By Tamjid Alkohali
The waterpipe, narghile, arghila, and shisha are all similar to the Madaah in Yemen. However, the Madaah has an ancient history, a different shape, and a distinctive popular heritage.
The Madaah is known in Sana’a and northern cities more than southern areas. The first appearance of Madaah was more than 400 years ago, and the Jews in Yemen were the first of Madaah maker. It was later made in many places in the world, the most famous manufacturers India and Iran.
According to Yasseen Althalaia, an owner of a Madaah store Sana’a for more than 50 years, the Jewish Madaah is considered the best and most expensive type. It is made of pure copper, coconut, and the finest wood.
“The body of the Madaah is composed of a copper base that has three or four legs. In the middle there is a big strong coconut covered by carved copper. Above the coconut there is a wooden tube,” Althalaia explained.
Althalaia added that the Madaah has a thin and flexible tube that allows the smoke to pass by.
“The tube is placed over the coconut. It is made of heavy and flexible wire, covered by sheepskin, wrapped by strong thread, and finally covered by cloth.” Althalaia continued, “There are many types of tube. The price of each type varies from one to anther depending on the quality of the materials which it is made from.”
The last part of the Madaah is Al-Bouri, a small circular vase like a funnel made of clay with about four holes on the bottom to make the smoke pass. Althalaia said that Al-Bouri is sold in clay vessel shops and is put above the Madaah. People put the tobacco inside it and then cover the tobacco with tin to put the burning coal above.
Althalaia confirmed that the Jewish Madaah is considered the best kind because it is made by hand. The most expensive may cost about $400-600.
“In fact, people are keen to buy this kind of Madaah, even if it’s expensive. It has many advantages as they think; it keeps the water fresh for several months and makes the flavor of the smoke very good.”
Althalaia said that the Iranian Madaah is second in quality after the Jewish Madaah; the price starts between $200 and $400, while the Indian Madaah comes after with $100 less than Iranian.
In these countries people don’t smoke the Madaah, they just make it and export it for the Yemeni use. Regionally, people smoke the waterpipe, or shisha, which is very popular in the Arab countries and some other Western countries.
In fact, there isn’t a clear story about the origin of shisha. Some say, it traces back to the Arabian Peninsula, while others say it came from central India, and then it moved to the Arabian Peninsula. Later on it was spread through the Ottoman Empire.
Shisha is different from the Madaah in the shape and taste too. The shisha pipe is smaller than the Madaah, and its shorter.
Tobacco, which is used in the Madaah is different from that used in shisha. In the Madaah, water is put inside the coconut but in shisha it is put inside a glass. The Madaah’s tobacco is from the leaves of the tobacco plant while the shisha’s tobacco is extracted from fruit.
According to Jalal, a tobacco seller in old Sana’a, the best kind of tobacco is Adeni tobacco. “Adeni tobacco is grown in Aden. There is also another kind grown in India,” he said.
Despite the massive spread of Shisha all over Yemen, the Madaah still maintain its popularity, especially in Sana’a.
Althalaia said that people from Sana’a buy the Madaah even if they don’t smoke it. There isn’t a Sananni house without a Madaah. However, people in the south prefer shisha more than the Madaah.
In the past, smoking phenomenon was exclusive for men and now its common between women and young girls.
Women and childbirth doctor, Dr. Zainab Ali, said that despite of being a shame for girls to smoke in Yemen, many families have broken the traditions.
“As a result of the low education among women in Yemen, most of them don’t realize the smoking damage for their health, and there are many women smoke during pregnancy,” she said.
Qat sessions with smoking are held every afternoon in Yemen. The fun of smoking shisha or Madaah increases with chewing Qat, and both result in a good mood for men and women as well.