[Note: One of the early 19th century travelers to Yemen was the British birder G. Wyman Bury. His Arabia Infelix, or The Turks in Yamen (London: MacMillan, 1915) is a personal and informative account of his visit to the southern part of Yemen, especially Aden and its hinterlands. Near the end of his book, he discusses the political climate of his day, when Britain was firmly in control of Aden as part of its Indian Empire. Clearly biased in favor of his own British order, there is nevertheless a note of irony for a country which until this day has yet to attain stability.]

The Yameni is not fanatical. He has his own religious views, but realizes, from the sects into which his own people are divided, that there are at least two sides to every religious question.

He is a patriot ; and who, indeed, could help loving a country like the highlands of Yamen, in spite of past and present woes ? His patriotism, however, does not blind him to the fact that his local rulers have done and can do little for the welfare of his country. He would gladly throw off his present yoke for any change of government that promised more stability.

Yamenis have frequently declaimed to me on the blessings of British rule. While agreeing, I have always pointed out that my country would not take theirs as a gift under existing conditions. There can be no greater mistake than for a Christian to believe, that just because the Moslems he meets praise his government and institutions, they would brook either. The Italian ‘agents’ committed this error in Tripoli. On all sides the Tripolitans inveighed against the Turks to interested listeners but, when the matter came to be tested in the crucible of war, the Italians were surprised and not a little annoyed to find that the indigenous population changed its previous attitude.

It will always be so where Christians and Moslems are concerned. They admire our administrative methods, but they do not want us, and are amused and horrified at our social code.

Any system that would give Yamen a stable Moslem ruler, with British administrative control and enterprise, as in Egypt, would be popular enough, though there would be trouble about taxation at first. The tribesmen think that they should not be taxed. Under their Imams they were exempt, but gave military service if called upon, provided they did not disapprove of the quarrel in hand. This system is an absurd anomaly under organized rule.

Yamen wants many things ; among them a licking for her outlaw tribes, while her law-abiding folk would do well to remember that no government would guarantee their safety and immunity of goods, without exacting a quid pro quo to feed the machinery of administration. Tribal governments level such exactions on all their civil population, and often fail to carry out their side of the bargain, as the system of tribal military service is too unstable for the maintenance of public security.

The Turks exact tribute where they can, and maintain order if they can: their methods are not successful.

The Yameni is not a difficult type to handle, really, though the vicissitudes of his administration have made him a bit cantankerous. He is always open to conviction, and is as shrewd as they make them, in the ordinary details of his daily life be he farmer, shepherd or trader yet impracticable in great issues, because he cannot see their trend. He is no coward, and has often shown himself ready to die for his ideals, when once he has been convinced of them. While clannish and always ready to support his class, he displays an appalling ignorance and a callous lack of interest as regards the welfare of his
fellow-men, due, no doubt, to his self-centred life.

Excerpt from G. Wyman Bury, Arabia Infelix, or The Turks in Yamen (London: MacMillan, 1915, pp. 149-150)

For an earlier post of Bury, click here.