Soft hands serve Yemeni heritage

National Yemen

Soft hands serve Yemeni heritage

By Tamjid Alkohali

Today, Yemeni women have ventured out of traditional life which is limited to working in the kitchen, household chores, and looking after her children. She has moved to a wider life where she can give more and innovate more. Today we find Yemeni woman outside and active in all life fields. One of these fields is serving Yemeni heritage through repairing, revive and displaying it in order to prevent it from being wiped away

To be closer to these women, National Yemen scheduled a trip to Bab al-Yemen in Sana’a where there is ancient heritage which dates back a thousand years. In Bab al-Yemen, National Yemen started from where there are more than 50 women work hard to save old manuscripts.  

The women at Yemeni Manuscripts Dar are experts in the field of repair, maintenance, knitting and saving manuscripts. All of them have graduated from Archaeology, Libraries, and History College. They are working actively and doing what is traditionally considered to be male duty. National Yemen interviewed some of women in which they spoke about the nature of their work and the difficulties they face.

We began with the supervisor of the exhibition, Elham al-Haidari. Before speaking, she was speaking confidently with visitors about the manuscripts. Al-Haidari said that she is aware of the importance of the manuscripts, so she finds enjoyment in her work.

“I define the Yemeni manuscripts for the visitors in Dar whether they are foreigners or Yemenis.  For example, I answer questions like, how old are they? Who has written them and what the cultural and scientific significance of the manuscripts?”

Al-Haidari added that since the first moment of her work as a supervisor in the exhibition, she promised herself to let all the Yemenis realize the importance of Yemeni heritage in order to save this heritage from vandals and those who are ignorant of the value of intellectual wealth.

From the exhibition, National Yemen moved to the building of the Dar, where we met Huda Amin al-Mohamady, who has worked in the photography department for three years. She said that the work isn’t easy. It needs a patient person and a person who appreciates this work.

She added that through her work at manuscripts Dar, she has helped reveal that Yemen has an old and deep tradition, which is what makes her loves her work and appreciate her country. 

Elham al-Rimi has worked in the Department of Documentation and Cataloging of Manuscripts for five years and explained that her work is to film the manuscripts after installing the author’s name, address, and number. Then, she sends it to the audit section.

“In fact, sometimes I face difficulties to manage between the work at home and working here, but I find myself to be a creative person who can give a lot so I will do my best to stay here.”

In Restoration Department, the restoration expert Kifah Alzorbh who has also worked for five years said that who don’t have a past, don’t have a present, and that the project gives her a chance to emphasize the existence of Yemeni heritage and save it from loss. She added that she was trained by activist Abdel Wahed El Shamy during three training courses.  

Alzorbh emphasized that all experts in the Dar give her their hands; they also trust and respect all the women working there as well to ensure that they don’t face any harassment.

Secretary-General and Assistant for Management Abel Ghanem al-Humaniri said that there are more than fifty women working alongside twenty men.

“The women work like they’re in a beehive. They offer unlimited creativity and ideas for improving the Dar. They are really more patient and accurate than the men, especially in technical fields, so the institute prefers to hire women more than men.”

National Yemen left the institute seeking another historical place in the Old City where women have made a great impact. We visited the Great Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Islam. It was built in the era of the Prophet Muhammad, during the sixth year of migration. At that time, the Caliph al-Walid ibn Abdul Malik asked all the Caliphs who would follow him to extend the mosque. Throughout the ages, it has been repaired, and today, there are more than 42 women working in repairing its walls and roof.

Yasmine Karsh is a restoration expert, having worked for seven years in repairing the mosque, from the early morning to 5 PM. She says that restoration is accurate work, and needs patience. From her point of view, this work is more suitable for woman because men are socialized to like moving quickly. They can’t stay long hours working quietly on the mosque’s wall.

“Repairing the mosque is an important work. In this work we keep the history of Yemen and its civilization and the culture of our grandfathers.” She continued, “Woman in her nature likes to keep everything old as well as everything old became important for her.”

According to the plan, the project of repairing the mosque will end after two years. All women working emphasized that they would look for another historical place and continue to work in serving Yemeni heritage.

Furthermore, in old Sana’a there is also the Sanani Heritage House headed by Amt al-Rzaq Jhaf, who exceeded all tribal traditions by completing her education. She has worked long years in collecting and documenting the Yemeni heritage “because of the fast changes that occur in the Yemeni community.”

“I feel the need to collect everything belong to the Yemeni past before they disappear, so establishing the Sanani Heritage House is the best way to keep the Yemeni historical memory and the past of our ancestors.”

Sanani Heritage House has a wider institutional memory of seven centuries. Tourists visit it to take an idea about Old Sanani life where they watch the old tools, furniture and everything used by Yemen-that-was. Most of the workers who work in the house are women. Some work as a tour guide for the house, and others work in making old handicrafts.     

Although modernity continues to impact the country, Yemeni women still belong to the past and the old habits. They work hard to serve Yemeni heritage whether in old Sana’a or outside old Sana’a, using their soft hands.  

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