Local traditions and culture in Yemen

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  • Wheelbarrow of Mud, Hadramaut
    Wheelbarrow of Mud, Hadramaut
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Most Viewed Local Customs in Yemen

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    The Southern Arabian Language

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 8, 2008

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    The Southern Arabian language dates from Sabaean times (Queen of Sheba) and had 29 letters, all in upper case. Lower case letters did not appear until the 9th century when books began to be copied and faster writing was required.
    The Southern Arabian language was translated by two German scholars in the 1840's and was shown to be quite closely related to the phoenician language.
    Inscriptions were mostly carved into stone and used to describe administrative and commercial achievements, battle victories and building work. The oldest found so far is from the 9th century BC, the most recent from the 2nd century BC.
    You can see examples in the museum in Sana'a and at Marib.

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    Some Facts about Yemen Today

    by janiebaxter Updated Mar 8, 2008

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    After being split into North Yemen and South Yemen in the 1960's The country was re-unified by the current president in 1990, but political borders were not established until 1992 with Oman and 1994 with Saudi Arabia.

    Here are a few facts about Yemen today:
    The population is around 22 million.
    Literacy is 58% with English widely spoken, mostly in cities and larger towns.
    53% of the country is agricultural with Qat being the main crop. Also grown are coffee, sourgum, fruit and vegetables.
    85% of men and 35% of women in Yemen chew qat.
    Natural Resources are Oil and Gas
    Oil was discovered in 1980 and there are currently 10 companies producing 320,000 barrels a day. Only 28% of reserves have been explored and reserves are estimated at 9718 billion barrels. The main production areas are Marib and Seiyun with exploration under way in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Socotra areas.

    Costs
    Average wage $8 per day
    Petrol $0.30 per litre
    Cigarettes $0.50 per pack
    Qat $1 to $15 per day, depending on quality
    A sheep $50 to $70
    A goat $50 to $70
    A camel $1000
    A cow $600

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    The Qat Culture

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 8, 2008

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    Qat is an important part of Yemeni culture. As you walk around the suqs and towns you will notice many men with a large bulge in their cheek as they chew their qat and you can’t miss it being sold in the markets or growing on the terraces of the mountains.
    It is a stimulant similar to "speed" & opinion is divided as to whether it is harmful or not. In the Hadramaut area qat chewers are viewed with great disapproval but elsewhere it is accepted as part of daily life.
    It grows in most areas in Yemen, but grows better in the wetter highland areas and is sold in bundles, wrapped in leaves to keep it fresh, sometimes stored in a canvas bag. The smaller, younger leaves are favoured above the larger ones. After lunch is the time for qat chewing, when it is chewed for 2 to 3 hours with plenty of water to drink. Cost is between $1 and $15 for an afternoon chew depending on quality and it is bought fresh every day.
    Qat was discovered by a goat herder about 400 years ago, and now 85% of men and 35% of women in Yemen chew Qat.
    My curiosity got the better of me and I found it quite a pleasant experience chewing qat for 3 hours. It certainly makes the mind feel clear and keeps you awake and alert. I think the qat culture can be compared to our British drinking culture to get it into perspective. We view qat with suspicion but the Yemenis would never consider having alcohol.

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    Tea not Coffee

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 7, 2008

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    The sweet tea, called shai, is available everywhere and is quite refreshing when you get used to it. Most places put sugar in when it is served but if you are fast enough you can ask them not to sugar it.
    Coffee is a different matter. I didn’t get a decent cup of coffee all the time I was there. And this is the country where the name Mocha originated! Mocha is now a fishing village with no sign of coffee or anything else much. You can see a bit of coffee being grown on the architectural terraces around the highland towns, but a lot. We found just one shop selling coffee in Taiz.
    The coffee served everywhere we visited is made from the coffee husk and is very weak. It is also truly horrible and smells awful.

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    The Wheelbarrow

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 2, 2008

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    The wheel barrow is an essentail part of Yemeni life.
    It takes a while before you notice this, but soon you start to realise just how many uses the wheelbarrow has in everyday life. It is used to sell produce from at the markets and the roadside, to transport fruit, qat, fish, children, tourist souvenirs, mud for making bricks and numerous other items from one place to another. In Sana'a Souq we saw a line of 6 men lying in wheel barrows having an afternoon siesta. Unfortunately they didn't want to be photographed.
    The advantages of the wheel barrow are that it makes it easier to move goods around over bumpy ground, it can get to places cars cannot, it is cheaper than a donkey or a camel, doesn't eat anything and can be pushed at quite a speed when laden with tourist souvenirs!

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    Political Graffiti

    by janiebaxter Written Mar 2, 2008

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    Political Graffiti adorns many mountains, house walls, and other buildings where there is a suitable flat surface.
    The Horse is the symbol of the current presidents party and the Half Sun is the Islamic fundamentalist party. The symbols are often seen together on a wall but usually in different colours. I was told the reason for this is that one party will have put their symbol first, then the other party added theirs.

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    Mountaintop Villages

    by traveldave Updated Feb 21, 2008

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    Yemen is divided into five natural topograhic regions: mountains, highlands, desert, coast, and offshore islands. Much of the central region of Yemen is mountainous, ranging between 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) and 12,336 feet (3,760 meters) in elevation, and consisting of steep, rugged mountain ranges with fertile wadis between them.

    Much of the population of Yemen currently lives within the mountain region, and has since ancient times. In rural areas, the people established mountaintop villages for two main reasons. One was for protection from enemies during periods of tribal warfare that were prevalent in Yemen at the time. The other was so that what little level land there was could be used for agricultural purposes. Rather than waste level land on buildings, crops were planted instead.

    Nowadays, these mountaintop villages are no longer as isolated as they once were. Many can be reached by new roads, and most now have running water and electricity. Inhabitants must still negotiate the steep slopes, however, while tending their fields, or traveling to neighboring villages to buy supplies. And these villages offer visitors great photographic opportunities. (The village pictured here can best be seen by enlarging the picture).

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    Invitations

    by MichaelFalk1969 Updated Jan 23, 2008

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    Especially when you are hiking cross-country, people from small villages will invite you to their house to eat, drink tea or chew quat leaves (the local drug). Even if they don`t speak your language they will indicate the invitation by moving their fingers to their mouth. They do mean it - it is not just politeness. If you don`t want to accept the offer, say "la, schukran" ("no, thank you").

    Anywhere people may approach you to talk to you, brush up their English and ask you where you`re from and if you like Yemen (Feez al-Yemen?). The nice thing is that usually there is no hidden agenda but a true interest in the foreign guest and how he or she sees the Jemen.

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    Prayer time

    by flynboxes Updated Dec 13, 2007

    Most Yemeni's are devout Muslims which requires them to pray up t 5 times a day. While most guides or drivers may skip this for you since are paying them for their services but I tried to make it a point of asking them if they wanted to go to the mosque during my adventures. At the vary least it gives you 15-20 min to rest and recount the days sights but it also goes a long way towards building some respect with these great people

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    Street Markets

    by traveldave Updated Dec 6, 2007

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    Despite being a desert country, Yemen has some fertile areas, especially wadis, in which most of the country's food is grown. Common crops grown in the country include bananas, mangoes, oranges and other citrus fruits, papayas, pomegranates, dates, figs, coffee beans, all sorts of vegetables, and several varieties of cereal.

    Most Yemenis do not shop in modern shopping centers as are found in the West. Instead, they rely on street markets to purchase fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and fish on a daily basis. Even non-food items, such as motor oil, batteries, toiletries, etc. can be purchased at street markets. Throughout Yemen, from the largest cities to the smallest villages, street markets cater to locals by offering locally grown foods. For the visitor, street markets offer a glimpse into the daily lives of Yemenis, as well as great photographic opportunities.

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    Islam

    by traveldave Updated Dec 6, 2007

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    Islam was brought to Yemen in 630 A.D. by Ali ibn Abu Talib, and it was during this period that several notable mosques were built in the country, including the Great Mosque in Sana'a.

    Islam is the official religion of Yemen, although the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and allows practitioners of other religions to worship freely. Yemen is generally free from Islamic extremism, unlike in some of its neighboring countries. The people do not tolerate religious zealotry or violence, and the government monitors mosques and religious schools for sermons that incite violence or extremism.

    Muslims in Yemen are divided between two principal groups: the Sunni (about 50 to 55 percent) and the Shi'a (about 42 to 47 percent). The Shi'a group is further divided into the Zaidi, Ja'fari, and Isma'ili orders. The Zaidis are generally in the north and northwest part of the country, the Ja'faris are in the north in the Sana'a area, and the Isma'ilis are in the west. The Zaidis have dominated religion and culture in Yemen for centuries, and nowadays are overrepresented in government. There have been no incidents of violence or discrimination between the groups, although Wahhabi and Salafi influences from Saudi Arabia are attempting to disrupt the stability now enjoyed in Yemen.

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    Sura sura!

    by TheLongTone Updated Jul 30, 2007

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    More than anywhere I've visited, as a tourist carrying a camera you will attract hordes of children wanting you to take their picture ('Sura' is Arabic for photo). All they want is to look at the picture on the screen of the camera and provided that you don't start a riot because more and more children wanting their picture taken start appearing it's usually entertaining. You may even get the odd good photo: the only drawback is that it can get very time-consuming. Infinitely better than being pestered for pens or money: you actually get to relate to the kids. Good fun.

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    THE FLAG

    by DAO Written May 28, 2007

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    The Yemeni flag is based upon tricolour flags of the former North and South divisions of the country before unification. The Red, white and black are all Pan-Arab colours symbolizing Arab unity. It was officially adopted on May 22, 1990.

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    ALCOHOL IS LEGAL

    by DAO Updated Mar 17, 2007

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    If you are a drinker, you will be happy with this fact. The Yemeni Customs Allowances are that non- Muslim visitors may import alcohol for their own use. The other astounding fact is – there is no limit to how much you can bring in as long as it is for personal use. You are advised, of course, not to drink in public areas. Sounds like a good balance to me.

    Muslims are not allowed to do this at all.

    Please find a link to the Official website below:

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    Misunderstandings

    by dutchwindmill Updated Mar 3, 2007

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    First some misunderstandings:
    1) "There is no limit on the importation of alcohol." Yes there is. Of course there is. This is a very traditional muslim country. Even though it's not mentioned on the big notice board in the luggage hall at Sana'a International Airport, nor on the website of the Yemen Tourist Board you are NOT allowed to bring in alcoholic beverages in unlimited quantities. Muslims (in fact anyone from a muslim country, whether he or she is mulsim or not) are not allowed to bring in alcohol at all. Other foreigners may bring in 2 or 3 bottles each - the rules are rather vague, but this is what the airport customs people will tell you. There are frequent random checks of luggage (there is no real green "Nothing to declare" lane).
    2) "Qat dissolves over time. There is no spitting." No, it doesn't dissolve and yes, there is spitting.
    3) "People are muslim, so the women have to be covered up from head to toe." Trying to be benevolent, I'd say this statement reflects a minority position that more than 9 out of 10 muslims in the world (men and women) would not want to be associated with. In fact there is nothing in the Qur'an that says women have to be covered to the extent they do in Yemen (and in Saudi),
    4) It's true that generally speaking mosques are not accessible for non-muslims (don't know why - maybe to avoid the risk of someone getting the urge to convert?). There are several beautiful ancient mosques that can be visited, though: in Taiz, Jiblah and Zabid I was invited to come and marvel (no money was asked beforehand but I made sure to leave a tip to my instant guide); in Rada there is the magnificent Amariyya mosque, a real pearl which is now a museum and has not been re-consecrated.

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Yemen Local Customs

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