Sunday, March 11, 2012

Akhdam Yemeni "untouchables" ISMAIL JABERTIS

AKHDAM alternative called Jabertis are sewage and toilet cleaners of Yeman and are said to be of East African Ethiopian origin. The Yemanis called them the Jabertis or simply Akhdam. Ismail Jabartis are associated with menial work. In revolt, Yemeni "untouchables" hope for path out of misery Select Language​▼ Friday, March 09, 2012 SANAA, (Reuters) - The weakest of the weak in Yemen are using the language and techniques of the "Arab Spring" anti-government protests to combat prejudices that have left them on the margins of society for centuries. Scattered applause broke out as a dark-skinned man in a grubby purple shirt took the stage and coughed nervously into the microphone in Change Square, the epicenter of the uprising that felled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and now a popular gathering spot for political debate. "Institutionalized by the government and normalized by the people. We are Arabs, Muslims, Yemeni citizens, like you," said Nabil Al-Maktari, jabbing a finger at the crowd, his voice rising in anger. "So why are we made to feel inferior? Why are we treated like slaves? I came to this square because I wanted to feel equality. Instead I find discrimination in every corner. "This is racism in its worst form," he said. The experience of helping to force Saleh from office after 33 years has energised some of Yemen's least powerful, including minorities and women, to try and change their fate. But dismantling rigid social structures may be even harder than bringing down an autocrat. Maktari is one of those Yemenis known as the Akhdam, or "servants," and had been invited by the camp's stage committee to deliver a speech on Yemen's revolution and equality. He was the first member of the Akhdam to set foot on the stage since it was assembled by protesters almost a year ago. Distinguished by their African features and the jobs they perform - notably cleaning the streets - the Akhdam are so marginalised that they have been compared by anthropologists who study Yemen to the "untouchable" caste of India. Widespread prejudice places the Akhdam at the bottom of Yemen's social ladder without specifying what makes them different beyond the colour of their skin and the menial tasks they perform. Jamal Al-Obeidi, a secondary school mathematics teacher amongst those listening to Maktari's speech in early March, expressed typical views in answer to a reporter's questions. "I have nothing against him," he said. "I would talk to him in the street, I might give him some of my money, but I would not invite him to my home. He is a Yemeni, but he is also a Khadim (servant). God meant for it to be that way." Demeaning myths, inherited over generations, have helped entrench this way of thinking. Many Yemenis, asked about the origins of the Akhdam, say they are descendants of Ethiopians who crossed the Red Sea to conquer Yemen before the arrival of Islam some 1,400 years ago, and that makes them outsiders in their own country. Prevailing prejudice holds that the men are lazy and unscrupulous, unfit for respectable work; the women, unclean and promiscuous, scrounge off the generosity of others, the conventional wisdom goes. "If a dog licks your plate you should clean it," advises a proverb, "but if it is touched by a Khadim, then break it." RUBBISH AS TOOL OF PROTEST Yemen's 1962 revolution, which ended a 1,000-year-old Islamic principality and sought to implement a republic based on equality between citizens, officially abolished ancient status categories but the Akhdam retained theirs. Working as house servants, emptying mosque latrines and, more recently, collecting the country's garbage, the Akhdam, most of whom live in fetid slums on the outskirts of the capital, are all but invisible to most Yemenis. The protests against Saleh that broke out last February dragged them into the public sphere, perhaps for the first time. On March 3, hundreds of Akhdam street-cleaners encircled the chief prosecutor's office in Taiz, demanding that a Yemeni police officer be brought to justice for what they claim was the racially motivated murder of a street-cleaner. Demonstrator by day, street-sweeper by night, Shaefi Al-Shami was one of hundreds of Akhdam who joined the pro-democracy movement. He camped out in a small, red tent along with thousands of others in Change Square. Despite being on crutches - he still has shrapnel lodged in his shin after he was caught in the crossfire during a sniper attack on protesters in Sanaa last March - Shami was instrumental in organising a nationwide strike last month amongst the country's street-cleaners, largely Akhdam. That workforce performs one of the lowest-paid jobs in a poor country, without contracts working for local municipalities, subject to dismissal or denial of pay at the whim of the authorities. By day three of the strike, with the capital swimming waist-high in piles of festering garbage, the authorities caved in, paying each of Sanaa's 4,000 street cleaners 15,000 rials ($70) to return to work and promising to make them permanent staff of the civil service. Shami says that if the promise, delivered to them by Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa, is not fulfilled by 15 March, they will do the same again. "I think the strike reminded people of just how reliant they are on us, people were having to burn trash on their doorsteps just to get in and out of their houses," he said. BURIED BY NIGHT The military clashes that followed the eruption of protests against Saleh fed fears of a civil war, and led the country's wealthier Gulf neighbours, with U.S. backing, to engineer the succession of the president by his deputy. The new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, will work with a government that includes opposition parties but also leaves Saleh's relatives in key positions in the military. It has also ruled out prosecution of the former president and his allies for the death of hundreds of demonstrators. In the view of many protesters, the pact rewards a political elite that appropriated their cause and has ruined the prospect of real change. Salwa Usman, a haggard, 60 year-old Akhdam mother, living in Mahwa Aser slum, a warren of tin-huts swimming in a sea of mud and raw sewage on the outskirts of the capital, is not optimistic. The youngest of her nine children, who all work as street beggars, died last week from Hepatitis E, a water-borne viral disease that interferes with the functioning of the liver. "We buried him in the Bani Hewat graveyard at 3:00 a.m., before sunrise," said Usman. "If others saw us they would say he was too dirty to be buried next to their dead." (Editing by Joseph Logan and Sonya Hepinstall). Source: Reuters ================================================================================================== IsmailJabarti of Yemen
The Sweepers: Fighting Centuries Old Isolation

Part 1 of 2

Sweepers or "Akhdam" as they are known used to live the lowest social level of life since the past 900 years in Yemen.
In the past they were oppressed. Today also they are oppressed but to a lesser degree. Today's Akhdam are quite different in many ways.
In the past their entire conditions were tragic and heartbreaking. Today their conditions are better.
In the past the way they were treated contradicted with the teachings of Islam and even the human principles which call for human rights, preservation of freedom and dignity of human beings. Today these contradictions have reduced and their rights are preserved; at least as human beings and as Yemeni citizens enjoying their full civilian and political rights.
Have we preserved the rights of today's rebel youth sweeper who wants to affect changes in his life. We always allege and keep calling for rights . But have we given any attention to the revolution of youth sweepers? We keep calling for peace, affection and unity in between us. Do these include sweepers?
What made the society in the past deny their rights? Do we still deny their rights today?
In the 21 provinces of present day Yemen, the conditions of akhdam differ from one province to another. If countrymen have moved to the capitals of each province in search of livelihood, this included the akhdam. Then we saw that Sana'a, Taiz, Hodeidah, Aden and Mukalla (Hadhramaut) became overpopulated due to the exodus. In other words, out of the 21 provinces only four to five provinces today bear the burden of overpopulation, including the akhdam.
For instance now in Sana'a they have five main and permanent 'settlements', (one in Bab-al-Yemen, another in Bab-al-Sabah, third in 45km Road, fourth in Sha'oub and fifth at Al-Mahareq in Asser area). In Taiz they have five (One in Oosaifra, another in Al-Shammasi suburb, third in Mafraq Maweeya, fourth in Al-Haseb and the fifth in Al-Janad). In Aden they have six: (one in Tawahi, two in Maalla, one in Crater, one in Mimdara and one in Little Aden). They also have their permanent settlements in Hodeidah at Al-Barhameiya, Labor City (Madinat Al-Ommal), Al-Baida, Al-Salkhana and other places. In Hadhramaut they could be seen at 14th October Zone of Al-Mukalla. In Shabwa their main settlement is in Al-Gol area.
Do all provinces with their capitals, districts, remote areas and 'uzlas' (hinterlands) need the akhdam to carry out for them the essential services connected with sanitation? In some areas people have their own way of life. Their latrines are open-air but 'hidden'. Farmers use their fields. In coastal areas too citizens have their own way of disposing off their waste. Such being the case, we do not find any trace of akhdam in such areas.
However, akhdam have two genuine reasons for their exodus. First is that they detest the old professions of their forefathers, grand fathers and fathers who were engaged in very low ranking jobs. (Cleaning of latrines, removing blockages from drainages etc.) The second is that development has almost obliterated old system of sanitary. Sewerage system here and there has subsequently forced the new generation to find another source of living. However, a third reason for exodus could be attributed to the 'swollen' population of sweepers with difficulties of accommodation and livelihood.
Even the European and Arab as well as other states, cannot dispense with the services of sweepers, no matter their historical background and no matter how people there look at their sweepers. Our topic concerns sweepers of Yemen only.
In Arabic language, "Akhdam" is the plural of sweepers. The singular is "khadem". The verb is "khadama" (serve). In the past Akhdam usually served their "Asyad" - masters. (The singular is "Syeid"). "Asyad" considered themselves higher in social rank. Today, hardly 5-10% of akhdam come under the mercy of their "asyad" but normally, today, they are independent. The importance of their presence and their cleansing works could be judged by putting a question to ourselves: "What would happen if akhdam go on strike?" In some cases we have reasons to believe that akhdams were able to dictate their conditions of service; their jobs being of different nature.
Until recently this off shoot of lowest class of sweepers have become extinct. Living in one area, the regime through the ruling machinery which included the municipalities, would divide them into groups. In the past they used to appear late hours at night going from house to house cleaning the "zawali" (latrines). They used to be seen carrying their tin canisters on their head with a bent iron strip used for collecting wastes from unpopulated areas where 'homeless' used to go for toilet. These jabartis are not seen in many areas as most of them are believed to have immigrated.
In The Service of The Imam
In Sana'a, before the 1962 Revolution, sweepers were housed in a place still known as "Samsra", situated at Bab-ul-Sabah Gate. They are still there. The Imam could not deny their services; but would not tolerate their being homeless as they used to defy that time's dusk-to-dawn "Sukat" (daily curfew); thus they were housed at "Samsra" which was a one-time shopping mall. The mall's glamour was gradually drained into a permanent resident for 5-10 sweepers families.
Oosaifra & Shammasi
In Greater Taiz, sweepers lived in Upper and Lower Oosaifra. Sweepers of these two areas took active part in the arsons and riots which took place in December 1992 violent demonstrations in protest of the first price hike after Unification. After the conditions came to normal, the affected 'capitalists' avenged by arranging torching sweepers areas. As a result Upper Oosaifra was immediately vacated and sweepers moved to a new 'colony' in Al-Shammasi suburb. Lower Oosaifra still has few of these sweepers while Upper Oosaifra witnessed construction works in favor of the 'capitalists'.
45km Road
Situated in between Al-Sab'een Hospital area and Taiz Road, this area is famous for its "Saeela" - water passage -, where rain waters block traffic always. The area is hardly ten years old with a population of 3014. It shelters sweepers and citizens who have built hollow-bricked small houses. The land on which these houses have been built have two different stories. Some people say that the owners are Yemeni immigrants who are out of Yemen at present. Others say that during the 1997 parliamentary elections the General People's Congress, as a part of election campaign, 'presented' the land, said to be State estate, to the residents and allowed them build their residences. Therefore most residents here are sweeper GPC members. We do not know the real story but should the real owners reappear, problems will crop up. Of course, this will result in the demolition of sweepers' temporary abode.
When the area 'aakel' was asked what would he do in case real owners of this land appear, he said: "We shall either buy these lands from them or pay them rental."
Peaceful Sweepers
They do not possess weapons and they do not carry "gambias". Whenever humiliated, they succumb to their oppressors.
Studies differ in defining their origin. Some relate them as Ethiopians who arrived into Yemen during the sixth century following the Ethiopian invasion of Yemen.
One unconfirmed account claims that after the end of the Ethiopian rule, the remnants who could not flee Yemen remained trapped. They were turned into slaves and were forced to perform low-rank jobs which included cleaning of latrines and doing all works connected with sanitation. The account claims Yemenis avenged a one-time ruler. This makes us inquire: was not there any sweeper in Yemen before the Ethiopian invasion? Were Yemeni sweepers relieved of their job? Where did they go? Did they mingle in the Yemeni society? Did they migrate?
Perhaps their complexions assist in this assessment as they have, in most, African characteristics in as far as the color of their skin, snub nose and tough, short curly hairs are concerned.
Dr. Qayed Al-Sharjabi, in his research stated that they were outcast in Ethiopia itself. On arrival in Yemen they did not change.
Aged sweepers deny any relations with Ethiopia. They claim to be sons of Yemen. A Sinan Muhammed Omer Al-Wasabi confirmed that his grand father hailed from Wisab Al-Aali in Dhamar Province. When asked about his great grand father he said: "I do not know where from he came."
In Yemen, Western Tihama Coast is considered to be their homeland. They do not have lands of their own. They prefer to live in deserts and abandoned areas.
They always lived in groups and formed their own 'settlements'. As time changed their 'settlements' continue to exist with their locations changed but their old time tents, shack, huts or mud-straw-mixed houses have now been replaced by mud or stone-made houses. They usually live 'sandwiched' in their small houses.
The problem of small houses should be a separate subject as it concerns the Yemeni people as a whole. However, in sweepers life, small houses, congested with family members, have created immodesty.
Sweepers believe in Islam. Its teaching is that human beings are equal; but despite this we see the Muslim community today looks down at sweepers without any genuine reason. They harbor pent up antagonism against sweepers. They do not mention them in their discussions and never talk about their rights and duties. Haunted by discrimination, sweepers, in the past, used to perform their 5-time prayers at their homes . Few who cared to keep themselves clean, did attend mosques for prayers. Today we can see them in all mosques. Sweepers never felt the need to build their own mosques as if telling people that prayers never differentiate between the high and low rank people. It is not a surprise to find that at a certain mosque in Alhujarriyah-Al Zarraiqah area, the Imam of a mosque there is a khadem. In the past there were no preachers who, through their sermons, could draw the attention of people to avoid detesting akhdam but today, international, regional and local laws have tackled such a detest under human rights and other conventions. Akhdam did not even have learned-men or any representation in the State bodies (viz. parliament etc.) to advocate their case and demand justice in the face of discrimination.. They are ignorant of most important affairs of Islam. They are excluded from "Da'wa" (The Call).

Tribal Affiliation
Akhdam do not belong to any tribe of Yemen. Within their own society they have their own 'grades'. In each of their settlements they have their own 'aakel' (aged learned man) who settles their disputes.
The fact is that one by one they start gathering in certain area. Then they marry inbetween them to form families. If one family comes from Aden, the second could be from Shabwah and the third from Hodeidah. It is the joint and common need - employment - which makes them assemble in one area. Actually they never belong to the area where they establish their settlement. As the number of families increase, they have their 'aakel' to look after their affairs.
In Wisab Al-Aali (Dhamar) sweepers' settlement area stretched from one end to the other of this considerably large district. The number of 'uqqals (plural of 'aakel') is around 12-15. In between them, these 'uqqals' have elected a Shaikh. His name is Qaed Muhammed Al-Kaboudi who does spend 2-3 months in Sana'a settling all pending issues of his fellow-clan-men. We do not know to which extent the official circles recognize his 'sheikhdom' but he is really a strong man with authority. His services are always needed during elections.
All police stations throughout the Republic have their own special ways and means to solve sweepers' 'special natured' disputes such as bad language, daily scuffles and adultery etc.
Until recently sweepers used to be distinguished through their Tihama accent and phonation. Those who left Tihama area long ago, those who got merged in the society of different provinces and those at schools could not be distinguished easily now as their accent and phonation have changed.
To be continued next week.. search google tihama imiges DJIBOUTI | ERITREA | ETHIOPIA | KENYA | SOMALILAND | YEMEN Destinations Tihamah Distance from Sana'a the closest point from Sana'a 170km. (3hr) Climate in winter (30-25) and in the summer(40-50). Some weather experts say that the highest temperature ever recorded on earth was in Tihama. Geography It extends all the way from the southwest of Yemen to the boundary of Saudi Arabia. The region of Tihamah is the entire stretch of valley on the west coast of Yemen that is full of many agricultural activities While driving in Tehama you can see the marvelous difference between the desert and the costal plains that really prove the amazing nature of this area. Cultural highlights The region has an African atmosphere due to the mostly African inhabitants that live in Tihama as well as to what historians refer that the area was part of Africa 10000 years ago. Many houses that are built of reed can be seen spread all over that valley, and for once you will feel like you are in Africa due to the massive African impact on that part of the country. Tihamah adds a special sweetness to Yemen that one just has to taste to understand. Things to see and do: Zabid It's a UNISCO heritage due to the various and unique archeological and historical sites that belong to the town. A huge castle with Turkish arcticture can be visited which was built by the Turkish occupation in the 17th century and was used as well by the Imam. The castle includes the grain storage which is now used as a museum that shows some traces of the different eras that once were fond there. Zabid has a very rich religious heritage with around 12 mosques that date back to the early time of Islam especially Ala'ishar mosque that goes back to the first century of Islam existence. Al-Lahyah Al-Luhayyah is located to the north of Al-hudaydah. It has a nickname which is “Pearl of the Red Sea” for exporting pearls, and it also competed with the city of Mokha to the south in exporting the famous famous Yemeni coffee. The sea port was established in the 15th century. Bait Al-Faqui This city is located in your way to Al-hudaydah city through driving in the valley of Tihamah. It's famous for the old traditional way of sewing the "Maqtab" which is a traditional dress in the western part of the country. Also, an old beautiful castle can be visited as well that goes back to the Turkish era. Al-Kawkah It’s a costal town that is around 60km southwest of Al- Hudaydah city. Here, you can enjoy some real sun showers in the clean read sea shores. The city is famous is well for the reed cottage that are spread along the shore. There are many good hotels where you can sleep an over night enjoying the costal life even for one day. Al-Hodidah Capital of the Tihamh valley and known as “the Bride of the Red Sea”, this city gained its reputation during the height of the coffee export era during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. A major port of Yemen, its importance increased during the second half of the 20th century with the inauguration of its modern port. Important sites within this area are the nearby beaches of Al-Katheeb and Irj, also the old town and fishing markets should be visited. Hudaydah is the main port for local fishermen who work in the Red Sea. are on print

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