02 November, 2008

The Mud Bricked Houses of Hadhramout

Wady Hadhramout is known for its very conservative and strong culture and traditions; and great historical centers like: Shibam, Tarim and Seiyoun. Wadi Hadhramaut, is where Prophet Hood - Eber in the Old Testament, and many other prophets, saints and thinkers of Old, lived and preached.

During the recent rains and floods, Wadi Hadhramaut has suffered the most. Many people in the Wady - valley - have been killed, either by being swept away by floods or by houses collapsing on them after crumbling from the rains or floods. Due to it being very fertile, the 165 km. long and narrow Wady is densely populated; some parts of the Valley are extensively irrigated, and it's said that if Wadi Hadhramout's fertile land is all, intensively and properly used and cultivated - many millions of people could be fed from it.

Normally, when it rains, the Valley becomes even much greener and people harvest more; in fact, people cherish rain and consider it a great blessing and rahma - mercy. But when it rains heavily, it becomes a problem and can be tragic - as it has this time. Whenever there are heavy rains in the Wady, many mud bricked houses collapse.

In the Valley, most people greatly value, love and live in the mud, bricked houses. Be they simple farmers or pastoralists; be they traders and businessmen; be they millionaires or billionaires from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf; or the other rich businessmen from East Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia. And, they all know of the risk and danger mud bricked houses face, when it rains. Then, why do they build using mud and straw, and live in them?

Above in Tareem - the bricks, are made of mud and straw; and then dried in the hot sun. Below, also in Tarim, a mud, bricked wall in one of the simple peasants' houses.

Mud and straw are abundant in the valley and easily available - making it economically sensible and cheap to use. Due to the extreme weather conditions in the Valley - it gets very hot during summer reaching up to 50°C and during winter, it can drop to below 0°C - mud, walled houses are very suitable and comfortable to live in, whatever the weather. And, there is the traditional and cultural side of it: for thousands of years, the people of the Valley - where great civilizations and cities have grown and thrived - have depended on mud bricks for building their houses. Thousands of people, make their living making mud bricks or building these houses; livelihoods of thousands more, are dependent on the finishing touches involved in the building: various types of artisans, are normally involved in intricately decorating the inner walls; and thousands are involved in trading crushed gypsum or limestone used to whitewash - to protect the houses and prevent water damage - the upper rooftops, the interiors and sometimes, exteriors of the houses.

Above Al'Qatn: most houses are of mud bricks; they are very comfortable and beautiful inside. Many of the houses, seen in the distance here, collapsed during the recent rains. Those nearer the hills and on higher ground, survived; as they always do.

In Wadi Al'Ain, most people here, prefer building their houses very close to the hills and mountains. Some here, are built right by the sides of mountains.

Above and below, in Wadi Sa'ah - known for its superior dates: most houses are built very close to the paths of where floods normally pass. Below, in the distance, between the dates and the houses, can be seen the normal route of flood waters. This time, the torrents of water coming from, up, the mountains, were too much; many people died here. And many houses, cultivated lands and tens of thousands of livestock were destroyed here.

In short: the trade and business involved in mud bricked houses, affects livelihoods of most of those who live in the Wadi Hadhramaut; to change that, would mean changing the lifestyle of most people living there. With the recent rains and floods having caused so much destruction and tragedy, maybe, people of the Great Valley, will consider changing. They have to.