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Tribe and Politics: An Example from Highland Yemen

Author(s): Charles F. Swagman


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 251-261
Published by: University of New Mexico
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3630259 .
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TRIBE AND POLITICS: AN EXAMPLE FROM
HIGHLAND YEMEN
Charles F.
Swagman
7446 W. 91st
Street,
Los
Angeles,
CA 90045
Over the
past
two
decades,
"natural" Yemen has been
undergoing
a
process of political
development
and
change.
This
paper
examines the interaction
of
tribal social
organization
with the
emerging
state structures and
political ideologies
in
contemporary
southwest
Arabia. Evidence
from
a
community
near the North Yemen border with South Yemen
demonstrates how tribal social
organization
continues to be
actively employed
in
framing
regional political conflicts.
Parallels are drawn between the
massing of
tribal
forces
in
conflict
situations in North Yemen and the
rapid
escalation
of
the 1986
political conflict
in South Yemen that
left
the
capital city, Aden,
in ruins.
OVER THE PAST
TWO decades,
"natural" Yemen has
undergone rapid social,
economic,
and cultural
change.'
The most
challenging
task has been to establish
democratic
political
structures from the
fragmented
remains of a
toppled
theo-
cratic state in North Yemen
(the
Yemen Arab
Republic)
and from a colonial
administration in South Yemen
(the
People's
Democratic
Republic
of
Yemen).
One of the most
significant
manifestations of the difficulties inherent in this
effort has been the recent
political
turmoil in South Yemen. In
February
1986
an internal
power struggle
between two factions of the South Yemen socialist
party
escalated into a
short,
but
intensely fierce,
war that left the
capital city
of Aden in virtual ruin. Initial
analysis
of this event has focused on
underlying
political
and economic contradictions in the socialist state which
heightened
a
need for
change
in the state's
foreign
and domestic
policies (Lawson
1986:441-
49). However,
what was
particularly interesting
in this
instance,
and what has
yet
to be accounted
for,
was the swiftness with which
seemingly disparate
rural forces were mobilized and how
quickly
the combatants
aligned
themselves
according
to
locality.2
This South Yemen incident
suggests
that other
political
dimensions
beyond
that of
party
and state are interwoven in the fabric of
contemporary
southwest
Arabian
politics.
Since the mid-1970s a series of conflicts and short wars have
occurred
throughout
this
region,
with the Aden war
being
the most dramatic
expression
of a much wider
process.
The
rapidity
of the
"massing"
of forces
in the Aden war
suggests
that south Arabian tribal
organization
still
plays
an
important
role in
regional politics--that
the
emerging
state
political
structures
and
political ideologies
continue to interact with tribal
ideology
and tribal or-
ganization
to motivate
political
behavior.
Although examples
like the Aden war
tend to draw
greater attention,
such interactions can also be found in less
dramatic
settings.
This
paper
examines how "modern"
political
institutions and
ideologies
influence tribal structures and, conversely,
how tribal
organization
affects
political
movements. Our
example
is taken from a recent
political
conflict
251
252
JOURNAL
OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
in the Radac district of North
Yemen,
near the South Yemen border. As back-
ground
for this discussion it is first
necessary
to outline the
major
features of
"traditional"
political organization
in the
region.
YEMEN TRIBAL ORGANIZATION: AN
OVERVIEW3
The social unit that is the
near-equivalent
to what social scientists consider
a "tribe" is the
qabila (pl. qaba'il).
Like most Middle Eastern tribal
organization,
the Yemen tribal structure is
segmentary
and hierarchical. The
highest
level
of
unity
is the confederation of tribes
(hill).
For
example,
in the
highland regions
are three
major
confederations or associations of Yemeni tribes: the Hamdan
federations
(Hashid
and Bakil in the northern and central
parts
of
Yemen)
and
the less active
Madhhij
federation in the southern
regions.
Yemeni tribes
vary
in size and in the number of levels of
segmentation.4
In
highland
Yemen the tribes are
political
entities that are
intimately
linked
to
specific
territories. When one
speaks
of a
qabila,
one is
referring
to both a
specific
area and the
people
who
live
within it
(Adra 1982:18).
Although
there
is considerable
scholarly
debate over the nature of the Yemeni
tribes,
at a
minimum
they
are named
political
entities that
play
an
important
role in the
regulation
of
public
affairs. Some
question
also exists as to whether Yemeni
tribes are
corporate
entities. While this
depends
on the definition of
corpo-
rateness,
the
general
consensus is that
they
are not.5 Tribes have no
internally
defined
political
structure and maintain no economic
"going
concerns." How-
ever, they
do have determinate
membership
and
occupy
and hold
rights
over
territories with
clearly
defined and
protected
boundaries. One of the most
frequent
causes of tribal conflict is
dispute
over land and water
rights, especially
when tribal sections
try
to shift their
membership,
thus
effectively reappor-
tioning
tribal boundaries.6 The
significance
of the tribes lies not in whether
they
are
corporate entities, per se,
at a
specific time,
but in their
political
potential
for
organizing group
action.
Tribal structure is
segmentary,
that
is,
tribes are
composed
of
sections,
subsections,
sub-subsections and so
on;
the actual number of levels can
vary.
The levels of
segmentation
have no
specific names,
but
they
are often labeled
as
"fifths," "fourths,
"
"eighths,
"
and the like. To illustrate this rather abstract
description,
we
may
add the
spatial dimension;
a subsection
might
include ten
or
twenty villages spread
out over a
twenty
or
twenty-five square
kilometer
area, depending,
of
course,
on the
ecological
conditions. A section
may
extend
across one hundred
square
kilometers or
so,
include four or five
subsections,
and total five or ten thousand
people.
A
qabila
is made
up
of a number of
sections, covering
hundreds of
square kilometers,
and
may
number
thirty
or
forty
thousand members.
As Dresch (1984:33-34) suggests,
the Yemeni
segmentary
tribal structure
has
deep
historical roots and
appears
to be
relatively
stable over time. In an
agrarian society
like Yemen, tribes do not move en masse, as in the
typical
TRIBE AND POLITICS IN YEMEN 253
Bedouin
society (see
Peters
1967).
To find
examples
of a tribe
apparently
doing so,
it is
necessary
to
go
back to
early
historical
accounts, especially
al-
Hamdani's
Al-Iklil,
written in the tenth
century, and,
even
then,
moves that
are recorded are said to have taken
place
at some
unspecified
time in the
past
(Lofgren 1953).
Most of the tribes known
today
are found in the same locations
they
have
occupied
for centuries. Of
course, given
the natural
process
of
expansion, groups
from the
powerful upper
Yemen tribes have
migrated
into
lower
Yemen,
but the
parent
tribes have remained stable. A few tribes have
appeared
or
disappeared
since the tenth
century,
some are
larger
than
they
were and some
smaller, yet
in
places
confederation borders are almost
precisely
where
they
were a millennium
ago (Dresch 1984:35).
Change
in the tribal structure involves the
generation (or
disintegration)
of
a
political identity; thus, change
is
essentially
a
political activity.
While tribes
can
theoretically change
alliances within the confederations and sections can
change
tribes
(the
smaller the
units,
the more
likely they
are to shift
alliances),
this is
actually quite
rare. The
principal
reason is that
people
in an
agrarian
society
are faced with the
practical
necessities of
living
within
a potential support
group
and
maintaining
close extended
family relationships.
For an
individual,
changing
tribal alliance
may require
either
selling property
and
moving
to an-
other area or
facing
the
high
social costs of
remaining
an outsider.
However,
for a
change
to occur in the tribal
structure,
an entire tribe or tribal
segment
must either move and be
integrated
into another tribe or section or form a
new tribal
segment.
This involves the creation of a new
political entity.
Given
the direct connection of tribal
identity
with
land,
such a shift could become
very complicated, and,
consequently, any change
in tribal structure is
possible
only
when a
high degree
of consensus has been achieved
among
the
potential
members of the new tribal
segment. Changing
tribal
association, therefore,
is
not
something
that is taken
lightly,
and the situation must be
very
serious
before it occurs.
Local
leadership
in the Yemen tribal social
organization
involves the "office"
of the
shaykh.
Named tribal
segments
are
usually represented by
one or more
shaykhs, depending
on the size of the
segment;
but some
segments
have no
shaykhs
at
all,
and others have
many.
Individuals are free to take their
problems
to
any shaykh they wish,
but most often it is
expedient
to deal with the local
shaykh, especially
if he also
happens
to be a close kinsman.
Tribesmen relate to each other in a
genealogical idiom;
members of the
same tribe address each other as "brother" and rationalize this
putative kinship
through
reference to a common tribal
eponym. Typically,
one finds tribal
seg-
ments with names such as
Bani Fadl,
Dhu
Hussayn, clyal Yazid,
and the
like,
all of which reflect a notion of common
ancestry.7 However,
this "tribal" re-
latedness is
merely
a statement of a common
political identity
as
expressed
in
a
genealogical idiom, not a
detailing
of actual
kinship relationships.
It is
quite
common to find tribal subsections with names such as khums (fifth) Bani Fadl
that are
composed
of one or two descent
groups; however, at the
higher
levels
254
JOURNAL
OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
of tribal
organization,
members are related
only
in the abstract. While one
may
choose his tribal affiliation
by moving
into another
area, people
are,
for the
most
part, simply
born into a
qabila
and retain this tribal affiliation
throughout
their lives.
Finally,
tribal
membership
is also associated with
qabayla,
a
powerful ideology
or ethos that
prescribes proper
cannons of moral behavior and
reciprocal
ob-
ligations." Again,
there is debate on the extent of the
obligation
of tribesmen
to come to each other's
assistance,
and
practical
considerations often
play
an
important role; nevertheless,
the
ideology
of
unity
is a
powerful motivating
force.9 Yemeni tribalism is conceived of in terms of honor
(sharaf,
card, wajh),
and action is taken when the collective honor of the tribe or
segment
is in
jeopardy. Typical
events that invoke collective action are defense of territorial
integrity
and
group support
in violent
disputes
between members of different
tribes or tribal
segments.
A second
important aspect
of tribal social
organization
in
highland
Yemen is
the
lineage organization. Going
hand in hand with a
segmentary
structure of
tribal
political
units is a
segmentary lineage system.
Because both the tribal
structure and
kinship
model
employ
a
genealogical
idiom to characterize their
relationships
(i. e.,
use terms
like
brother and son and make reference to ancient
ancestors),
care must be taken not to
merge
the two. The
kinship
model is a
mechanism for
forming
social
groups obligated
to each other
by
virtue of actual
common descent traced
through
the male
line.
At the
very
lowest levels of
association
(i.e.,
from the nuclear
family up
to the minimal
agnatic units),
these
groups
are
clearly
defined entities that are often
corporate. However,
as the
genealogical
distance increases and the
relationships
become more
abstract,
confusion over
just
how the model is structured and what constitute
lineage
subunits increases
(Adra 1982;
Chelhod
1970;
Stevenson
1985). '"
A
large
lexicon exists to refer to the
lineage divisions,
but often the terms
overlap,
have
multiple meanings,
or
simply
refer to different levels of
segmentation
according
to local
usage.
Terms such as stomach
(batn),
branch
(fakhdh),
meat
(lahm),
house
(bayt),
and sinew
(habl)
all are rather
organic
terms for
lineage
divisions above the level of the extended household.
"
Attempts
to
present
a
concise,
clear-cut
description
of
just
which kinsmen
belong
to what
lineage
subdivisions are
largely
futile because the native model is itself flexible. The
segmentary lineage
model is the statement of a
principle
for the formation of
larger groups
when and if the need
arises;
it is not a definition of concise
genealogically
defined
political
entities. As Adra
(1982:115)
argues,
the
seg-
mentary
model
"provides
both the mind set and the rationale to
bring
diverse
individuals
together
without
necessitating
coercion or the centralization of
power.
It
is not intended, however, to define all
possible relationships involving
mutual
rights
and
obligation."
In
daily
affairs the
sociopolitical importance
of the
larger
descent
groups (e.g., fakhdh, habl) is
only rarely
demonstrated and then
mostly
in an ad hoc manner. These descent
groups
come
together
in times of ritual
or crisis and when collective action is needed, such as in the cases of blood
TRIBE AND POLITICS IN YEMEN 255
feud,
economic
disaster,
or threat from outside forces. The existence of kin-
based
corporate groups
is
generally
limited to the level of the minimal
agnatic
groups.
The
responsibilities
and
loyalties
owed to the tribal
group
with whom one
resides
appear
to be more
important
than those owed to one's descent
group.
When
posed
the
hypothetical question
of
loyalty
in a conflict between two tribal
groups,
informants state that the tribesman is
obliged
to side with the
group
with whom he is
resident,
even if the
opposing group
is his descent
group.
Residency
is
analogous
to
citizenship,
and in local
political
affairs it is more
important
than
kinship.
When a
family
moves into another tribal
area,
it makes
a formal
agreement
with the host
group
and takes a
pledge
of
loyalty
to insure
security,
shared
responsibilities,
and the benefits of
group membership.
If the
agreement
is not
made,
the
right
to
purchase
land will be
denied,
or the
family
will
simply
be left to fend for itself in times of trouble. This would create an
intolerably perilous
existence.
In
sum,
tribal structure is defined
by
reference to a distant
apical ancestor,
and the convention for
naming
tribes and tribal
segments frequently,
but not
necessarily, implies
a common descent.
Furthermore,
in much of tribal Yemen
a close
empirical relationship
between tribe and
lineage
sometimes
exists,
and
maximal
lineages
and tribal
segments may
be
isomorphic. However, lineages
also often
spread
out across tribal boundaries. Both
lineage
structure and tribal
structure are
expressed
in a
genealogical idiom,
but the tribe cannot be
properly
conceived of in terms of
descent.
Tribe and
lineage
are not the
same-lineages
are
agnatic
descent
groups;
tribes are
political
identities.
CONTEMPORARY POLITICS AND TRIBAL ORGANIZATION:
A POINT OF INTERACTION
Political conflict
provides
an excellent situation in which the interaction of
contemporary political
movements and local tribal structure can be
analyzed.
Between 1978 and 1982 considerable
political
unrest in the border
regions
between the two Yemens took the form of local and
regional military
skirmishes.
The case under consideration involved the tribe of
al-cArish,
which in 1981
split
into two tribal
segments
as a result of involvement in the
regional
conflict.
The tribe al-cArish is located on the
high plains
near the town of Radac in
southeastern
Yemen,
about an hour's drive from the South Yemen border. The
area is
comparatively flat, punctuated
with volcanic
extrusions,
and receives
rainfall in two monsoon
seasons,
the
spring
rains between March and
May
and
the summer maxima between
July
and
September.
Rainfall is variable and can
range
from 300 to 1000 mm
per year, making farming
a
high-risk activity.
The
majority
of the
al-cArish
tribesmen are farmers who cultivate
sorghum (the
staple
cereal
crop)
and
qat (a shrub whose leaves are chewed for their stimulant
effect). Agriculture
in the
region
is based on rain-fed
techniques, although
irrigation through
the use of tube wells is
increasing.
The Radac area has a
256
JOURNAL
OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
high emigration rate,
and the
expatriate
remittances have stimulated the local
economy. Many
new
businesses, particularly
retail
shops,
have
sprung up
in
the
region,
and considerable investment has been made in
drilling
wells and
building
water
supply systems. However,
most of the
irrigation
water is used
for
increasing
the
production
of cash
crops, especially qat.
The
al-cArish,
who number
roughly
between fifteen and
twenty thousand,
consider themselves to be members of the Bakil
federation.'2 They live in
villages
that
range
in size from two hundred to over six thousand residents.
In
all,
the tribal area
encompasses
over 250
square kilometers,
with the
highest
concentration of settlements in the fertile
qac al-Fayid valley.
The
stage
for the
entanglement
of a local tribal
dispute
with the wider
regional
political
conflict was set
many years
earlier. For
generations
the most
important
shaykh
of al-cArish was from the al-Barashi
family.
Some
forty years ago,
Shaykh
Muhammad al-Barashi
adopted
cAbdul Wahab
al-Hamdani,
a
young
orphaned boy
from the
village
of
ad-Drayba.
"
In addition to his
adopted son,
Shaykh
Muhammad also had six natural sons and a brother. cAbdul Wahab
proved
to be a
good
student of local
politics,
and over the
years
he traveled
throughout
the tribe and
developed
a
reputation
as a
competent, fair,
and
intelligent
man. At the same
time,
one of Muhammad al-Barashi's natural
sons,
Hassan,
was also interested in a career in local
politics
and
was,
so to
speak,
in
competition
with cAbdul Wahab.
Additionally,
cAli
al-Barashi,
the brother of
Shaykh
Muhammad
al-Barashi,
who had heretofore been a
secondary figure,
also had
political
ambitions and was
waiting
in the
wings. Family
tensions
began
to
intensify
in the late 1970s after the death of
Shaykh
Muhammad.
cAli
al-
Barashi,
an older
man,
was in a
strong position
to assume the
responsibilities
and the clientele left
by Shaykh
Muhammad and
began
to consolidate his claim
as
shaykh
of al-cArish.
However,
cAbdul Wahab had
already
established a wide
reputation,
and
many
tribesmen were
bringing
their
problems
to him for ar-
bitration;
movement
sprouted
to have him
recognized
as the "head"
shaykh
of
al-cArish.
The internal conflict within the
shaykhly family
was
crystallized
when
Hassan decided to
support
cAli
al-Barashi's claim as
shaykh.
Competition
between
family
members is
quite
common in Yemeni tribal
society
because no strict rules exist for the succession to the role of
shaykh,
and under normal circumstances this case would
probably
have been settled
internally. However,
in the
early
1980s the
political
environment in the
region
changed dramatically.
The National Democratic Front
(hereafter
referred to as the
jubha),
a leftist
political opposition
movement founded in 1976
by expatriate
members of the
Yemeni
Left,
became more active in the rural
political
arena
shortly
after the
1977 assassination of President Ibrahim al-Hamdi. The stated
purpose
of the
jubha
was the continuation of some of the late
president's populist
domestic
policies, particularly
the eventual unification of the Yemen Arab
Republic (YAR)
and the
People's
Democratic
Republic
of Yemen (PDRY), and
opposition
to
perceived
Saudi Arabian
hegemony
in the
region. "4
The distinct tenor of the
TRIBE AND POLITICS IN YEMEN 257
jubha's political ideology
was
socialist,
and in the late 1970s it was drawn
together
in alliance with socialist factions based in South Yemen. Political ten-
sions were
heightened
in the Radac
region
in
February
1979 when
troops
from
the PDRY overran the
provincial capital, al-Baydha,
near the border and
pen-
etrated to within less than an hour's drive from Radac. After the brief border
war
subsided,
the
jubha,
which received
significant support
from the
PDRY,
became
very
active in the area. In 1981 the
jubha
was at
peak strength
and
carried out
guerrilla
maneuvers in a wide
strip
which ran
roughly
from al-
Baydha
in the east to
Jibal Rayma
in the
west,
near the
port city
of
al-Hudayda.
The
jubha nearly
succeeded in
cutting
the
country
in two. This area of conflict
included the
Radac district,
where the
jubha
had
significant popular support
among
some of the tribesmen. Central
government
forces were mobilized and
launched a series of counteroffensives in coordination with a
people's
militia
drawn from the Hashid and Bakil tribes north of
Sanaca.
After
nearly
a
year's
fighting
that included the use of
heavy artillery,
the
jubha
was
defeated,
and
efforts were
begun
to
negotiate
a
peace
settlement between the
supporters
of the
jubha
and the
government.
The
importance
of tribal social
organization
in
political
affairs
began
to
emerge
as efforts were made to settle what had heretofore been
thought
of as a
regional
conflict between
political
factions with a
"progressive"
or socialist
ideology
and
the
politically
conservative
supporters
of the central
government.
Soon after
the cessation of
fighting,
the leader of the
jubha
in the
Radac
region,
Hamud
bi-Salama, began
a series of
political
maneuvers to
have
the settlement ne-
gotiated
in the "traditional"
style
and the whole conflict treated as if it had been
a tribal war.
By framing
the conflict in "traditional"
terms,
he
sought
to invoke
the customs of "tribal" law.
By adjudicating
the settlement in a local forum that
was
regulated by
codes of honor and
shame,
that involved local
personalities,
and that would be
open
to
public opinion,
the
jubha sought
to avoid trial in a
government
court on
possible charges
of sedition and treason and to
escape
the serious
repercussions
that would
inevitably
follow.
15
Hamud bi-Salama suc-
ceeded in
placing
the issue in a "tribal" context
by approaching
cAli al-Barashi
and
asking
that
he,
in his
capacity
as
shaykh
of
al-cArish,
act as mediator
between the
jubha
and the
government representatives.
Problems over who was
actually shaykh
of the
region began
to
intensify
when
cAli al-Barashi,
after
already agreeing
to arbitrate the
case,
refused to
intercede with the
government
on Hamud bi-Salama's behalf. While
negotiations
were
underway,
the
government began
to take
reprisal
actions
against
Hamud
bi-Salama for his role in the
jubha activities; government troops
tore down
Hamud bi-Salama's
house,
and in the words of one
informant,
terrorized his
family.
Seeing
that
Shaykh
cAli al-Barashi was unable to stand
up
to
the
government
on his behalf, Hamud bi-Salama then turned to
cAbdul
Wahab for
help. Although
cAbdul Wahab had not been an active
supporter
of the
jubha,
he saw his chance
to further his
reputation;
he
quickly protested
the
government's
action and
258
JOURNAL
OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
assumed the
negotiations
between the
jubha
and the
government.
cAbdul Wahab
was
quite
successful.
Agreements
were
reached,
and his
prestige
rose con-
siderably throughout
the
region, especially among
his kinsmen in his natal
community
in and around
ad-Drayba.
These events renewed the debate over who was
"really" shaykh
of al-cArish.
cAbdul Wahab confronted cAli al-Barashi over his failure to intercede on behalf
of Hamud bi-Salama and
prevent
the
government
from
tearing
down the house.
cAbdul
Wahab
argued
that
by
not
interceding, cAli
al-Barashi had shamed the
shaykhly family and, by extension,
the collective honor of the tribe al-cArish.
In Yemen tribal
custom,
once a case is
accepted by
a
shaykh,
it is the
shaykh's
responsibility
to
guarantee
that all
parties
to the
dispute suspend
their hostilities
and take no further
independent
action. The
shaykh, by accepting
a
case,
guarantees
the behavior of the clients. In this
case, Shaykh
cAli al-Barashi
made no effort to restrain the
government
from
destroying
the
house;
he
therefore failed in his role
and, by demonstrating weakness, brought
shame
on the
family
and the tribe.
The
argument
between the two
shaykhs escalated,
the
police
were called
in,
and both
parties
were detained. News of the arrest
spread quickly,
and
considerable
outrage
was
expressed, especially by
the tribesmen from ad-
Drayba,
cAbdul Wahab's natal
village.
Some of the
villages closely
associated
with Hamud bi-Salama and the
jubha
also came to cAbdul Wahab's defense.
Motivated
by
a
perception
that their tribal honor
(sharaf, card)
had been threat-
ened
by
the arrest of their
representative,
the tribesmen from
ad-Drayba
quickly mobilized, bringing
their
rifles,
and
protested
the arrest of cAbdul
Wahab.
Very quickly
armed tribesmen massed around the
police
facilities.
But,
despite
considerable
commotion,
the situation was defused before
any shooting
began.
The arrest incident was a
catalytic event;
after the two
shaykhs
were re-
leased,
the tribe al-cArish
split
into two
"tribes," ad-Drayba
and al-cArish. The
people
of the communities of
Maghraba, as-Sadac,
and
ad-Drayba began
to
collectively
refer to themselves in the tribal idiom as "brothers"-members of
a new tribe called
ad-Drayba.
This new
political entity recognized
cAbdul Wahab
as
shaykh.
The remainder of al-cArish continued to
support
cAli
al-Barashi,
who,
no
longer
faced with internal
opposition,
was able to
solidify
his
position
as
shaykh.16
DISCUSSION
In the case of
al-cArish,
the interaction between a
contemporary political
movement and the tribal social
organization
went both
ways.
Alliance shifts
and
changes
in
patronage typically
do not
generate change
in the structural
relationship
between tribes or tribal segments. As Dresch (1984:32) has
pointed
out, "tribal structure consists
primarily
in the
opposition
of tribal names to
tribal names and section names to section names. "The case of al-cArish involved
TRIBE AND POLITICS IN YEMEN 259
more than internal shifts of
power.
The
intensity
of
feeling
in this case was
much
greater
than
usual,
and the members of the new tribe
began
to refer to
themselves within the tribal idiom. The
significant
factor in this
case,
what
marks it as an instance of tribal
segmentation,
was the creation of a new and
heretofore nonexistent
political
name and
identity, ad-Drayba.
More than a
mere
political realignment
within a
tribe,
a new
political identity-a
new tribal
name-was
generated
within the tribal
system.
The
segmentation
of al-cArish was
precipitated by
stress
emanating
from a
number of sources. External
political pressure
was
generated by
both the
jubha
and the brief border war with the PDRY which
accompanied
the
emergence
of new
political ideologies
and
agendas
in the
region.
The situation escalated
to a state of civil war in which two external
factions,
the central
government
and the
jubha,
were
dominant.
These conditions
supercharged
an
already
ex-
isting complex
intratribal
problem
over the succession of tribal
leadership.
When
these
political
events
finally
were framed in terms of collective
honor,
the
cultural
ideology
that is used to define
tribalism,
sufficient stress was
generated
to force the break.
The case of al-cArish also demonstrates how Yemen "tribalism" can have an
active role in
contemporary political
movements. The
jubha
was
very
conscious
of the role that tribal
ideology (qabayla) plays
in
motivating
local
political
be-
havior.
By enlisting
tribal sentiment in the settlement of the civil conflict with
the central
government,
the
jubha
was able to bind its
security
to the defense
of tribal honor. The
jubha
was able to suffer
military
defeat
yet
not lose
every-
thing by exploiting
the local tribal
organization.
In
addition,
the case of al-cArish
shows how a
challenge
to a
political
leader can activate a set of social and moral
obligations
that
quickly
and
efficiently brings
a
large group
of men with different
political ideologies
to arms in common cause
against
those who threaten their
honor.
Constructive
parallels
can be drawn between the situation that led
up
to the
spectacular
conflict in Aden and the drama
played
out on the local
stage
in
Radac. The case from Radac
suggests
that not far beneath the surface of the
"modern"
political
structures in south Arabia
lies
a network of tribal relations
with a
powerful
set of tribal values and
obligations
that has the
capacity
to
influence
political
behavior. When
political
tensions reach a crisis
point,
it is
possible
to
appeal
to the
underlying
and
deep-seated
tribal sentiments and
traditions
and, by invoking
these
obligations,
to mobilize considerable force.
In
Radac,
the
massing
of forces led to tribal
segmentation
and a
peaceful
settlement,
but a few hundred kilometers to the
south,
a
city
was
destroyed.
NOTES
1. In this
paper
I have elected to use data from both North and South
Yemen,
that
is,
"natural"
Yemen,
al-Yaman at-tabici. The borders between the two countries are
largely
a
product
of the British colonial
enterprise,
and the
people
of both Yemens
consider themselves as
sharing
one cultural
identity.
260
JOURNAL
OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH
2. Lawson
(1986:446) reports
that a
large
number of the combatants came from the
highland regions
that border the Yemen Arab
Republic.
3. Given the
underlying
cultural
similarity
of the tribal
peoples
of "both"
Yemens,
a
review of "tribal"
organization
drawn
primarily
from
ethnographic
research conducted
in the
part
of "natural" Yemen that is now the Yemen Arab
Republic
is
applicable
to an
understanding
of the
general principles
of tribal
organization
and structure.
4. See Dresch
(1986:34-35)
for different
examples.
5.
Compare,
for
example,
Adra
(1982),
Dresch
(1984),
and
Swagman (1988).
6.
During my four-year stay
in
Yemen,
I
personally
encountered four
significant
conflicts which resulted from
attempted
tribal
realignments.
In one
event,
a
dispute
between a tribal
segment
in -Utama and a tribal
segment
in
Anis,
we were even
caught
in cross fire.
7. A literal translation of
Bani
Hushaysh
is
"offspring
of
Husaysh,
" and
l'yal
Surayh
is
"dependents
of
Surayh."
Both terms
imply
a
genealogical relationship.
8. See Adra
(1982)
for a fuller discussion of what it means to be a tribesman.
9. Dresch
(1986) rightly argues
that the
supposed massing
effect of the tribes is
rare and
by
no means automatic.
However,
I also
recall
how a
coworker,
a
repatriated
Yemeni born in
Ethiopia, expressed
fear and caution
upon encountering
a
stranger
at
a
gas
station. He
explained
to me that some kind of feud was
going
on between the
tribes,
and even
though
he was
socially very
far removed from the
situation,
he could
be,
and felt he
might be,
shot as
part
of the feud. The course of events
plays
a
big
part
in such
matters,
but the
ideology
is still
present.
10. For a
fuller discussion of tribal
organization,
see Dresch
(1984)
and Adra
(1982).
In the western central
highlands,
the tribal structure is
considerably
weaker than in
the areas
reported
in these studies and in
many
areas is in
eclipse.
11. Chelhod seems to
merge
the
lineage system
with the tribal
system
when he
argues
that
qabila designates
the tribe and batn and fakhdh are its two main divisions.
My
evidence indicates that these latter are terms used to refer to
lineage,
and not
tribal structure.
12. The names of the Yemeni tribes south of the Sanaea
governorate rarely appear
on the
published
lists
of tribes. While these tribes
may
be
secondary,
distant cousins
of the northern
tribes, they
nevertheless are Yemeni tribes. Their absence
may
well
reflect the bias of
researchers,
for almost all studies of Yemeni tribes have been made
in the Sanaca
governorate,
or north.
13.
Although
the actors in this drama are
semipublic figures,
the names of the
individuals have been
changed.
The tribal and
community
names
have, however,
been
retained.
14. This account is based on an interview with
rank-and-file
members of the
jubha
whom I encountered
by
chance in
Damt,
a hot
springs
near the South Yemen border.
15. Earlier that
year
had occurred a much
publicized trial, conviction,
and execution
of
cAbdullah
Asnaj,
a conservative
politician who,
with
alleged
Saudi Arabian
backing,
had
attempted
an overthrow of the
regime.
16. I am indebted to cAbdul Rahman Kalaz for the details of the events in Radae.
Their
interpretation, however,
is
solely
the
responsibility
of the author.
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