Festscrift for Walter Dostal

Andre Gingrich, Sylvia Haas, Gabriele Paleczek, Thomas Fillitz, editors
Studies in Oriental Culture and History: Festscrift for Walter Dostal
Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1993, 287 pp. ISBN 3-631-45810-X

Reviewed by Daniel Martin Varisco

Yemen Update 35(1994):42-43

Over the past four decades one of the most prominent specialists in traditional Yemeni culture has been Professor Walter Dostal of the Institut für Volkerkunde of the University of Vienna. Stemming back to an interest in marginal pariah groups and fascinating tribal and sexual practices, Dostal conducted ethnographic research in the south and north of Yemen, as well as virtually everywhere else on the peninsula. The present volume, edited by his students and colleagues, is a recognition of the years of effort and expertise of this single scholar in the field of Arabian studies. The festscrift was compiled to honor Prof. Dostal on his 65th birthday on May 15, 1993. Although there is a nall-too-brief foreword on the career of Dostal, there is unfortunately no bibliography of his writings, many of which are hard to come by on American soil.

There is no proper way to review afestscrift volume, since it is as much a labor of affection as it is a scholarly production. There are 17 articles included in this volume; ten of these relate directly to Yemen and five of these ten are in English. Rather than characterize the volume as a whole, which would serve little purpose since it is an anthology at base, I will note and comment on the articles relating to Yemen.

Walter Müller, whose long-time archaeological experience in Yemen is well known, addresses the issue of the sacred marriage rite in ancient South Arabia ("'HeiligeHochzeit' im antiken Südarabien" pp. 15-28). This political ritual appears in numerous texts in the broad history of Mesopotamia, but here Müller provides an interesting look at the epigraphic evidence from South Arabia. The article by Hannes D. Galter ("'...an der Grenze der Länder im Westen.' Saba' in den assyrischen Königsinschriften" pp. 29-40) looks at mention of South Arabian the Assyrian annals, including those from the reign of Tiglathpilesar III (744-727 B.C. reign), Sargon II (722-705 B.C.),and Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.). Continuing on the South Arabian theme, Jacques Ryckmans ("Les deux bâtonnets sud-arabesdéchiffrés par Mahmoud Ghul" pp. 41-48) transliterates two wooden batons that had been collected by Mahmoud Ghul.

The late Prof. Serjeant contributed a fascinating article entitled "Zina, some Forms od (!) Marriage and Allied Topics in Western Arabia" (pp. 145-160). Serjeant builds on the earlier work of Dostal on the issue of "sexual hospitality" in the history of Arabia. Serjeant notes that the Islamic injunction against "adultery and fornication" was seen by the Yemeni tribes as an intrusion on their ancient customs. He quotes a 3rd/9th century poetic excerpt from a Zaydi text on these errant tribesmen:

"They said: 'We cannot do without wines

And sinning [fisq] with the secluded girl of swelling breasts,

You [Zaydis] prevent folk against their will

From [enjoying] pleasures and desired delights.'

Serjeant's comments, which are of considerable interest, suggest that while the issue of open adultery was shameful, discreet forms may not have raised so many eyebrows at the time Islam was getting off the ground. Zina may not have been so much a matter of sexual morality as it was one of tribal honor and shame. The provision of a concubine for a guest, as recorded in texts and reported by travelers, is also discussed in the article. G. Rex Smith follows on a similar theme with his "Some ‘Anthropological' Passages from Ibn al-Mujawir's Guide to Arabia and their Proposed Interpretations" (pp. 160-171). Ibn al-Mujawir is an extraordinary 13th century traveler who records many quaint customs, many with explicit sexual connotations, for Yemen. There is even a record of what appears to be a "berdache" (cross-gender) near Zabidabout which Ibn al-Mujawir says: "The majority of their men speak, make amorous gestures to each other ... and frolic around like women."

Prof. Mikhail Rodionov contributes a study on "The Plateau-and-Valley Complex in Hadramawt: Ba Tays Case Study"(pp. 172-184). This is a documentary ethnographic account of the BaTays tribe, their divisions, demography and material culture, as well as a few brief remarks on rituals such as circumcision. Husaynal-'Amri provides a short historical study entitled "Yemen in the18th and 19th Centuries: The Reign of the Al Qasim b. Muhammad Dynasty" (pp. 185-198). Kraus Kresier contributes "'Ali Emiri(1958-1924) &emdash; ein türkischer Bürokrat undIntellektueller im Jemen" (pp. 199-221). This study draws on earlier research by Eduard Glaser, whose journals have been thoroughly analyzed by Dostal, regarding the Turkish presence in Yemen at the turn of the 19th century. There are some valuable details here on the Turkish administrative structure in Yemen.

Franck Mermier, director of the French Center, writes "La 'Commune' de Sanaa: Pouvoir citadin etlegitimité religieuse au XIX siècle" (pp. 242-252) and André Gingrich concludes with "Tribes and Rulers in Northern Yemen"(pp. 253-280). The latter is an important overview of the evolution of Yemen's tribal history and should be read alongside the earlier and continuing work of Paul Dresch.

As can be seen, there is something here for almost everyone interested in Yemeni studies. One can only hope that in another decade yet another festschrift of similar caliber can be dedicated to the 75th birthday celebration of Herr Dostal. If so, let me be among the first to offer a contribution.

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