Flooding has devestated the Hardramaut region, causing the loss of dozens of lives and destroying the region's infrastructions
A Brief Account of the Flooding in the Hadramaut
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> Donate to the Red Crescent in Yemen: contact information here
> Photos of the floods, boston.com, The Big Picture
> Photos the Floods, Yahoo News
> BBC on the flooding in Southeren Yemen
> Al-Jazeera on the flooding in Southern Yemen
> Open an interactive map to accompany this introduction
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The Hadhramaut Valley of eastern Yemen, where Tarim is located, has been linked to the Indian Ocean Basin for most of its history through dense social and economic networks. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Yemeni movements between South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the rest of the Middle East intensified with this first wave of globalization. Some Hadhramis abroad were simple laborers, others traveled to academic centers in pursuit of knowledge and would later serve as judges and educators for Yemeni expatriate communities. Particular families became extremely wealthy through their land holdings abroad and international trading companies. The al-Kaf family, for one, was second only to the city port as the largest property owner and taxpayer in Singapore at the turn of the last century. A cosmopolitanism arose from these interactions, mixing the modern and traditional across every avenue of cultural life. It is still common for Hadhramis to seek opportunities abroad.
One may trace this transnational culture through the hybrid architectural fabrics of cities like Tarim. Hadhrami masons and plaster craftsmen incorporated the architectural languages of Neoclassicism, Rococo, Mughal, Art Nuevo and Art Deco into their tradition of earthen construction. In this way the architecture of Tarim, like its broader history, represents a dialogue between cultures both within and outside of contemporary Yemen. The local is really an entry point into a cosmopolitan society that has engaged the larger world in its own terms. This tradition lives on today, although the earthen architecture of the Valley faces the challenges of the changing urban realities of contemporary Yemen.
In this sense the significance of Tarim as an urban heritage site lies in a full range of cultural phenomena. We may begin with the material fabric of individual buildings and the traces of master craftsmen and informal designers, but must move on to unique urban topographies, the broader cultural and historical sphere of the Indian Ocean, and the individual narratives of the early modern era. The challenge only grows as Tarim and other Yemeni cities engage the current wave of global transformations. Our objective is, as Fairclough has put it, "...to reveal and sustain the great diversity of the interactions between humans and their environment, to protect living traditional cultures and preserve the traces of those which have disappeared" ("Cultural Landscape, Sustainability, and Living with Change:" Los Angeles, 2003). To this end, we have turned to video documentation, conventional and spherical photography, computer-aided design and animation, and database technologies to better organize and interpret Tarim's rich significance. These materials have been embedded in a map-based website, but are also scalable as individual media objects to better complement the oral presentation of Yemeni social contexts. In this way we have reached out to the contemporary Yemeni Diaspora and served as a resource for students and educators alike. What is more, in their scalability, digital technologies may be reproduced in more conventional formats to better engage stakeholders in Yemen.
The tradition and its artisans have a substantive worth in addition to the more intangible value of cultural heritage. Our porject focuses on the legacy of people like Obaid Salem Ba-Saidah, a master mason for over sixty years now passed away, and the work of younger masters such as Ali Yislam Madudi, Ahmed Said Ahmed Ba-Mumin, Omar Mahfouz Omar bin Zayid and others. Young Yemeni architects like Abdullah al-Saqqaf wish to incorporate the Hadrami tradition into their work, but do not have access to these individuals and their knowledge. Celebrating this craft by telling their stories is not a question of documenting a tradition slowly passing away. It is a way of giving this community a medium by which they may take part in the processes of transformation in Yemeni society.