Local traditions and culture in Yemen

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Most Viewed Local Customs in Yemen

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    Photography of Muslim Women

    by traveldave Updated Apr 14, 2011

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    Photography of Muslim women is generally considered offensive, and anyone caught taking pictures may face the wrath of their male relations, or may have to answer to the police. Therefore, anyone wanting to take pictures of women in their abayas should do so discretely and from a distance.

    Most female citizens of Yemen are Muslim, and therefore normally dress in the abaya (also called the shaili), a black full-length covering. Koranic law dictates that the abaya be worn whenever in public. The abaya seems to come in many styles and varies from region to region throughout Yemen. Many are quite fashionable. Under the abaya, women wear loose sirwal, or trousers, and a kandura, a dress frequently embroidered in gold or silver.

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    QAT GOT YOUR TONGUE ?

    by DAO Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    QAT (pronounced Kat) is the very soul of Yemen. It is not just leaves which are chewed on; it is the way of life, friendship culture and conversation. At first glance it looks like long green leaves stuffed in huge amounts into the mouth and bulging to one side. It was not until I was asked by the receptionist at my hotel to go to the market with him and buy some Qat did I understand how important those little green leaves are to the Yemeni people. When I first sat down to chew my Qat the other men asked how much I paid and inspected my purchase. Passing approval for quality and a good bargain, they even selected the leaves for me. Even after painfully bulging my left cheek, they still insisted that I must stuff more. This results in the slow chewing that you see of Qat. With that much in your mouth, there is no other choice. I thought is tasted similar to grass. It is chewed and dissolves over time. There is no spitting or reason to do so. And then the conversation began. Supposedly it is mildly narcotic, but I do not agree. The leaves are grown on a tall tree and the crop is worth millions of dollars to the economy. It is priceless in social circles. Qat is the reason for almost all gatherings other than prayer and no social function would be without it.

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    Agricultural Terraces

    by traveldave Updated Oct 15, 2010

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    The mountain region of Yemen consists of steep, rugged mountains with little level land useful for agricultural purposes. To solve the problem, Yemeni farmers have been constructing agricultural terraces for centuries. Similar agricultural terraces have been built by peoples as far away as Peru and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and parts of Indonesia. In Yemen, these terraces can be seen throughout the mountainous areas of the country, and in some areas cover most of the accessible slopes. A few even cover slopes 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) from top to bottom.

    Due to the altitude of most agricultural terraces, the crops that can be grown on them are somewhat limited, especially when compared to those that can be grown in the fertile wadis at lower elevations. Some of the crops grown on the agricultural terraces include almonds, barley, corn, oats, and sorghum. The most common crop, however, is coffee beans. But qat is increasingly being grown, and may overtake coffee beans as the most prevalent crop. Qat is the leaf of a plant that when chewed, produces a mildly narcotic effect that supposedly helps increase energy and stamina.

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    The Jambia

    by traveldave Updated Oct 15, 2010

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    The jambia is a traditional curved dagger worn at the waist by Yemeni men. (The jambia pictured here can best be seen by enlarging the picture). Archeological evidence suggests that jambias originated in about 500 B.C. The jambia is worn with the tip of the blade pointed toward the side, which is jamb in Arabic, hence the origin of the name. Jambias are usually handed down from generation to generation, and many are quite old and valuable. It is not uncommon for antique jambias to be sold for millions of dollars.

    Jambias consist of a handle, a steel blade, and a sheath in which the dagger is carried. Most handles are made of exotic types of wood, but some of the older and more valuable jambias have handles made of rhinocerous horn or ivory. Because rhinocerous horn and ivory come from endangered species of animals, the handles are no longer made from these materials. However, rhinocerous horn or ivory are occasionally smuggled illegally into the country for the manufacture of jambia handles. No matter the material, many handles are finely decorated with silver or gold.

    Jambias are worn in a belt made from tanned leather. Some of the finer belts are intricately engraved and decorated with gold filament.

    Although originally used as a weapon, nowadays jambias can only be used in self-defense. If someone were to use a jambia improperly against another, he would be ostracized from his tribal group, and would also be subject to prosecution by the law. Jambias are only taken out of their sheaths in cases of self-defense, during the traditional bara'a dance, or to show to interested foreigners.

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    Chewing the Qat

    by TheLongTone Updated Jan 16, 2010

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    Yemen, especially in the north, is as much in the grip of this leaf as Western culture is in thrall to alcohol. Consuming it is a daily ritual if you can afford it: and its cultivation and distribution account for a large proportion of the country's economy.

    The qat plantations are readily recognisable: not only the distictive, slightly reddish, shade of green of the small tree, but the utterly distinctive guard towers and barbed wire fences.

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    Guns: just say 'NO'

    by TheLongTone Updated Jan 16, 2010

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    I only saw a handful of men carrying AK47s. Instead at every police checkpoint you see this remarkable sign: a representation of a Kalashnikov in the barred circle meaning 'No whatevers'. (My reasons for only including this photo of the sign on a bottle of water are obvious. I didn't get a single snap of any of the friendly but tedious police checkpoints)
    In fact the government is spending huge amounts of money buying back the accumulated private arsenals of the country. Nevertheless, I was told that you could buy more or less anything under the size of a tank at the notorious arms market near Marib.....

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    TOURRAH! TOURRAH!

    by DAO Updated Oct 28, 2009

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    The first time I heard this being shouted at me I thought it was the Arabic word for Tourist. Not too hard to figure out who the visitor was around here. About the 3rd time this happened a small boy started shouting towards me and then he made the hand gesture of a camera taking a photograph. Mystery solved, somewhat. I took out my camera, a pose was taken and then I showed him the display in my digital camera. This suddenly produced a small joyous crowd. And then the request for more photos. Suddenly, I felt like I had just obtained a job as a photographer.

    Later I went to Al-Tahrir Square (in Sana'a) and I saw something that made all this fun make sense. There were 2 photographers taking photos and they had props to make the pictures just a bit more interesting. Anything from birds to beads, they had it all. They take your picture, you pay them and then a few hours later - you have your portrait.

    Than I realised. For many families, photos were not a possibility. Women for social reasons and men for financial.

    Suddenly, I didn’t mind taking more photos and entertaining the crowds. For free!

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  • my birth place says ...

    by scarykitty Written Oct 22, 2008

    be rude!!
    be pushy shove shout watever
    other wise u wil be ignored

    men donot aproach women for anything
    women pls dont smile too much at the guys u wil be followed like forever
    try to find some resident indians shud be alot of help

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    General Graffiti

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 16, 2008

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    Many towns and villages, as well as the countryside have graffiti on the walls. As well as the political symbols there is writing in many colours. I have no idea what is written, it is all in Arabic. In some of the older highland towns like Ibb, for example, this graffiti spoils some very old buildings and should be cleaned off I think.

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    Myrrh

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 9, 2008

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    Yemen is famous for its ancient Frankincense route but Myrrh was also widely used in ancient times and was grown in the same areas as Frankincense. The Queen of Sheba was said to have visited King Solomon taking gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh.
    Myrrh was even more expensive than Frankincense - 36 times the value of gold!
    It is harvested from the commiphora myrra tree and the name myrrh means bitter in Arabic. Myrrh is more oily than Frankincense and it was mainly used in perfumes, when mixed with other ingredients the life of the perfume was greatly extended.
    Myrrh was first mentioned in 1500 BC was shipped along the same route as Frankincense from the port of Qana (Bir Ali) to Arabia and the rest of the world.
    Myrrh is not easy to find nowadays in Yemen. There was plenty of Frankincense for sale, but little Myrrh.

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    Frankincense

    by janiebaxter Updated Mar 9, 2008

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    In pre-christian times Frankincense was 12 times more expensive than gold and was used in all the ancient ceremonies and rituals – burials, marriages, and births as well as in the home for freshening the air, and aiding sleep. In Roman times the cost of one pound in weight of Frankincense was more than 2 weeks salary and added to that was the cost of transportation.
    The Frankincense route was the oldest and richest trade route in the ancient world. It is the sap of the olibanum tree which is dried and harvesting was done by an elite class of families who were bound to follow strict rules and traditions. They were not allowed to come into contact with any pollution such as having sex or contact with the dead during the harvesting time to keep the purity of the harvest.
    Different qualities and grades of Frankincense came from different types of tree and different areas. The boswelia sacra tree produces the highest quality. Trees were cultivated to supplement the natural supply as demand was so high.
    Before the trade winds were discovered the route passed through ancient cities of Yemen - Qana, Marib, Shabwa and on to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine.
    By the 3rd century AD Frankincense was no longer used to such a large extent because of Christianity and its value also declined.
    Shibam is a good place to buy Frankincense and there are different varieites and grades to choose from. Most Frankincense today comes from the island of Socotra and from Oman.

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    Alcohol

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 9, 2008

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    Alcohol is very difficult to obtain as a tourist in Yemen, however you can legally bring it into the country with you. But you must drink it in private and never in a public place. Some of the hotels claimed to have beer, but it was non-alcoholic.
    The only place I found that serves alcohol is the Movenpick hotel in Sana’a which has a bar stocked with most types of spirits – well at least a reasonable selection. Certainly they can make a decent G & T. It is open until 11pm and they are strict about you leaving on time. You are also not allowed to take your drink outside of the bar to the foyer seating area. The restaurant also serves alcohol with meals.

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    The Jambiya (Dagger)

    by janiebaxter Updated Mar 9, 2008

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    The Jambiya is a curved dagger worn by all men in Yemen. Historically The Jambiya’a has been a tradition in Yemen for over 1400 years and symbolises honour, fashion, tradition, family and wealth. When a boy reaches the age of around 14 his father will either pass his Jambiya on to his son if he is the eldest or buy him one. But the Jambiya is the property of the whole family if it has been passed down through the generations and the son has to get permission from all the family if he wants to sell it. The Jambiya is kept in a curved holder and worn on an elaborate embroidered belt around the waist. The blade itself is only slightly curved (picture 2).
    Costs vary from $10 to $1million! One was sold last year for $1 million, but this was a very rare one. Obviously the rhino horn handle ones are more valuable.
    The best quality ones come from the family makers of Saifani, Assadis and Zalat and the craft is passed down through generations of each family. Each family style varies as does the colour – Saifanis are red, yellow, orange and green while Assidis are black. Tribes or clans also have different colours – the Hashid clan have green Jambiya’as and the Hakial clan have light tan ones.
    They can be made from silver, gold, wood, glass marble and fish bone as well as rhino horn. As a frequent traveller to Africa it is hard to come to terms with the rhino horn Jambiya but most people nowadays cannot afford to pay the price for the rare rhino horn and most new ones are made of other materials. However, rhino horn is still smuggled in via Ethiopia.
    You can tell the rhino horn Jambiya by its green colour, which is a natural result of the horn ageing (picture 4).

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    The Kalashnikov - an Essential Accessory

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 8, 2008

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    Most men in Yemen own a kalashnikov rifle, as well as a Jambiya, and it is quite normal to see men strolling around with their kalashnikov slung over their shoulder like a fashion accessory. The man in the picture was walking through the main square in Sana'a.
    At first it is a little worrying, as we are so unused to this in England and if we saw somebody carrying a gun we would assume they were planning an armed robbery. However in Yemen it is not the case and is just a sign of manhood, along with the Jambiya.
    I suppose you could say the kalashnikov and Jambiya are the Yemeni man's essential fashion accessories - like designer shoes and handbags.

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    Taking photographs of women

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 8, 2008

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    Women in Yemen do not like tourists taking photographs of them. The men are generally OK at being photographed, but they are very protective of the women and if they see you photographing women they think that you are invading their privacy and
    you will get a good telling off, a finger waved at you or even abuse shouted at you.
    This varies from area to area. We found the Tihama area and the rural areas much more relaxed about it - the women here are not veiled. The worst areas were the highlands and the Hadramaut.
    If you have a zoom lense you can pretend to be taking a street scene and just happen to include the women in the picture when they are not looking but pointing your camera at close range is just asking for trouble.

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