08 November, 2009

A touching story from a Soqotri...

I have just read this touching story about Soqotra and one of its descendants now living in the UAE. I quote:

The islands are famed for their diversity of plant species, about a third of which are found nowhere else on Earth. The natural resources and strategic location of the Socotra, 80km east of Somalia and 380km south of Yemen, led the archipelago to play a major role in the ambitions of empire builders from as long ago as Alexander the Great.

Born in a cave in Socotra, Abdullah Suleyman al Mehri never dreamt that he would one day raise his eight children in the wealth of the UAE. He worked as a goatherd until 1955 when, at the age of 15, he came to the Gulf as a trader, also working as a builder in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Today, the islands support a population of approximately 50,000, who survive mainly on fishing, goat herding and agriculture. However, there is little evidence of the original inhabitants; those who helped cultivate Arabia’s early wealth were themselves poor and left little behind.

The ninth-century Arabian historian Al Mas’udi recorded that in 330BC Alexander the Great occupied the island to exploit the aloe that grew there, exporting it to Greece, Syria and Egypt, on the advice of his tutor Aristotle.

Proof of the lasting ties with today’s Emirates, however, can be found across the island. For instance, the coastal architecture of Socotra has more in common with the UAE than with the mud high-rises on the coast of mainland Yemen. Houses built from coral stone in the capital of Hadibu are identical to those found in Jazirat al Hamra, the abandoned pre-oil village in RAK.

On an island where some people speak only Socotri, an unwritten South Arabian language that predates Islam, where many still live without electricity and some do not even know religions other than Islam exist, the knowledge of UAE customs and geography is remarkable.

“We are proud. If someone asks us where are you from originally, we will say Socotra. But honestly, we love the UAE more. We were born here but if they ask our origins we don’t deny it.”

For those on the island, the UAE still represents opportunity, trade and family. At night the men gather as they have for hundreds of years, falsetto voices singing timeless songs of loss and longing.

The writer makes a few mistakes: "Men in Socotra will greet each other by touching noses, a custom common to the UAE but unpractised on mainland Yemen." Touching noses while greeting is practiced by people on mainland Yemen, especially by those from Shabwa and Mareb. The writer goes on to say - "...the coastal architecture of Socotra has more in common with the UAE than with the mud high-rises on the coast of mainland Yemen." Houses in Soqotra are very similar to many of the traditional houses on the coast of Hadhramout and Mahra.

People from Soqotra have a similar appearance to those on the coast of Hadhramout and Mahra, and they share many traditions and customs. Millions of years ago, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa were separated from Africa. The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden were formed; and many islands were formed too, the largest of which is Soqotra. Though Soqotra has some of the most unique and endemic of flora, fauna and animals - the island has a close geographical affinity and similarity to southern mainland Yemen.