By Tamjid Alkohali
Handicrafts have occupied a prominent place in Yemeni society for hundreds of years. Many people from different governorates have mastered the profession, and each governorate is characterized by its handicrafts. For example artisans in Amran specialize in silver while artisans in Sana’a specialize in traditional clothes.
The Sana’a Summer Tourism Festival, which was held on August 24 and continued for a week, was a chance for many artisans to participate and display their crafts.
The festival was filled with a lot of craft products and handicrafts from different governorates. Each governorate had a tent that reflected the lifestyles, habits and traditions of the region.
Most of the handicrafts shown in the festival had a modern touch, cheaper than the original craft and were considered imitations.
When artisans asked about the deterioration of the original handicrafts, they said itlacks of interest and support in addition to the high prices which makes many handicrafts a heritage from the past, threatened with extinction.
Artisans emphasized that they have entered unfair competitions with the imitation handicrafts that are imported from China, especially with the recession and the slowness of tourist traffic.
Despite the government’s decision two years ago to limit the import of Chinese goods that are similar to national products such as Yamani al-Aqiq, cotton quilting, almaaoz (male clothing similar to a towel), pottery, porcelain, and incense burners, they are still coming into the country in large quantities.
The decision imposed an additional fee of 25% on imports of craft products, which include traditional iron and wooden locks, traditional swords, knitting, traditional leather belts, copperplate items, wooden boxes, and other embroidered and traditional national costumes.
It also forced ministers and governmental institutions to buy gifts for guests who visit Yemen in order to support craft products and traditional handicrafts.
The participating artisans in The Sana’a Summer Festival discussed the decline in sales of Yemeni original handicrafts due to the decline in tourism as a result of the political situation. The main customers buying are foreign tourists.
Fathi Al-Shami, from Marib, said Yemen has varied wealth with lots of handicrafts. Marib is one of the provinces that has such cultural and heritage wealth such as silver belts and nomadic rugs that are using at weddings and special occasions.
In terms of contemporary challenges, which affect the handicrafts of Marib, Al-Shami said, there are some changes in nomadic burqas such as using cheap Chinese beads, which makes it cheaper and more attractive.
Al-Shami also mentioned some handicrafts that are produced in Marib threatened with extinction, such as leather products, wooden items use for food, and water sieves.
“I called on the authorities to support local products, document their extinction, and to prevent the import of foreign products that negatively affect the local products,” he said.
Al-Shami confirmed that the government’s interest in Marib and its security would feed the public treasury with millions dollars, and five million tourists were visiting Marib annually in the past.
Artisan Hassan Bahashwan from Hadramout considers Yemeni handicrafts special and unique because they relate to the social environment and vary according to the climate of the regions and the tastes of people.
“The handicrafts in Hadramout vary according to people’s traditions in the governorate. The most prominent is the silver necklace which is given by the groom to his bride in their wedding and the hyena necklace worn by people to protect them from hyenas, as well as many kinds of silver jewelry which are characterized by their design,” he said.
However, Bahashwan confirmed that the Hadhrami traditional manufacturers are disappearing as a result of people’s interest in modern jewelry and the lack of tourists.
The Manager of Social Relations at Al-Khansa Association, Najat Qaed, participated in the festival by showcasing handicrafts with a modern and contemporary character such as handbags, Abaya, Jalabiyah, and accessories.
From her point of view, Yemeni popular heritage still retains its quality even after mixing it with modern products. “There is no comparison between the original local product and the imitation product. However, we are afraid of the extinction local products due to a lack of people’s interest and the deterioration of tourism,” Qaed said.
All artisans at the festival hoped the government would prevent importing foreign products and restore tourism to the country which would revive Yemeni heritage.