By Tamjid al-kohali
Yemeni craftsmen have been active since the dawn of civilization, in cities likeMinaen,Sheba, and Himyarite, and today, it is still famous for its beauty, subtlety, and intelligent designs. Silver reflects Yemeni culture, and emphasizes individual humanity, while anchoring the country in its ancient roots, despite recent blows to its popularity.
There are many silver shops in Sana’a, but Meleh market stands out due to the silver’s form and content. Some include authentic Yemeni jewellery that cannot be found elsewhere, such as in the one owned by Mujahid al-Maamari.
Al-Maamari has worked in silver for more than fifteen years, selling both Yemeni and non-Yemeni goods. He spoke at length about the role silver has played inYemen.
“Yemeni silver has been important throughout the ages. The country has has several forms of silver industry. The best work was al-Busany, which was pioneered by Yemenite Jews in Saada. This is followed by al-Badihy in Tihama, Zaidi in Zabid, as well as al-Mansouri and al-Acuay”. He added that Jewish artisans were the first to explore silver crafting as a trade.
Al-Maamari was excited when he explained their differences. According to him, al-Busanyh is best because of its simplicity, and patterns which look like intricate networks. Al-Badihy has an appearance which is more layored, while al-Zaidyy is characterized by spiritual carvings such as the names of Allah and various scriptural verses.
He also boasted about his many distinguishable silver pieces, like his decorated guns which date back centuries to the beginnings of Ottoman rule in the area.
Mohammed Ali Nasser sits in another shop, and praises the silver made in Hadramout.
“The silver made in Hadramout is marked by the use of unique precious stones, such as amber, Yamani al-Aqiq, and others. These precious stones increase the beauty of Yemeni silver, and its price as well.”
However, despite the presence of valuable and rare pieces of silver, the shop is devoid of customers. Nasser said that this is because foreign tourists are not coming toYemen, particularly from the Gulf, and locals simply cannot afford the products.
Tastes also appear to have changed. Silversmith Ahmed al-Gebri sighed before saying that Yemeni silver has become a temporary accessory, rather than collectibles with storied pasts. He also said that no piece uses 100% Yemeni silver anymore, instead importing some part of the jewellery from foreign countries. We found an old woman who was more passionate about the first point.
“Silver is no longer present on a woman’s breasts, fingers, and legs. In the past, the bride was covered by silver from head to foot, and men also wore silver, in addition to children. The silver price was cheap, but now it is expensive, and it isn’t admired by today’s youth.”
Al-Gebri also discussed the youth market, saying that young people seek lighter designs, meaning that silver necklaces are now around 15 grams rather than their traditional weight of 600.
However, Yemeni silver remains distinguished, and although it is not currently popular, it has a heritage that cannot be imitated by other products.