A Historical Genealogy of Socotra as an Object of Mythical Speculation, Scientific Research & Development Experiment

by Serge D. Elie, MS, MPA
D.Phil Candidate in Social Anthropology
The Centre for Culture, Development & Environment
University of Sussex
Brighton, UK

Yemen Update 44 (2002)


At the verge of the third millennium, Soqotra still enjoys the rare status of being one of the world's most remote and inaccessible places. Undoubtedly, this is a mixed blessing: the beautiful concept of sustainable development… may soon face one of its ultimate tests, when and if plans for the development of the island are turned into reality (Dumont 1998:11).

Indeed, the above quote captures the challenge &endash; or more aptly, the dilemma &endash; entailed by the contemplated attempts to rescue Socotra from its generalized oblivion in terms of cultural insularity, relative economic isolation, and until now its very superficial engagement with notions of development. In fact, Socotra may well represent one of the few remaining places in the world that have managed to escape the gaze of development. However, plans are afoot to catapult Socotra, literally and perhaps unwittingly, from its general obscurity, into an international destination for ecotourism. This isolated speck of land, seen on a map, evokes the image of a doorknob to the Bab al Mandab, the gateway to the Suez Canal as it straddles the entrance of the Red Sea while simultaneously demarcating the beginning of the Indian Ocean in the Gulf of Aden. As such, it has occupied a strategic position in an area, which for millennia constituted the center of international trade among the great empires of the East as well as between them and a then backward West. This position ensured Socotra's entry into the annals of ancient history.

Socotra's rediscovery, or preferably, rehabilitation to something approximating its former status, is perhaps justified on a number of grounds. With an area of 3,625 km2, Socotra is the largest island in the Arab world, out of an estimated total of 258 islands that occupy a total area of 6,811 km2 and are dispersed throughout an area stretching from the Maghreb in the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf (Al Hity 1998:285). Moreover, in terms of the world's oceanic islands, which are distinguished by the richness of their biodiversity, Socotra is considered the tenth richest of them all, and compares favorably with the much more famous islands, such as Galapagos, Mauritius, and the Canary Islands. More specifically, in terms of its plant species, out of a total of over 900 species there are 293 that are endemic, which gives Socotra a 34% rate of endemism; thus ranking it in the top five islands in terms of endemic flora. Socotra' biodiversity is considered to be of global significance, and, as a result, the island is being widely described as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. However, the Socotra Archipelago with an estimated human population ranging from 40 to 80,000 people, is described as "one of the poorest and most disadvantaged group of islands anywhere" in the world.

Interestingly, it is precisely this peculiar situation of a place with a unique biodiversity of global significance that needs to be preserved, and with a human population characterized by excessive material deprivation that must be remedied. This situation constitutes simultaneously an environmental challenge as well as a development imperative that the Government of Yemen in collaboration with international development agencies and environmental organizations are about to address. What follows below, is a succinct historical overview that provides the background necessary to put into context the process of social transformation that will be generated by a most ambitious attempt to incorporate the Socotra Archipelago into an environment-led development discourse and practice. What is at stake here, is the extent to which the case of Socotra will prove to be an exception from experience elsewhere. An exception that would be characterized by a truly successful implementation of an environmental management regime driven by an ecological conservationist ethos inspired primarily by existing indigenous practices, and articulated within a sustainable development programme that seeks only to stabilize and marginally improve local good practices without changing the prevailing life ways of Socotrans. The dilemma involved here is perhaps best captured in the following question: "What can be done to end the isolation of the island and offer its human inhabitants their right share of modern commodities, while, at the same time, ensuring that its unique landscapes, their fauna and flora, remain as intact as possible?" (Dumont 1998:11).

History in Four Phases: Socotra as an Idyllic Portemanteau

Enfolded within persons are the histories of their environmental relations; enfolded within the environment are the histories of the activities of persons. Thus, to sever the links that bind any people to their environment is to cut them off from the historical past that has made them who they are (Ingold 1992:51).

The above epigram provides a justification, if any were needed, as to why the appeal to history is not a perfunctory digression but an integral part of Socotra's narrative, given the fact that renewed interest in the island, is linked to its environmental resources. For reasons that perhaps encompass more than just the archipelago's strategic location and its natural resources such as incense known as the "gold of the East," Socotra has exercised a kind of symbolic domination on the imagination of men for millennia. Indeed, Socotra served as a vehicle for their projective fantasies: For the travelers-historians (mythologists really) in pursuit of the exotic to enrich their fantastic tales; for the merchants driven by their pecuniary imagination in search of tradable commodities; for the would be conquerors seeking territorial expansion and possession; for the men of science (mostly naturalists doubling as ethnologues) groping for explanations as to the origin of man and the original location of the Garden of Eden; and last but not least for the men of the cloth, imbued with a proselytizing urge, gathering converts for the kingdom beyond. All seem to have made their obligatory pilgrimage to Socotra in search of their particular fulfillment. The renewed interest in Socotra seeks perhaps to rekindle the island's power to mesmerize in the hope of appealing to the new breed of heroes of the postmodern age, namely the biomarketeers and their relentless pursuit of ecological capital accumulation, and the tourists and their search for re-enchantment through visual consumption of nature. Hence the brief historical overview below provides the context to understand the emergent development-with-conservation narrative of Socotra. This overview also serves as a kind of exegesis of the process through which Socotra was appropriated by the western imagination.

i. Antiquity: Symbolic Encapsulation through a Utopian-Aesthetic Discourse

Its history has yet to be written, and must be compiled from references dispersed in a multiplicity of books and records, not so much in Arabic as in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and even Danish… It will be long before all significant allusions have been collected from chronicles, travel narratives, and the archives of European trading companies (Beckingham 1983:172).

From the above statement, the sheer diversity and number of those who have had dealings on the island should be noted, and it is most probably this aspect, which is at the root of the uncertainty about, and thus divergent representations and interpretations of, the most basic features of the place, such as its name, origin of its inhabitants, the source of its language, nature of its economy, and its relations with the Southern Arabian mainland, etc.,. As Beckingham noted above, the formidable task of shedding light on that period (i.e., from 5th century BC or earlier to the 15th century AD) through the collections of all "significant allusions" that are free of, or uncontaminated by, "legendary accretions" is yet to be taken up. Paradoxically, it is this very uncertainty about the "real" Socotra that has exercised the imagination of many and maintains its attraction up until now.

Concerning the name of the island, the tendency has been to prioritize its source as being of Greek origin. This is undoubtedly due to the greater availability of written records left by roaming Greek travelers and picked-up by latter historians for whom the absence of written records is tantamount to being a "people without history." Accordingly, the "first event" in the history of Socotra &endash;that is, an event for which there is a published record, even if contaminated by "legendary accretions"- is the colonization of the island by the Greeks at the time of Alexander the Great when he was contemplating the invasion of India, about 330 BC (King 1890:191). Interestingly, this story was related by the Arab historian al-Masudi writing in the tenth century AD. He suggested, that it was Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander, who titillated the latter's interest in Socotra by referring to the availability of myrrh, which was widely used for medicinal purposes. Moreover, the Greek colonists were handpicked by Aristotle and came from his native town. "They overcame the Indians who were there and took hold of the island" (al-Masudi quoted in Ubaydli 1989:150). It was the legacy of this Greek community, who converted to Christianity when it became the adopted religion of the Greco-Roman world, that was bequeathed to the Socotrans. Indeed, it is reported that it was St Thomas the Apostle who converted and preached on Socotra while on his way to India around 50 AD (King 1989:198). It is worth noting that one of the motivating factors of the many trade excursions during the 16th century and the many scientific expeditions in the late 19th century was partly the search for "the survival of vestigial Christianity among its people" and the remains of its physical evidence on Socotra's landscape, such as churches (Beckingham 1997:225).

To return to the origin of the name Socotra, King's (1890:189) philological deconstruction of it seems to provide a plausible account of its origin as well as suggest a hierarchy in terms of which appellation came first. Summarizing the accounts of various authors and asserting his own, King notes that the original name of the island was Dvipa Sukhadhara, which is Sanskrit, and when its roots are examined &endash;dvipa refers to island, sukha, to happiness, and adhara to support- they yield the meaning of "Island of Bliss" or "Abode of the Blest." Subsequently, the contracted version of this name, Diuskadra, was further corrupted by the Greeks, who turned it into Dioscorides (or Dioscorida). Another possible lead, according to King, is the Greek word Dioscuri, which refers to two Greco-Roman heroes, Castor and Pollux, who were worship by sailors as their protectors, because they had power over winds and waves. Finally, in the case of the Arabic source of the island's name, it is attributed to a derivation of the term Suqutra which breaks down as follows: Suq, means market or emporium, and qutra is a vulgar form of qatir, which refers to "dragon's blood." (See note two below). Indeed, the capital city of Socotra was "Suq" as reported by the Portuguese in the 16th century, which they referred to as "Zocco." A new cycle of name corruption was to begin again as the new occupants sought to appropriate the island according to their peculiar imaginary. To bring to a closure this discussion on the origin of the island's name, I would surmise that the Arabic origin is the most plausible because it captures and relates to one of the main traded resources for which the island has been known for millennia &endash;i.e., the resin of the Dragon tree.

Regarding the origin of Socotra's inhabitants, in the book Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, there is an oft quoted description of these inhabitants as follows: "The inhabitants are few and they live on the coast toward the north, which faces the continent. They are foreigners, a mixture of Arabs and Indians and Greeks, who have emigrated to carry on trade there" (Schoff 1912:34). This rather cryptic reference to "foreigners" suggests that perhaps there were other inhabitants who were not foreigners, or that all of them were, which leaves us without a meaningful clue, except that three kinds of people were inhabiting the island during the first century AD. The search for "white colonies" or their archaeological remains that were established by Alexander in Arabia including Socotra, became a persistent "romantic daydreams among the more fanciful antiquaries of the nineteenth century" and up until late in the twentieth century (King 1890). The sheer promiscuity that the location of the island, as a staging post for traders, may have given rise to, in terms of the admixture of people, renders such a search rather foolhardy. However, during the period under discussion in this section, the focus was not on determining racial genealogy, but on identifying the regional provenance of populations (e.g., Greeks, Indians, Africans etc.,). The obsession with classification came later in the eighteenth century, perhaps as a consequence of the taxonomic classification system for plants developed by the 18th century naturalist Linnaeus and subsequently grafted unto human population. The Orientalists seem to have deployed their philological discourse in an analogous manner, and the anthropologists as well through their kinship algebra. In fact, historians of anthropology (e.g., Kuklick 1991) have noted that the naturalists were the kindred precursors of the anthropologists; making the latter into the "natural historians of people" with a "taxonomic imagination."

The manifestation of this obsession in the context of anthropology is noted by Asad (1991:314) when he suggested that the discipline's concerns during the colonial period were "to help classify non-European humanity in ways that would be consistent with Europe's story of triumph as 'progress'." The critical issue about population was with "assessing the anthropological formation of present-day Socotrans." That is, which group of people and their provenance could be considered the "core population," which first settled on Socotra and became aboriginal through endogamy due to isolation and therefore led to the development of specific features that can be associated with the particular ecological milieu of Socotra (Naumkin 1993). A tentative hypothesis advanced in the literature suggests that the Socotran population is the result of three migratory waves: The first wave resulted from the emigration of Southern Arabia's indigenous population following the demise of their civilization. The second wave brought people from North Eastern Yemen, namely from Hadramawt and Mahra. To this population were added sailors from Southern India as well as Greeks, to the extent that they did establish a colony in Socotra, as well as the Portuguese who mixed with the local population. Finally, the third wave consisted of the immigration of Northern Arabs at the dawn of the Christian era. This particular hypothesis was to be subjected to an analysis of the morphology of Socotrans in order to determine its validity (Naumkin 1993).

While the issue concerning the origin of Socotra's population may appear to be an obsession of antiquarians, it is however of fundamental importance to understanding the nature of the island's language. Since the formation of language tends to be framed within a genealogical paradigm, which means it is linked with the migration of people. Soqotri, which is the language spoken in Socotra, is part of a group of languages known as the Modern South Arabian Languages (MSAL) that includes six different languages, namely Mehri, Harsusi, Bathari, Jibbali, Hobyot, and Soqotri. They are used in the provinces of Mahra (Yemen), Zafar (Oman), and the Socotra Archipelago. All of them are incomprehensible to an Arabic speaker. They represent isolated forms that were never touched by Arabic until the modern period. The MSAL are said to be related to the Old South Arabian Languages, which included Sabean, Minaean, Qatabanian among others that were the languages of the advanced civilizations, which were established in the Southeastern part of Yemen during the period between the 13th and 10th centuries BC. They died out soon after the Islamic conquests and the spread of Arabic (Versteeg 1997: 12, 23, 94). Interestingly, Soqotri is the first among the MSAL to be discovered (Simeone-Senelle 1998:309). In 1834, Lieutenant Wellsted of the Indian army effectuated a surveying mission of the Island of Socotra on behalf of the East India Company. An account of this mission was published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1835, which contained a wordlist of 236 Soqotri terms (Wellsted 1835). It was the first time that Soqotri was brought to the attention of modern Orientalists. Subsequently, according to Simeone-Senelle, the "historical turning point" for more extensive knowledge of the MSAL including Soqotri was initiated by the missions of the members of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Vienna, under the rubric of the Sudarabische Expedition, from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th. (Muller, et al. 1899). The results provided the basis for a number of seminal publications on Soqotri.

Given the larger context of this discussion of the language of the Socotrans, perhaps it is worth pondering the fate of the Old South Arabian Languages once they came in contact with Arabic and the spread of Islam. It seems that there is a parallel between that scenario and the planned rescue of Socotra from isolation and poverty through development, whose predominant language will be Arabic as the language of government planning, and to a significant extent English as the language of development funding, with Soqotri relegated to a perfunctory medium of instruction regarding decisions taken by speakers of the two aforementioned languages. As Lonnet (1998:297) has suggested, "The language [will be] in agony, unless an effort to think about its future is made by the community … and understood by the authorities. Anything that might contribute to rescuing Socotra from its insularity should be examined within careful cultural policies."

Finally, I turn to a discussion of the economy of Socotra. When Diodorus of Sicily, writing in the 1st century BC, stated that Socotra kept the entire world provided with myrrh, ladanum among other aromatic plants, he was asserting a fact and not uttering a significant allusion laced with legendary accretions &endash;or at least, not entirely. For example, Socotra's aloes (Aloe perryi) "was from very early times an important article of commerce, and was produced almost entirely on Socotra" (Schoff 1912:129). Moreover, its central location in the sea-born trade routes of the Indian Ocean made the island an important incense production zone as well as an obligatory staging post for the incense trade and other commodities. As one commentator explains: "The shores of the Arabian Gulf produced an ever-rising value of frankincense and myrrh; while the cloths and precious stones, the timbers and spices &endash;particularly cinnamon- brought from India largely by Indian vessels, were redistributed at Socotra or Guardafui [Somalia], and carried to the Nile and the Mediterranean" (Schoff 1912:4). Marco Polo writing in the 13th century AD of his observations (or hearsay) on Socotra remarked that there was still "a great deal of trade there, for many ships come from all quarters with goods to sell the natives" (Schoff 1912:135).

On the basis of information similar to those noted above on the economic activities being carried out on the island, there was an attempt to characterize the prevailing mode of production during the 1st millennium AD. Robert Doe's (1992) extensive archaeological research revealed the past existence of miles of walls indicating large, individual enclosures setup as production units for frankincense groves, as well as for aloes and dragon blood trees. Thus suggesting the presence in the past of organized and extensive agricultural production on Socotra. As he explained: "The foundations of the ancient farms and their boulder lined fields, sometimes vast irregularly shaped tracts of land, remain as a testimony of the period when Socotra was an important producer of luxuries desired by traders for the wealthy countries of those ancient times" (1992:12). On that basis, he hypothesized that "The inhabitants of Socotra were farmers, working in conditions similar to a co-operative farm, whose produce was monopolized by the Hadrami Kingdom on behalf of the temple dedicated to the moon deity SYN, for trading purposes on the mainland" (Doe ibid:41). He further suggested that most of the inhabitants tending trees and collecting resin were seasonal workers from Mahra and the Qara mountains of Dhufar in South Arabia, who migrated to Socotra when the incense trade was flourishing between the Hadramawt (Southeastern Yemen) and the Mediterranean (p.41). He concluded that the nature of Socotra's economic transition was from a co-operative agricultural mode of production to pastoral-nomadism. Accordingly, by the 4th century AD, when demand for frankincense dwindled and the incense trade in South Arabia declined, the islanders who remained had to rely on their own resources as fishermen, goat herders and subsistence farmers. Upon the invasion of the coastal zones of the island by the Mahris from the Southern Arabian mainland, these farmers retreated to the hills and mountains of Socotra and their descendants are today's Bedouins of Socotra.

This is, of course, a set of audacious conjectures; but perhaps not sufficiently so, as they constitute mere significant allusions that are under-theorized. There are no comparative references to cases elsewhere that could have gone through a similar evolutionary path, and thus enlisted in elaborating the case of Socotra. This task remains to be accomplished. However, Naumkin (1993) took issue with Doe's thesis of an economy dominated by large but privately held co-operative farms supplemented by seasonal workers whose produce was obligatorily sold to something resembling a central agricultural purchasing board owned by the tributary Hadrami Kingdom. In contrast, Naumkin emphasizes the "priestly or temple economy" which existed on the mainland as confirmed, he argues, by excavations carried out by Soviet archaeologists. He offers no further elaboration on this assertion. Moreover, he seems to be suggesting &endash;(the argument is not fully elaborated as his epistemic concerns lie elsewhere as discussed in section iv below)- that the cultivation of incense-bearing trees was always a supplemental activity to the traditional pastoralism of the island's inhabitants. Indeed, he argues that from the 7th century BC to the 1st century AD, "the island had a cohesive original culture with a powerful autochtonous base. This applies equally both to the material and the spiritual domain," and this is confirmed by the continuity and longevity of Socotra's two basic economic-cultural types: the herders and the fishermen (Naumkin 1993:363-4). The fact is that the hypotheses of Doe and Naumkin are unsatisfactorily elaborated, and thus remain unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, they provide interesting leads for further research.

Finally, I should conclude this section on antiquity on a note that is evocative of the type of discourse prevalent during that time, namely mythical speculation or, put differently, significant allusions laced with legendary accretions: Euhemerus of Messina who lived in the period between late 4th to early 3rd centuries BC, described in his Sacred History of Utopia the island of Panchaia (also said to refer to Socotra) as a kingdom of equality that knew nothing of private property (Naumking 1993:27; Schoff 1912:135). Whether or not this is a mythical allusion it is nevertheless a goal worthy of pursuit by any development plan for Socotra.

ii. Portuguese Experiment: Integration into an Emergent Global Regime of Accumulation

In mediaeval Europe Socotra was probably more famous, even if not better known, than it is now. It was famous for several things, for its aloes, its dragon's blood, its ambergris, the proficiency of its inhabitants in witchcraft, and, perhaps above all, for the fact that they were Christians (Beckingham 1983:172).

Toward the end of the 15th century, under the reign of King Manuel (1496-1521), Portugal was an emergent power, having established a beachhead across the Atlantic it was eager to pursue its expansionary adventure eastward. Since that was the source of the most coveted commodities in Europe, namely spices (i.e., pepper, ginger, nutmeg etc.). In effect, pepper "the substance of the Indies" replaced frankincense and the other aromatic plants constituting the "gold of the East." Indeed, pepper came to serve as money in parts of Europe, attaining a value equal to gold and was used in the payment of taxes (Wolf 1982:236). It was in this context that Socotra, after a long period of absence in travelers' reports for over 200 years since Marco Polo's description of trade activities in the 13th century, made its return in the annals of mediaeval history. This was occasioned by the Portuguese's attempt at establishing an organized network of maritime ports of call as military strongholds and trading posts along the Southern Arabian and South-East Asian shores, in order to increase their participation, and if possible achieve hegemony, in the Indian Ocean trade (Wolf 1982:237). Given Socotra's strategic location, it was coveted as a potential base from which to disrupt trade of enemy vessels and thus control the lucrative trade in an area central to international commerce. It is worth noting that the imperial ideology of the day was steeped in proselytizing fervor and still imbued with a crusading spirit; hence Muslims were regarded as "hereditary foes." Indeed, one commentator explains what was at stake thus: "Granted that the principal object of the Portuguese ambitions was the capture of economic supremacy and even the monopoly of the eastern trade, there was always an underlying emotional consciousness of a holy war" (Serjeant 1963:2).

Accordingly, the order to occupy Socotra, which turned out to be an adventure of exceedingly short duration with disappointing results, was given by King Manuel himself, upon being informed that the "Socotrans were Christians in subjection to Muslim Arabs" (Beckingham 1983:173). The assumption was that a "liberated" Socotra would be a natural ally, and thus provide a safe base, in an otherwise hostile environment, from which Portuguese ships could attempt "to close the Gulf of Aden to Muslim Commerce" (Beckingham ibid:173). It appears that King Manuel accorded this mission a great deal of importance, as he selected Alfonso de Albuquerque, who had earlier returned from a triumphant journey to India in 1503 and was promised the viceroyship of the Portuguese possession there. The importance attached to the occupation of Socotra is explained by the fact that it was part of a larger plan stemming from the reconquest of Iberia from the Muslims, and the subsequent desire on the part of some Europeans to destroy the underpinnings of Muslim power, namely the Indian trade. As Serjeant (1963:4) explains, "Portuguese penetration into the Indian Ocean was no chance venture, but the result of long preparation and carefully matured plans." He mentions two such plans: One was by a certain Marino Sanuto in the early 14th century, who proposed the establishment of an alliance with Nubia and the maintenance of a fleet in the Indian Ocean and to conquer all of the islands and coast. The other plan was put forth by Guillaume Adam who advised the building of four galleys to be used for blocking the Red Sea from Socotra Island, where the Christians inhabitants were thought to be willing collaborators.

In 1506 an occupying force was dispatched to Socotra to "liberate" the Christians. Subsequent to some valiant resistance put up by the Arabs in a fort located in Suq, then the capital of Socotra, they were overrun. The fort was restored and the mosque converted into a church that was named Our Lady Victory. The Socotrans dedicated the church to St. Thomas, the presumed founder of Socotran Christianity. Contrary to expectations, the Socotran Christians did not collaborate with the Portuguese, and in collusion with the Arabs undermined the will of the occupiers to pursue their ill-fated search for communion with fellow Christians. The occupation was abandoned in 1511. However, Portuguese ships continued to call for water and shelter, although more haphazardly, and Christian notables &endash;among them St. Fracis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyolla founder of the Jesuit Order- are reported to have visited the island, presumably to shore up the faltering faith of the natives, given their failure to collaborate with the "right side" in their liberation. While the Portuguese occupation of Socotra failed, it resulted in their targeting of Aden as an alternative base, as Albuquerque launched an attack on Aden in 1513. One chronicler of the event, with a ken for hagiography, describes the event as follows: "He failed to reduce Aden, but he put such fear into the Sultan of Egypt, who had never seen a hostile fleet in his waters, that the latter remained henceforth on the defensive. Albuquerque called it 'the greatest blow in the house of Mohammed for a century'" (Prestage 1933:298).

In terms of this brief account of the Portuguese episode, perhaps a few summarizing observations may be offered: First, it highlighted the fact that the prized commodities of international trade were no longer the aromatic plants of the East, but the spices of the Indies, and this led to the relative decline in the wealth and power, indeed relevance, of the South Arabian Kingdoms in the larger scheme of things. Second, it heralded the entrance of Europe in that part of the world bringing along with it a new mode of commerce &endash;through the mechanism of State-sponsored trading companies- which entailed the incorporation of countries and continents in a globalizing trading system that shifted permanently (?) the balance of power from the Orient to the Occident. Socotra was among the first places in the East to experience a foretaste of this emergent system, however minor a prize it might have been to the mercantile powers of that era, given its modest resources. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from a cultural perspective, is the fact that the Portuguese had reinforced the hold of Christianity in Socotra &endash;or at least, that is the impression conveyed- and had left their progeny among the population, seemed to have nurtured an intellectual curiosity among a mixed group of Western antiquarians, naturalists and ethnologues for that part of the world that persists even today.

iii. British Laboratory: Integration into an Evolving International Environmentalism Discourse

Alongside the emergence of professional natural science, the importance of the island as a mental symbol continued to constitute a critical stimulant to the development of concepts of environmental protection as well as of ethnological and biological diversity (Grove 1995:9).

The British encounter with Socotra maybe said to have been the by-product of a new era in terms of the changing nature of international commerce, characterized by the transition from a mercantilist to a colonialist mode of capitalist domination and exploitation. This era represented a continuing evolution in the trading system initiated by the Portuguese, both in terms of the prioritized commodities as well as an improvement in the technology of transport (i.e., the coming of steam navigation and the need for coaling depots), and also in the corresponding realignment in the geography of power and readjustment in the economic system of production. In relation to the grounds covered thus far in our genealogy of Socotra, this evolution could be schematically put as follows: The incense trade was the defining feature of Antiquity, the spice trade defined the emergent global trading system of the 16th century, and, simplifying somewhat, the textile and stimulant trade &endash;with its new bundle of commodities: cotton, sugar and coffee- could be said to characterize the consolidating global regime of production in the 19th century when the British decided to engage Socotra in the early 1800's. The principal features of this regime are worth highlighting as they provide the broader context which partly explains the motivation of the British in the island of Socotra: (i) A system of regional specialization in terms of the production of particular commodities and/or the contribution of particular resources &endash;e.g., foodstuff, industrial crops, stimulants, gold, and slaves etc. (ii) Rise of extractive industries and the development of commercial agriculture through the establishment of monocrop plantations system worldwide, and their destructive environmental impact (Wolf 1982). (iii) To accompany this global production system, there emerged an interest in the search for an appropriate framework for systematic classification of all the world's fauna and flora, which was facilitated, if not generated, by the involvement of the East India Companies (English, Dutch and French). For them, "the collection of globally derived material on a systematic basis had a strategic and commercial attraction" (Grove1995:312). Perhaps the predominance of naturalists and botanists in the scientific missions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to Socotra is explained by this new global interest. We will return to this point below. First, however, it is worth noting that the 19th century British-Socotra encounter was preceded by multiple contacts starting in the 17th century.

The initial encounter with Socotra was made possible only after December 1600, when Queen Elizabeth granted a monopoly to the East India Company to trade beyond Africa, thus allowing the Company to venture into the Indian Ocean in search of new markets, nearly one hundred years after the Portuguese made their initial incursion in that area. On the third voyage of the Company's ships in the first decade of the 17th century, it was decided that the port of Aden should be visited. However, according to one account (Geddes 1964) knowledge of how to reach Aden was lacking, so it was decided to visit Socotra and inquire from its inhabitants. In April 1608 the first British East India Company ship reached the port city of Tamarida, the new capital city of Socotra, which replaced the port city of Suq of the Portuguese era. As of that date, Socotra "was to become to the English merchants… a standard port of call for the purchase of the island's chief export, the Socotra aloes, and a supplier of meat and fruit en route to the ports of the Red Sea and the western coast of India" (Geddes 1964:70). However, it is not clear for how long it remained a port of call; it seems to have lasted until the end of the first quarter of the century. As the British established a trading post (called then "factories", that is points of settlement and commerce) in 1618 in Mokha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen, in order to participate in the coffee trade. The move to Mokha and into the coffee trade was perhaps a direct result of the visit to Socotra. As it happened, aboard the ship there was a merchant named William Finch, who remained at Socotra for over three months, prior to continuing to India. As was customary for certain passengers on the East India Company's ships, journals were maintained and the contents shared with the Company's agents, and later became part of its archives. According to Geddes, "His description is not only the earliest made by an Englishman but is also the most complete for the entire century" (1964:72). This characterization maybe slightly hyperbolic as there were other visitors to Socotra in subsequent years who left accounts of their visits; some of which have been collected in Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimes . Two points I wish to make about Finch's account. The first is related to the coffee trade. In his journal Finch described a scene as follows: "Their best entertainment is a China dish of Coho, a black bitterish drink, made of a berry like a Bay berry, brought from Mecca [Mokha], souped off hot, good for the head and stomach" (Geddes 1964:77). It turns out that he was describing coffee drinking by the Socotrans, and which came from the port city of Mokha in Yemen, the center of the coffee trade at the time. It was "the first mention of it in the records of the East India Company." The point here is that the British East India Company appears to have discovered the existence of coffee through the "ethological" account of Socotrans drinking the brew.

The second observation concerns the nature of the description or representation of local settings and their inhabitants in Finch's journal. It is a descriptive strategy or representation practice that was to become a kind of modus operandi of traveler's tales and it encompassed the following aspects: (i) The local social stratification scheme is portrayed with a particular emphasis on the heads of government, or what passes for one, to show, if not to mock, the lack of competence in such matters and the absence of due process accorded to the concerns of their subjects. (ii) This stratification scheme is usually articulated with a racial categorization of the population according to an explicit color hierarchy. (iii) Women's appearance and mannerism are described in terms of their sexual desirability and they tend to be characterized as always wearing a lustful gaze. (iv) Religious and dietary customs are framed within a condescending gaze that is tinged with a mild disdain. (v) Economic activities are surveyed with the intent on ascertaining opportunities for commerce and accumulation. (vi) Landscapes are scrutinized in order to assess how far removed are their inhabitants from an Edenic environment, and thus their degree of civilization: Nobles Savages or Misanthropic Bourgeois? These aspects are the recurrent themes presented in travel accounts with varying emphasis depending on their authors' imaginative (poetic?) inclination as well as their linguistic skills or that of their informants'. Indeed, during this period of early contact with the new world, one could argue, perhaps harshly but not unreasonably, that linguistic skills were not always necessary as these commentators seemed to have been engaged, for the most part, in the practice of a kind of human ethology, that is observing the "Others" as if they were uncommunicative lower primates, and formulating cultural representations that were overdetermined by the imagination of the observer than by the perception of the observed. Needless to observe that such predisposition renders doubtful the reliability of translation that purports to explain the natives' thinking and thus the authenticity of the representation of local realities.

By the time the 19th century is reached, the cumulative effect of these accounts is a kind of incestuous intellectual discourse, leading to the social construction and textualization of Socotra that has constituted the frame of reference or, to overstate the matter slightly, the paradigmatic framework for what constituted knowledge of the island: A kind of discursive mixture of projective fantasy and empirically superficial observations. Interestingly, J. R. Wellsted, already referred to above, a Lieutenant in the Indian Army employed the East India Company, one of the first European, at least in the modern period, to venture in the interior of Socotra and not just its capital city or perusing its coast from the deck of a ship, observed, "Notwithstanding these several visits" referring to the visits of travelers from Antiquity up to his time, "our accounts of the inhabitants, and of the appearance and produce of the island, have been always hitherto vague and contradictory" (Wellsted 1835:132). His mission to Socotra, as dictated by his superior at the Company, was contained in the terms of reference, which read as follows:

It being the wish of the Government to obtain all possible information regarding this island not only as to its correct geographical position and harbours but its government, population, produce, fertility and quality of its soil as well as the religion, customs, manners, power and wealth of its inhabitants you are hereby directed for the purpose of more correctly ascertaining the latter to travel…Any information you may be able to collect either in geography, botany, zoology, indeed any science that may assist us in a thorough knowledge of the island and its productions will be of utmost service (Haines, Wellsted & Crutenden 1834-35).

Two additional tasks not clearly defined in the terms of reference but noted in Wellsted's journal were (i) to ascertain the feasibility of establishing a coaling depot on the island, and (ii) to determine the availability of coal through geological observation of the island. Clearly Wellsted's mission literally was to lift the veil of myths that have shrouded Socotra and to pierce through its mysteries with the empirical gaze of science. Accordingly, his account ranged over a number of topics with an economy of detail sufficient to arouse the diverse scientific interests of his countrymen: From botanists, Orientalist-philologists, naturalists, archeologists, geologists etc. It seems as if the publication of his journal has had that very effect. All of the scientific missions that succeeded his, have made obligatory reference to his account, and most have sought to retrace his path in order to confirm or disconfirm his findings as well as to expand upon them. Indeed then, it was as a potential laboratory for scientific investigation of the man-nature dialectic that Socotra re-entered the 19th century and maintained the curiosity of many during the 20th century as well. It is certainly more than a mere coincidence that botanical research in Socotra during that period was the most extensive among all of the scientific missions, both in terms of the number of expeditions involving botanists (e.g., Balfour 1880, Schweinfurth 1881, Forbes 1899, Botting 1956 among others), and the comprehensive, if not exhaustive, nature and number of the plant species inventoried. Indeed, the seven weeks expedition by Dr. Bailey Balfour of Glasgow University, which was sponsored by, among others, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, seems to have catalogue over three-quarters of the plant species on the island. Interestingly, universities at the time were unknowingly perhaps positioning themselves, through the development of biological resources bank with their botanical collections, to assume the role of intermediaries in today's commercialization of biodiversity.

Regarding England's colonial interest in the island, it seems to have been merely for its use as a flagpole. When the island was leased in 1876 from the Sultan of Quish, a Sultanate in the Hadramawt area on the mainland, and thus became a British protectorate, it was merely as a precautionary measure to prevent other powers from acting on their potential interest vis-a-vis the island, given its strategic location. Aden had been occupied by 1839 and the search for coal turned up empty in Socotra, thus its utility as a coaling depot was found wanting. Although on various occasions Socotra came up as a potential alternative "annex" if Palestine could not absorbed the Jews, and the idea of separating the island from Aden's jurisdiction in order to maintain it as a British dependency after South Yemen's independence; both ideas were momentarily entertained but abandoned (Ingrams 1993). In effect, Socotra was a colony with an absentee landlord. The British presence was through its Aden resident officers (e.g., political, agricultural etc) who regularly visited the island to formulate experimental project proposals for the development of irrigated agriculture as well as fisheries that were never implemented.

In light of the above, it can be asserted that the particular emphasis on scientific investigation on Socotra during the 19th and 20th centuries was most probably motivated, first, by the prescient realization on the part of the trading companies, the precursors of today's global corporations, that the globe's biological resources were the commodities of the future, and second, by the emergent or, more aptly, consolidating discourse on the man-nature dialectic and of its negative consequences. This was part of a shift from the utopian-aesthetic discourse prevalent from Antiquity but reaching greater intensity during the Renaissance for the search of the "Eden of the East", toward an attitude emphasizing European-caused degradation of tropical environment couched in a new environmentalism as an oppositional discourse in direct response to colonial rule. As Grove explained, this was motivated by a "major shift in European tropical botany and a growing empiricism derived from the incorporation of local indigenous botanical and medical knowledge into European epistemologies of nature" (1995:72). It is this last point that was barely initiated in the 19th century during the scientific investigation on Socotra, and that has become the primary justification and objective &endash;in the form of biodiversity conservation, in which ethnobotany research is given priority- for the renewed interest in Socotra in the 21st century as a precautionary discourse against indiscriminate development.

iv. Soviet Ethnography: The Adaptation of "Ethnos" Theory

Socotra … may after all be the missing intermediate link in the race-genetic 'west-east' gradient for which anthropologists search in order to fill the gap between the African Negroids and the Australo-Veddo Melanesian types in the equatorial race area (Naumkin 1993:67).

As is to be expected at this point in our genealogy, Socotra also had a central role in the era of the Cold War. When the British were forced to concede independence to South Yemen in 1967, within three years the country had assumed a new name, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) as well as a new ideology, Marxism, and thus became the first and only Marxist state in the Arab world. Strong economic and military ties were established with the Soviet Union and the countries of the Socialist bloc. This transformed South Yemen into a theater in the Cold War and heightened tension in the region due to the sensitive trade routes -especially for oil- of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. In 1977 when the Soviet Union was forced to vacate the port of Berbera in Somalia due to a policy reversal by the Somali government, there was frantic search for an alternative base in the area. The PDRY ceded Socotra to the Soviet Union in 1979 and the island was converted into a military base. The impression was given that sophisticated underground facilities were established and that the island was bristling with sophisticated weaponry. All ships were prohibited from venturing near the island, which was inaccessible to most people. In the meanwhile, one could imagine, Socotra was most certainly under the gaze of spy satellites and its awkward half-moon shape was prominently displayed in some war rooms with a red pin on it. All of this, however, turned out to be cunning cold war theatrics; as there was no major military investment made to change Socotra's landscape, and only through cosmetic camouflage the Soviets succeeded in conveying a contrary impression (Guebourg 1998). Or perhaps, the other protagonist knew all along that it was a bluff, but its political interest was served by acting as if a threat existed in the region!

More to the point, however, is that in spite of the cordon sanitaire established around Socotra, a Yemeni-Soviet team of researchers was allowed to sojourn on the island from 1974 to 1987, or more precisely to undertake several research expeditions during that period. The leader was Vitaly Naumkin a Russian Anthropologist-Orientalist, at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. These research excursions to Socotra resulted in the publication of three monographs: The first published in 1977 is entitled Where the Phoenix Rose from Ashes, the second is a collaborative work with V. Y. Porchomovski, Essays in the Ethnolinguistics of Socotra was published in 1981, and the only ethnographic monograph on the Socotrans available in any language, Island of the Phoenix: An Ethnographic Study of the People of Socotra was published in 1988 and translated into English in 1993. For those with an interest in Socotra, at least the human dimensions of it, this book remains an obligatory reference, and beckons a critical engagement. In essence, the book offers an encounter with Soviet Ethnography. And for those of us unfamiliar with the latter's disciplinary idiosyncrasies, in terms of its particular conceptual repertoire, theoretical framework and methodological approach, some of its emphases and findings may induce a mild intellectual shock, or more aptly a "culture shock." One reviewer upon encountering the passage quoted as epigram above seems to have had that experience, when he exclaims that it "illustrates only that the Soviets are still mired in 19th century racial thinking. It is slightly unnerving that such outmoded ideas, devoid of genetic reality, should be published in 1993" (Varisco 1994). "Outmoded ideas" no doubt, but their underpinnings must be understood if only to gain a glimpse of how the world can be differently construed, and more importantly to understand the Soviet's textualization of Socotra's reality.

It is interesting to note that while American anthropology was compiling the Human Relations Area Files based upon a division of the world into culture areas, Soviet Ethnography was putting together its Ethnic Atlases of the World according to racial areas. Moreover, while "culture" was the defining concept of Western anthropology, "ethnos" was the key concept of ethnology as a discipline in the Soviet Union (Shanin 1989:409). Indeed, this focus on ethnos (or ethnicity) may be understood as the Soviet Union's own attempt to address the problems associated with managing its internal "Others," being one of the most complex multi-national states in the world. Let me define ethnos as I reconstitute the discussion of the term by Bromley & Kozlov (1989) and proceed to identify some of its constitutive elements as a discursive practice, and then link both to a discussion of how they relate to the representation of Socotrans in Naumkin's ethnography. Ethnos is more than just ethnicity, it refers to a biosocial community defined by having the following characteristics: (i) common origin in terms of a genetic pool; (ii) occupies a remote territory or a geographically delimited space; (iii) exhibits actual economic interaction or is united by relations of production; (iv) practices endogamy, which is a defining element in an ethnos as it acts as stabilizer and "genetic barrier" and thus enables the development of traits specific to a given community; (v) all of the above are articulated around culture and everyday life. The concept then tends to be more of a biological than a social category. Finally, on this view the evolution or transformation of an ethnos is historically and ecologically linked to a process of adaptation to the particular conditions of a landscape.

If ethnos is the key concept as well as the subject matter of Soviet ethnology, how is it studied? In my reading of Slezkine (1991) the following answer is proffered: It entails the deployment of a "practical ethnography," which is the "historical study of temporally and spatially specific human societies and cultural phenomena." This is characterized by a pragmatism in terms of its focus on everyday life and a certain level of "scientific" rigor as it makes use of survey questionnaires and formal interviews; the results of which are treated statistically. The emphasis is on material culture and the role of migration and diffusion in the shaping of this culture is stressed. What is the theoretical framework within which this type of ethnography is practice? Such a framework is contained in the concept of "ethnogeography" which is the representation of culture as the historical resultant of geographical, anthropological and economic factors. A key concept in this analytical scheme is that of "ethnogenesis," which is concerned with the formative processes as well as the distribution of ethnic groups across region and time. In effect, the ethnographer making use of this analytical apparatus is essentially an "ethnosociologist."

Indeed, this ensemble of conceptual tools constitutes Soviet Ethnography, and it can be understood as a response to the problematique peculiar to a multi-national state. It was this set of discursive practices which appropriated the realities of the places the ethnographers of the Soviet Union encountered as they follow the trail of the adventures of the left imperialism of the Soviet state, just as their fellow anthropologists in the West did in following the colonial conquests of their respective states. Socotra was one of those encounters and it offered grist to the mill of Soviet Ethnography as it responded to the characteristics of an ethnos as defined above, and was subjected to varied migratory movements as well as diffusionary processes. Also, its different agro-ecological zones gave rise to different livelihood systems and thus a certain level of social differentiation between the Bedouins of the mountains, the people of the plains and those of the coastal zones. Creating a set of separate "ethnospheres" (my term). Interestingly, it is only through reference to the background just presented above that sense can be made of some of the emphases and analytic foci in Naumkin's ethnography of Socotra. As another reviewer remarked, "What is consistently missing is explanatory context" (Weir 1994). Quite so, as it is not contained in the book, but in the conceptual apparatus of Soviet Ethnography, which the primary audience of the book, namely other Soviet ethnographers, is presumed to possess. Lest the impression be given here that such an approach is not problematic, it has been argued that it tends to give rise to "social racism" as well as excessive biologisation of social processes. Moreover, one Soviet social scientist describing Soviet ethnography as in a state of crisis declared, "It is becoming clear that without a rigorous critical analysis of the past, a detailed discussion of the present, and the creation of an agenda for the future, our discipline will not be able to sort itself out" (Tishkov 1992:371). In other words it will collapse. Some would argue that it already has.

I should like to illustrate briefly how the above framework is grafted onto Socotra's "ethnospheres." Over one third of the book is taken up with topics which one reviewer describes as being "of doubtful relevance in an ethnography." Which or whose ethnography one should ask, as if there is only one kind. For Naumkin's ethnography is addressing a metropolitan audience namely that of his colleagues in the Soviet Union, which excludes the one to which the reviewer belongs. And he is elucidating a theoretical problematic which is of particular relevance to that audience as it shares the same conceptual scheme with which it constructs the world. Accordingly, the book starts with a description of the physical features of the landscape as a by-product of geological processes that shaped an ecological milieu to which population will have to adapt through the development of particular systems of livelihood. Second, it provides an historical overview of Socotra from Antiquity up to the time the Soviet mission arrived to the island. The intent, not clearly articulated in the book, is first to understand the migratory patterns of the settlers on the island in terms of their origins and to envision the kind of "racial crossing" (Naumkin's term) it has given rise to. The result of this "racial crossing" is analyzed in the book's next chapter, which contains a morphology of Socotra's population, where the author seeks to apply the notion of "ethnogenesis" as it is articulated with Socotra's landscape. The latter is categorized in terms of a three-tiered "ethnospheres" composed of a distinct racial typology linked to the mountain areas, the high plateaux, and the coastal zones. One could, of course, characterized this formulation as theoretical imperialism in its most absurd manifestation. But my focus here is merely on elucidating the Soviet ethnographic paradigm and its appropriation of Socotra. Lastly, in terms of the aspects that some may find of dubious pertinence to ethnographic analysis, as already noted above, there is an account of the archaeology of Socotra. Contrary to the reviewer quoted above, such investigation is fundamental in the case of Socotra, if only to put an end to speculation, especially about the scale of the production of incense and aloes, and the vestiges of Christianity and more generally to ascertain the cultural level of previous settlers on the island. However, the author could have been primarily motivated to uncover the physical remains of processes of cultural diffusion, in keeping with his implicit theoretical framework (i.e., ethnos theory), and not necessarily to elucidate Socotra's mode and scale of production during its early days as an evolving social formation.

Concerning the material culture of the Socotrans, the author goes through a systematic description of craft production, food processing, clothing style, settlement and housing patterns etc, with photographs or drawings as illustration. What is striking about these descriptions is that they are merely an elaboration upon what Wellsted summarized about the material aspects of the everyday life of the Socotrans over 150 years ago! Perhaps this fact alone justifies the focus on ethnos given the absence of assimilationist pressure from an outside culture that would induce change, and given the environmental constraints and the inertia of established customs in the midst of a relatively generalized isolation over a long period. Finally, in terms of the general cultural characteristics of Socotrans, Naumkin identifies two dominant economic-cultural types: Inland pastoralists and the coastal fishing communities. Pastoralism, however, is the essence of Socotran culture and the foundational pillar of its traditional economy. As he explains, "Pastoralism symbolizes a Socotran's protection of his hearth, parental home, land pasture etc, and indeed it furthers the conservation of the entire way of life" (1993:308).

In concluding this section, reference to the author's discussion of anthropogenic changes as part of the process of contact with the outside world provides a warning of the potential threats to Socotran culture. Naumkin explains these threats as follows: "The new and constantly changing general conditions of life on the island are having a major impact on the lives of the herders. Their partial entry into the orbit of money-commodity relations, the slow but nonetheless ongoing process of class differentiation, the increasing pressure of population growth on the natural environment, the emergence of modern means of production, and a rise in the cultural level of the herders, all combine to undermine and destroy the existing system of relations" (1993:364). The critical issue this raises is the sustainability of the Socotrans' commitment to a pastoral mode of production in the face of inducements to alternative means of livelihood that development inevitably brings in its wake. Naumkin suggested that this commitment was becoming more tenuous as the gradual incorporation of Socotra into networks of commodity relations and generalized monetization of the economy may undermine the prevailing norms of cultural reproduction and generate a movement toward deterritorialization of pastoralists through induced migration, sedentarization and other adverse cultural and ecological outcomes.

However, counsel of despair may be premature. For the case of Socotra presents a perplexing issue: namely, the relative absence, subsequent to a lengthy history of heterogeneous cultural and economic contacts with the rest of the world, of the evidence of such contacts given the relatively low level of cultural and economic attainment of the population. This situation would suggest a case of severe isolation from external contact, which is contrary to the historical record. Indeed, if the historical accounts discussed in this paper are to be believed, then Socotra can only be described as a society that has experienced a kind of evolutionary reversal. A kind of "civilizational" collapse, hence a relapse into a more elementary state of development. Alternatively, it could be argued that these contacts were superficial at best, in that they did not permeate into the society, thus no institutions were built to sustain any kind of internal development. Socotra's encounter with an intrusive modernity in the guise of development in the 21st century will help lift the veil on this puzzle. Also, it will either confirm or disconfirm the legend concerning Socotrans' indomitable spirit, and thus of the island as a graveyard for those who sought to rule it (or develop it?).

Socotra & the New Conjuncture: Biodiversity Conservation, Ecotourism & the Global Regime of Environmental Management

Biodiversity… the variability among living organisms and among the ecological complexes of which they are part not only forms the basis of many commercial products, but also underpins our very existence (Tate & Laird 1999:1).

The globalization of the concern over biodiversity, which makes it a 21st century commodity cum global commons par excellence, is its simultaneous embodiment of the two types of values captured in the above quote, namely "forms the basis of many commercial products" (i.e., its consumptive and productive values), and "underpins our very existence" (i.e., its non-consumptive values or existence values). The sense of urgency that has accompanied discussions of biodiversity is precisely due to the perceived threat to both of those values and the associated potential economic losses. As professors Wilson and Ehrlich, two of the world's renowned protagonists in species extinction research, put it, "just as the importance of all life forms for human welfare becomes most clear, the extinction of wild species and ecosystems is seen to be accelerating through human action" (1991:758). Coincidentally, this statement was made only a year prior to the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development, during which the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was submitted for the signature of governments around the world.

The CBD entered into force in 1993 and brought with it the political and economic regimentation of biodiversity as part of the global commons. It also seems to have prioritized the consumptive/productive use values associated with biodiversity. This is evident in its language as conveyed in Article 1, where the Convention's objectives are stipulated: "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding" (CBD 1992:2). Indeed, the expansive web that the CBD has spun around biodiversity and all that it entails is captured in Tate & Laird's description of its implications: It is comprehensive in its approach, global in its scope. It covers all components of biological diversity, from ecosystems and habitats, species and communities to genomes and genes, and it deals not only with the conservation of biological diversity in situ and ex situ, but also with its sustainable use and benefit sharing. Moreover, it marks a watershed in the regulation of access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. It sets the substantive and procedural requirements for any person, organization or company wishing to obtain genetic and biological resources, their derivatives and the traditional knowledge concerning them for research and commercial development (1999:13).

It is a stake in this environmental "Grand Bargain" that Yemen sought to claim when in 1996 it ratified the CBD and later that year declared the Socotra Archipelago a special, natural area in urgent need of protection. Thus Socotra, as in previous centuries, made its entry unto the world' stage in keeping with the current emphasis of the global economy. In the current conjuncture it is being presented as a potential biodiversity preserve, a unique research station for biodiversity studies as well as an international destination for ecotourism. Indeed, ecotourism is seen as the locomotive or the catalyst of an ecodevelopment process, which aims at establishing natural biotic areas or anthropological reserves that will enable the challenging task of conserving the archipelago's biodiversity in a manner that enhances the livelihoods of its inhabitants, while maintaining their traditional lifestyle. In this context, ecotourism is designed as a means of valorizing these anthropological reserves through the generation of employment opportunities as well as to contribute to the financial sustainability of the conservation strategy. Furthermore, ecotourism constitutes an integral part of the major initiatives, namely the Biodiversity Zoning Plan and the Master Plan for the Development of Socotra, that were formulated subsequent to Yemen's ratification of the Biodiversity Convention. The implementation of these two plans will determine the fate of the archipelago during the current millennium.


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