Hadhramaut and its Diaspora: Yemeni Politics, Identity, and Migration

Author:   Noel Brehony
Publisher:   London: I. B. Tauris
Reviewer:   Imtiaz Ahmed

Brehony, Noel (2017), Hadhramaut and its Diaspora: Yemeni Politics, Identity, and Migration, London: I. B. Tauris, 320 pages.

The valley of Hadhramaut stretches over 370 miles, which has helped preserve a unique local Hadrami identity for centuries. Establishment of two influential Kingdoms Qu’ayti and Kathiri was the result of Hadhrami diaspora in India, and they dominated Hadrami politics until the early 1960s. Hadhramis limited their activities almost exclusively to the Indian ocean, rather than developing a global diaspora on Gujarati or Cantonese lines. This contrasted with other Yemenis, who went as labourers to Europe and North America. Hadhramaut is one of the largest governorates in Yemen in terms of area. Within this vast region, Hadhramis were active since centuries, because of migratory nature they travelled far lands in Indian ocean mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, south-western India and the Deccan, both shores of the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden, and the East African Littoral and islands down to Comoros. This immigration has profoundly affected the host countries as well as Hadhramaut itself.

The editor of the book Noel Brehony is one of the acclaimed authors and experts of the middle east region, notably Yemen, which offers deep insight and analysis from diverse perspectives.  He works extensively on Hadhrami and Yemeni history and diaspora.

The book is divided into three parts, Part I, sheds light on Hadhramis in Yemen and its politics since the 1960s, concerning Hadhrami Exceptionalism, Hadhramaut’s social structure, agriculture, and migration. In the first Chapter, Saadaldeen Talib and Brehony discuss Hadhramaut in South Arabia in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) and later in Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). They also shed light on the rise of marginalized groups like Houthis in the north, Al-Hirak in the south, and Al Qaeda in several parts of Yemen. Other important areas highlighted are Yemeni Arab spring of 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal and its failure, war and its impact on Hadhramaut, and the future of Hadhramaut. The chapter offers three exciting and possible options viz Hadhramaut in a federal Yemen, in independent south, and an independent Hadhramaut.

In Chapter 2, Thanos Petouris discusses the socio-political changes that took place in the region during the middle of the twentieth century.  This chapter is an attempt to answer the question of the putatively exceptional position of Hadhramaut as a geographical and political entity and its contribution to the politics of southern Arabia. It also discusses the distinction between premodern and modern Hadrami identity as a result of changes in Hadrami diasporic communities. In Chapter 3, Helen Lackner mainly focused on the socialist reform of the 1970s and how it changed social relations and self-perceptions of the various group. She further discusses the reversal of the situation after the unification and relevance of these changes in the ongoing chaos of the region.

Part II explores the status Hadhramis in the diaspora concerning the Atlas of Sayyid Uthman ibn Abd Allah ibn Yahya of Batavia (1822-1914), diaspora in Indonesia and revival of Hadhrami diaspora, migrants of Hadhrami origin in the Philippines, hiring of Yemeni mercenary for abroad, issue of citizenship and belonging among the Hadhramis of Kenya, Hadhrami diaspora through the lens of trade.

In Chapter 4, Nico J.G. Kaptein discusses the publication of Sayyid Uthman, which is on the colonial historiography of Indonesia, lithography, and the users of his Atlas. In chapter 5, Kazuhiro Arai throw lights on the Hadhrami diaspora in Indonesia and revival of Hadhrami diaspora, Indonesian visitors in Hadhramaut, the connection between two countries, publications on Hadhrami religious figures in Indonesia, accessibility of Southeast Asia from Hadhramaut, and finally the history of South Yemen (1937-90) and unified Yemen 1990 to the present.

In chapter 6, William G. Clarence-smith discusses the Arab Muslim migrants in the colonial Philippines with Hadhrami connection, settlement of Muslims in the Philippines and resistance to colonialism, collaboration with colonialism, independent Ulama and Islamic reform, trade and shipping, and the Hadhrami presence after independence in 1946.

In chapter 7,  James Spencer discusses the issues around mercenaries and soldering generally and those relating to indigenous soldiers in Yemenis in particular, Yemenis security providers in the diaspora, the role of Hadhramis in commercial security operations, the status of Yemeni soldiers, colonial era,  Hadhramis in Hyderabad, post-colonial era, patterns of recruitment, Islamist fighters, Muwalladin as fighters, and local soldiers as a communications channel.

In Chapter 8, Iain Walker discusses citizenship and belonging among the Hadhramis of Kenya. Like other communities, Hadhramis were able to maintain a unique identity in coastal areas of Kenya, and after independence, they formally became the citizen of Kenya but keeping their identity alive. Moreover, while Kenyan or Yemeni passport is a sign of identity, but Hadhrami identity is based on a deep historical understanding and recognition of belonging that is inscribed in. Performed through daily practice, in various places, and various spaces, that in national terms sees Hadhrami as being at once both/ neither Kenyan and/nor Yemeni.

In chapter 9, Philip Petriat discusses the role of non-sada merchants and how these non-sada groups traded in a network form in the 20th century.  Not only among Hadhramis but also the non Hadhramis was the distinctive feature and how these non Hadhramis work like a nodal point connecting different groups extending over a larger area while stressing on the methods adopted by A. Cohen. Network analysis of Hadhrami migration provides us with tools for comparison with other dispersed communities.

Part III is short and precise and has only one chapter and conclusion.  In chapter 10, Leif Manger talks about the challenges encountered during his research on Hadhramis diaspora. This chapter identifies three challenges: defining diaspora, historicizing globalization, and understanding of historical agency. Other topics emphasized in this chapter are historical realities of early Indian ocean migration, Hadhramaut region before the sixteen centuries, and being a Muslim in the Indian ocean world.

This book concluded by Bujra, where he discusses the research issues concerning the Hadhramaut and Hadhramis and recommendations for further research. Role of the Hadhramaut Research center (HRC) and the purpose of HRC and how it will help the young Arab researcher in carrying out research.

Although the book has covered an extensive range of topics, it also has some shortcomings. The author has not investigated the plight of Hadhrami communities in the diaspora, mainly Hadhramis in India, which is one of the largest migrant community in India. The book has also not highlighted the critical aspects of diaspora like the assimilation, adaptation, and integration processes of Hadhramis in the host countries and the declining role of the Hadhrami diaspora in international politics and foreign policy. There is relatively less discussion on the ancient Hadhramaut and Hadhramis and their role in the spreading of Islam in other foreign lands. The rich historical heritage of Hadhramaut still needs much attention apart from the Islamic perspective.

Notwithstanding the above gaps, this book fills an important research gap in the subject.  It has effectively touched many parts of Hadhrami or Yemeni life in general, like how Yemen is dealing with the devastating war for years. After looking at the quantity of literature produced on the Hadhrami diaspora in the past one century, this book serves some purpose and needs to be translated in Arabic as well as other local languages of the Indian ocean realm.

This book has a limited audience; still, this book gets readers from different social science subjects. This book is primarily for researchers working on Yemeni diaspora or Hadhrami diaspora, but it also includes people from varied allied subjects like diasporic studies, geography, history, anthropology, international relations, and foreign policy.

The chapters in the book illuminate many aspects of Hadhramaut, Yemen, and the diaspora, but show that research on these issues, though impressive and attracting the attention of leading scholars, is still comparatively undeveloped. The chapters regarding Hadhrami exceptionalism, the revival of Hadhrami diaspora, Yemeni fighter abroad, diaspora or network, and paradigms of research is a groundbreaking work that highlights new insights in the Hadhrami diaspora instead of traditional diaspora concepts. The research issues regarding Hadhramaut and its people at the end of this book, which is a beacon for a new researcher in Hadhrami diaspora.

Imtiaz Ahmed, Department of West Asian & North African studies, Aligarh Muslim University, Uttar Pradesh, India. Email: [email protected]

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