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Glaser in 1904

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Photograph taken by Glaser of a religious scholar of Ṣan‘ā' and qabīlī from Kawkabān.

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Eduard Glaser in Yemen

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In 1993 AIYS published an English translation of an important article by the Austrian traveler to Yemen near the end of the 19th century. This is now available for download as a pdf.

In the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks held nominal control over Ṣan‘ā’ and somewhat feeble alliances with key highland tribes, only a small number of travelers with scientific interests came to Yemen.  The most important of these was the Austrian Eduard Glaser, who made four trips to “Turkish” Yemen between October, 1882 and Spring of 1894. Glaser was a wide-ranging scholar with a decent command of Arabic, a passion for collecting pre-Islamic South Arabian inscriptions, and observational skills in astronomy, meteorology, ethnography and linguistics. While Glaser’s published works are admittedly not readily accessible except in the best of libraries, it would appear that the greatest hindrance to appreciation of his work has been the difficulty many scholars have in reading German.  The present translation, has been admirably prosed by David Warburton and will hopefully help in giving Glaser the respect he deserves both as a scholar and an entertaining traveler.
   Eduard Glaser was born in the Bohemian village of Deutsch-Rust on March 15, 1855.  In Vienna he was introduced to the young science of South Arabian languages by David H. Müller, with whom he was to develop a rather “tribal” academic feud in later years. The article translated here deals with Glaser’s trip through Arḥab between January 31 and February 13, 1884.  Glaser makes it quite clear that he thought highly of the Turkish authorities, particularly Yzzet Pasha, whom he calls “probably the shrewdest observer of South Arabia”. As a scientist, he traveled solely due to the backing of the Turkish Pasha. The local tribes were not excited about having this “Turkish” agent snooping around their villages, even when his safety had been guaranteed by local shaykhs. This was especially the case in Arḥab, which was a continual political thorn in the side of the Ottomans.  There are times when it appears that Glaser’s life was in grave danger, or so he would lead us to believe.  
   Apart from the inscriptions copied by Glaser and Arabic manuscripts he purchased in Yemen and later deposited with the University of Vienna, this article shows the range of information that this scholar collected. One of the most valuable aspects of this is the first-hand observation of tribal disputes between the two major tribal confederations of Ḥāshid and Bakīl, and how both of these tribes interacted with the Ottomans. Glaser writes more with the acumen of an ethnographer, recording history, than a journalist manufacturing a story. We are not only introduced to several shaykhs of the time, but also can see how they acted in situations of conflict. It is a rare glimpse seldom encountered even in more recent studies of Yemen.
   Another valuable contribution of this article, as well as other writings of Glaser, is the description of Yemeni dialects and customs.  For example, he notes that a qabīlī does not say the ubiquitous salām ‘alaykum upon entering a room, but rather salām taḥīya, with the appropriate response being ablaght. He then proceeds to explain the subsequent phrases a Yemeni would use in such a context. Similarly, we are introduced to a variety of common expressions, terms for food and customs of hospitality.  Perhaps the most important part of the article is the detailed discussion of Yemeni tribal law, the basic principles of qabyala.  Here he defines twelve principles in detail, a discussion which is of great comparative value.