By Tamjid Alkohali
Most discussion in Socotra is about biodiversity, the environment, and natural resources, that is why it was called a World Heritage site in 2008. The Yemeni government has paid a great attention to the island, especially since unification. However, the focus on environmental conservation has not occurred alongside cultural preservation.
Many tourists only know that Socotris speak a different language, not the rich history and culture that thrives there. Writer and journalist Fahd Kvain says that he wants to spread knowledge about Socotris before the culture goes existinct as a result of linguistic changes and a decline of traditional practices.
To preserve what remains, Kvain has started a 52-member cooperative in the capital of Hidaybu to tackle what remains.
“The members look for poems, stories, and anything related to the history and literature of Socotra, and then we translate it into Arabic. We also organize poetry contests and literary evenings.”
“There are many difficulties, but the most difficult one is when some researchers take information about the island from unreliable sources and then depend on it.”
The project also involves web forums and social media efforts to spread awareness about Socotri culture. Kvain himself spends a great deal of time searching, documenting, and organizing for the association. His book “Anthology of Socotra’s Literature” is what partially informs him, and is filled with information about the island, including many traditional legends.
Kvain says that Soctri languages are South Arabian in origin, and is in the company of regional tongues like Hadhrami and Almehran. Many of the South Arabian languages have disappeared, except for Alsagtria, which has been able to stay in isolation, though it is also at risk of disappearing.
“We don’t know if there are letters of Alsagtria language, but this language now threatened with extinction. It has started disappearing from official circles, educational institutions, public places, and even shops. The new generation on the island can’t speak Alsagtria language well, and they don’t know other languages, which is a really big problem. People cannot live without at least one language.”
Kvain also works with other missions to preserve cultural works on the island, including the Belgian-Yemeni Archaeological Mission, which recently announced the discovery of a mountain cave with a height of three kilometers that has many ancient buildings, temples, pottery, and tools that date back to the third century CE. The manager of the Russian Archaelogical Mission has also discovered ruins that date back almost a million years, proving that humanity has lived on Socotra for nearly six hundred thousand years.
The Yemeni General Authority for Antiquities and Museums has also taken an interest, announcing the discovery of five settlements and six ancient tombs.
Socotra Island is considered to be a jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea, and was mostly isolated from the world until unification in 1990. The government then built an airport on Socotra, opening it to international travel.