Horaidha, Wady Al'Ayn, Sa'ah, Ghail Bin Yumain, Amd, Dhula'iah, Do'an, Yab'eth, Hajar, Broom, Al Mukalla, Ghail Bawazeer, Shae'her, Al Dees and Raidah wa Qusai. Socotra Island, which is a part of Hadhramout, has two districts: Qalansya and HadibouSee large Map of Hadhramaut here.


Socotra or Soqotra or Suqutra (Arabic:سقطرى) is the largest island in Yemen, approximately  (3,625 km²) 130 Km long by and about 30 Km wide and has a population of about 70,000; a population who have their own distinct language and culture; and who also speak Arabic. The coastal area is inhabited by fishermen; a majority of whom are of African origin and live in African huts. Whereas the valleys are inhabited by nomads of Arab origin; and the mountain regions are inhabited by nomads and descendants of an old South Arabian tribe who still speak the old Arabian dialect Socotri, which is related to the Mahri dialect. Having been virtually isolated from the rest of the world for a long period, Socotra remains one of the most fascinating places on Earth. Many animals and plants that are today on Socotra - are found nowhere else on earth. Socotra has been isolated biologically for several million years, and about one-third of the animals and plants on the Island, are only found there. (Map)

The Major Urban Centers of Hadhramaut

Al Mukalla(Arabic: المكلا‎) was originally a small fishing settlement called Khaisa or Bandar Ya'aqoub; it was then, dwarfed by Al Sheher in the East and Broum in the West. It has gradually, and of late - rapidly, grown and expanded and is today the largest city and main trading center in Hadhramout, with about half a million people; it has, too, the largest sea port and airport in Eastern Yemen. Mukalla is made up of: Al Salaam - the old part and center, which is still the main trading and busiest part of Mukalla; and many people still live within it. Shaerj - which is slowly taking over from Al Salaam as the main commercial area; it too, is densely populated. Al Dees - has the two largest private hospitals and some hotels and shops; it is more of a residential area and it has a large population. Fowah - which is about 10 kms. from the center of main Mukalla, is the most pleasant, modern and quietest part of the city; it is being planned as the future commercial and trading center of the city; it is much better planned and its buildings, unlike those of the older areas, are well spaced. Bweysh and Rooqob -  are a few kms. too, out of Mukalla proper; they are quiet and well planned too.  And Riyyan is where the city's airport is located; it is an international port receiving flights from within and out of Yemen.

Seiyoun:(Arabic: سيئون‎), is about 320 kms., inland, from Al Mukalla. It has a population of about 100,000, is the largest urban center and capital of Wadi Hadhramaut. It's famous for its splendid, intricately built mud bricked houses; and its palm trees and wonderful souqs in narrow streets, where: frankincense, myrrh, antique silver and authentic Hadhramy souvenirs are sold.

Tarim: is about 35 kms. nort-east of Seiyoun. It was once the cultural, academic and theological center not only for Hadhramout, but the whole of the Arabian Peninsular. Tarim has lost most of its glory and splendor but it still is a center for Islamic scholars and education.

Al Qat'n:is about 270 kms. from Mukalla and about 50 kms. before Seiyoun, south-west of it. Commercially, it is the second busiest urban center after Seiyoun in Wadi Hadhramaut.

Shibam: a city of of tall buildings, clustered together; built of bricks made of mud and straw; and s
urrounded by a fortified wall. Five centuries old. Several times, it has been the capital of Hadhramaut. It has been, in the past, an important center for trade in the Arabian Peninsula. And since 1982, has been on UNESCO's programme for safeguarding cultural heritages. It is between Al Qat'n and Seiyoun and is ften referred to as "the oldest skyscraper-city in the world", or "the Manhattan of the desert".

Ghail Bawazeer: is about 35 kms. east of
Mukalla. It is a small quiet, sleepy town with little commercial activity; and  farmed land on its fringes. Grown are: coconut palms, tobacco, fruits, vegetables and henna.

in the olden days, its sea-port was much busier than Mukalla's. It flourished as a transit point for frankinsence and the main traveling/transit point for Hadharem going to East Africa, Indonesia and India. Presently, its port is almost dead but the town has rapidly expanded and commercially grown. It is the second main urban and commercial center, after Mukalla, on the Hadhramaut coast.

Al Hajrayn: is about 70 kms. south-west of Al Qat'n. It is a small twown which is more of a village, in the the Wady Do'an. It is famous for its cluster of mud-bricked houses perched on the side of a hill. It is a popular tourist destination.

Huraidha: is a very small, quiet town about 50 kms. south-west of Al Qat'n. It is at the entrance of Wady Do'an and has some old ruins not far from it.

Thamood:(Arabic: ثمود‎) is in the far north-east of Hadhramaut and
 could be the historical location mentioned in the Noble Qur'an. Thamood is a quiet, small shopping center with few shops; located in a flat barren area, close to the Rub Al Khali desert.

Hadibo and Qalansya (Soqotra): are the largest residential areas on the Island with most of the ‎Island's population living in them. 

The Progenies of Hadhramout

In the olden days - Hadhramout's importance came mainly from it having been a very important route of the incense trade, which made it prosperous and strong. The Hadharem, as the people of Hadhramout are called, love traveling and adventures. Historically, few Arabs have traveled as extensively as Hadhramys have; and fewer have left their marks in other parts of the World, as the people of Hadhramout have done. Be it in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf countries; be it in Eastern Africa; or, be it in the Southern or Far East of Asia - Indonesia, Malayasia, Singapore, Brunei, India etcetera. - the Hadharem, through their peacefully spreading Islam, knowledge or doing business, have played major, and some times - influential roles, in these parts of the World.

Abu Zayd 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun al-Hadhrami; Mari­ bin Amude Alkatiri, the former Prime Minister of East Timor; and many other more notable World personalities - have one thing in common: they are all descendants of Hadhramy migrants; from Hadhramout. Many reasons have been given for the 'Hadhramy Diaspora' but the best can be that of the: 'Hadhramy trader, who often like Sindbad the sailor, risked his life and capital to set sail upon the sea and to go about the islands of South East Asia buying and selling'. The Hadharem, just like and love traveling and exploring. The further and the more unknown - the better.

'The Arabs from Hadramaut have been migratory from time immemorial'; and they have traveled and migrated not only to South East Asia, but to almost every corner of the World: North Africa, the Horn of Africa, East Africa, Central and Southern Africa, India, the Far East and Europe - all have large Hadhramy migrants or their descendants. And in the recent last few years, many too, have migrated to the Americas and Europe.

It is mainly the Hadharem who introduced and spread Islam to most parts of Eastern Africa, South and South East Asia; and the Far East. And this, only in the last few centuries. The Hadharem spread far and wide and would always choose to settle down in these far regions and inter-marry with the indigenous people of that area, who have become Muslims.

The Hadharem are renowned for their extensive knowledge on Islam and for their strong business acumen; and many International scholars and businessmen of note, are of Hadhramy origin. Today, the Hadharem - not only have a strong, solid presence in Yemen; but, in the neighboring countries of the Arabian Peninsular too; and do still, have a strong presence in some of the remotest parts of the World: Eastern Africa and South East Asia - in particular.

Today, there are many more Hadharem outside Yemen, than there are within. There are probably 10 to 15 million Hadhramy descendants living out of Hadhramout. Most of whom have lost contact with their origins, but many still keep and maintain the conservative, religious, humble and at the same time - fiercely proud nature of the Hadharem.

Hadhramout's Social Structure

Hadhramaut’s social structure is based on a tribal system. The tribes are classified into levels of nobility based upon genealogy and responsibility. Most tribes are ruled by a ‘sheikh‘ which is a hereditary title. His responsibilities include: administering justice, protecting the tribe, sustaining tribal status, and providing grazing territory for the herds. The territories are staunchly defended, partly by monitoring all of the goods and persons that pass through it. Normally, when a ‘sheikh’ passes away – his son takes over.

Most Hadharem surnames, start with Ba or Bin or Al; and it’s mainly in that last name whereby a persons social status is defined. At the top of the Hadhramy society are the Sayyids who are not rulers or tribal chiefs, but are families who are considered to have special qualities of supernatural kind in nobility and spiritual powers; the title has been given to them in honour of their being said to be descendants of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). After the Sayyids are the ‘Shaikhs‘ (not the tribal leader ‘sheikhs‘) but a tribal group of people who, like the Sayyids – are considred to be more knowledgeable, especially in religion. Both the Sayyids and the ‘Shaikhs‘ have dominated Hadhramy society with their sheer power over knowledge. After the two, come the ‘Gabails‘ or ‘warrior’ tribes, whose power comes almost wholly from their being considered as the bravest in warfare and their possessing the most armaments. It’s the ‘Gabails‘ who are headed by ‘sheikhs‘ and it’s they who have always fought each other – in the past – for supremacy. ‘Gabails‘ too, are rarely interested in knowledge or education, believing more in the power of arms. After the three comes the ‘Masaakins‘ or the ‘poor’ – not poor in material possessions but meaning ‘poor’ in knowledge and armaments. Last are the ‘Abids‘ or the ‘slaves’ who are descendants of former slaves, mainly African.

With the rapid development and modernization in Hadhramaut, all this social structure is now fast disintegrating and changing.


Families in Hadhramout are solidly built and maintained; families are the most important core of Hadhramy life. In all families in Hadhramout, men are the head, protectors and spokesmen for families; and are the main bread earners - but it is the girls and women who play the most central role and are actually the moving forces behind most families. It is the women who are the main and central foundation of families.

At home, the girls' and women's areas, will always be more comfortable and secure than any other section of the home. While traveling too, the women are given the most considerations; with their comfort and safety very much considered. Women and girls too, will spend more of the family income for their personal needs, than either boys or men.

At the same time, women work hard at home: taking care of the children and the household, preparing meals; and for some - working hard in the fields or taking care of the family herd. Men shop for most of what are needed; women normally go shopping for all kitchen utensils, and for the children's and their own clothing. 

Though polygamy is allowed, it is most rare around Hadhramout; and divorce too, is most rare It seems, once children come - divorce is almost unthinkable of. The only way one can explain this, is - again, the very important consideration that is given to women and families.

Main Reference: Here

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