Yemen: A German Gem

Ueli Brunner
Jemen: Von Weihrauch zum Erdöl. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1999,
154 pp, index. ISBN 3-99043-9

Reviewed by Daniel Martin Varisco

Yemen Update 42 (2000):68-69


Ueli Brunner

While there was a time, not long ago, when well-written and informative surveys of Yemen were rare to come by, this has thankfully been changing in the last decade. There are still too few works available in English, but there are several excellent accounts in German by sound scholars. Ueli Brunner, a geographer at the University of Zurich, draws on two decades of research in Yemen to produce an attractive and concise survey replete with illustrations, maps and photographs.


Satellite image of the Gulf of Aden (Brunner, p. 9)

Let me begin with the illustrations. When Ueli kindly presented me with a copy of his book as we participated in a conference in Yemen during June, I was immediately struck by the quality of the photographs, although he complained they were not up to the reproduction standard he had hoped for. To my eyes, and I invite you to look for yourself, the quality is excellent all the same. It is fitting, no doubt, that as a geographer he begins with a majestic satellite image of the Gulf of Aden. Many of the photos reflect a geographer's eye for features of the natural landscape, including local plants. Attention is also paid to Yemen's archaeological history, including the author's own extensive field research in Wadi Markha (p. 34). A particular important picture, for me at least, is the wooden scraper pulled by a pair of oxen near Zabõd (p. 44). Hardly a page goes by without an illustration or photograph, virtually all from the author.


Antique palm plots in Wadi Markha (Brunner, p. 54)

Geographers love maps, and Professor Brunner is no exception. Indeed, the maps and illustrations alone are worth buying the book, even if you do not read German. Maps illustrate Yemen's basic geographic zones (p. 20) and towns (p. 136), geology (p. 10), weather patterns (p. 13), major wadis (p. 26), oases (p. 49), South Arabian kingdoms (pp. 40, 70, 76), Ma'rib area (p. 45), including a diagram of how Brunner thinks the dam functioned (p. 46), incense route (p. 65), Islamic dynasties (p. 82), Bedouin tribes (p. 85), Sanaa (p. 98), main roads (p. 113), and even an antique map (p. 84). Brunner also reproduces a map of emigration rates (p. 114) for North Yemen from Hans Steffen's original census report.


Yemen's main geographic divisions (Brunner, p. 20)

The survey is divided into five main parts. The first deals with the background geology, climate and geographical regions. The second provides a historical perspective on the human settlement of Yemen, including a diagram of historical change from the early Holocene to the present (pp. 38-39). This is followed by a study of the modified Yemeni landscape, essentially the major irrigation systems that sustained the South Arabian Kingdoms. A chapter on traditional Yemeni culture examines the major settlement patterns and land use strategies for each of the regions in Yemen. A brief discussion of Islam in Yemen is also provided. Following this is a chapter on recent social and economic change in Yemen, especially due to the impact of high emigration since the 1970s. The final chapter gives a general overview of Yemen today, including a sidebar and photo on President Ali Abdullah Saleh (p. 128). Concluding the book is an interview on Yemen's future prospects with Prime Minister Dr. Abdul Karim Ali al-Iryani.

While I do not claim to have anything near fluency in German, I found the text clearly written and accurate throughout. The emphasis is on topics dear to the heart of a geographer with relatively little on the cultural and social aspects of life in Yemen. But the author is well versed in relevant and up-to-date literature, which is cited at the end of each chapter.


Plan of the Marib Dam (Brunner, p. 46)


Contents

Page/Heading

7 Vorwort

9 Vor dem Erscheinen des Menschen
9 Im Reich der Gesteine
12 Das Erdbeben vom Dezember 1982
13 Vom Wetter spricht man nicht
16 Wind und Wasser formen das Land
18 Landschaftliche Viefalt des Jemen
18 Küstenebenen mit randlichem Hügelland
19 Jemenitisches Bergland
21 Östliche Plateauregion
22 Binnenebenen
22 Soqotra
23 Literature

25 Die Anfänge der Besiedlung
25 Lebten Adam und Eva im Jemen?
25 Als in der Wüste Flüsse flossen
28 Die ersten Dörfer
29 Das Jenseits auf Erden
30 Fernerkundung
31 Wie die Tiere in die Enge getrieben wurden
33 Der Mensch gestaltet seine Umgebung
36 Der weisse Fleck in der Geschichte
37 Aufbruch zum Meer
39 Landschaftsentwicklung im Bergland und am Rand der Binnenebene
39 An der Schwelle zur Hochkultur
41 Literature

43 Die grosse Umformung der Landschaft
43 Die Quelle des Wohlstands
44 Die fruchtbaren Gärten
46 Der Grosse Damm von Ma'rib
51 Das Geschichtsbuch aus Lehm
54 Wolkenkratzer ohne Wolken
56 Der Weg zu Gott
58 Karib'il Water
63 Die Duftspur zum Reichtum
64 Die Königin von Saba
66 Der Erfolg führt zum Niedergang
71 Das jemenitische Bergland gewinnt
75 Der Jemen wird exportiert
78 Die Hinterlassenschaft der südarabischen Periode
79 Literatur

81 Der traditionelle Jemen
81 Der Islam als Konstante in den Veränderungen
84 Das Leben der Nomaden
87 Das Bergland der Ackerbauern
90 Ein grosses Märchen?
92 Westlicher Gebirgshang und westlicher Teil des südl. Gebirgshangs
93 Hochland
95 Östlicher Gebirgshang und östlicher Teil des südl. Gebirgshangs
95 Allgemeines
96 Orte des Friedens und der Gelehrsamkeit
99 Die Küstenebenen der Bauern und Fischer
104 Traditionen hautnah erlebt
105 Der Jemen wie ihn die Touristen lieben
106 Literatur

107 Der Jemen wird auseinander dividiert
107 Die Leitlinien der Divergenzen
109 Der sozialistische Weg
111 Der orientalische Weg
113 Ali im Gluck
116 Mit Schugglern unterwegs
121 Erste Bremsspuren
124 Literatur

125 Der vereinigte Jemen
125 Der Zussamenschluss
127 Der Wüstensturm hebt an
128 Ali Abdullah Saleh
129 Explodierende Städte
133 Erdöl: Die neue Quelle des Reichtums
135 Die Einbettung des Jemen in die internationale Gemeinschaft
136 Länderportrait
139 Eldorado für Forscher
140 Die Hinterlassenschaft der südarabischen Periode

141 Diskussion um die Zukunft

151 Stichwortverzeichnis

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