Records of the Yemen 1798-1960
Edited by Doreen and Leila Ingrams
16 volumes. Archive Editions, 1993
The editors have brought together, in sixteen very handsome volumes, all the official English-language archives which have survived white ants and theft over the years and which are now housed in the India Office Library and Records and the Public Records Office in London.
The editors’ preface in Volume I (pp. vii-ix) explains the background of the project briefly and clearly and is followed by essential information for the best use of the volumes: the Qu’aiti (I spell names as the editors themselves do) family tree, xi; the Katheeri family tree, xii; the Abdali family tree, xiii; a list of the imams of Sana’a, xiv; a list of the political agents, political residents and governors of Aden, xv. Volume I, it is therefore suggested, is a volume to keep close at hand at all times. A Select Bibliography (pp. xvi-xviii) ends the general information found in I, yet relevant to all volumes.
The Contents of I (pp. xix-xxv) are provided in great detail and they set the standard for each of the first fifteen volumes - the sixteenth contains maps and illustrations etc. only Employing a variety of different headings, numbers and notes, the contents list provides also the names of the authors and recipients of documents with their affiliations and, most importantly, the document reference numbers. The user will therefore have to keep a finger in the Contents as he uses the particular volume. This is an excellent format and it enables the documents themselves, as the meat of each volume, to be appreciated without further editorial interference. A List of Illustrations follows (I, p. xxvii) and a List of Maps (p. xxix) for illustrations, maps etc. play an unobtrusive, though important, part in the work, some of them attractive pictures in colour. Immediately before the documents in each volume, the editors provide an introduction; brief, always well written and succinct, it presents the essential historical background for the period covered by the volume.
The balance between the chronological and subject presentation must have been the major problem for the editors to overcome. They have solved the problem admirably The overlapping of, for example, volumes VIII and IX, IX and X and XIII and XIV in practice puts no obstacle in the way of the user; quite the contrary, if he employs such competently compiled contents intelligently
A detailed picture of the contents of such an archive is not of course possible here. However, some of the highlights might be mentioned.
I (1798-1838) is in essence the pre-British period: passages from Albuquerque (16th), Jourdain (17th), Niebuhr and Bruce (18th century) all find a place. The two 19th century travellers, Wellstead and Cruttenden, are also quoted. Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt in fact marks the beginning of the work, with Egyptian activities in the Yemen in the early 19th century and the affairs of Socotra from the early 1830s make for interesting reading. The volume ends with the British case for the taking of Aden in the couple of years prior to the purchase.
II (1838-54) contains the discussions with Sultan Muhsin b. Fadl of Lahej for the purchase of Aden and the beginnings of British rule. Haines begins to consolidate British authority and the volume is completed with some reactions from the Yemen to the new colonial force to the south.
III (1855-72) deals effectively with the further consolidation of the Settlement, military, political, social, economic, affairs of the port and the water supply In 1855 the Turks occupied parts of the Tihamah and the affairs of the Turks vis-à-vis Asir between 1865-71 find a place. This volume ends, as do many, with concentration on the islands, mainly of course Perim and Socotra.
IV (1872-99) begins with the Turks in the Yemen and their relations with the chiefs of the Aden hinterland in the 1870s, the increasing conflict between the Turks and the British, the real raison d'etre of a British protectorate. The volume continues with Turkish affairs, with interludes of Qishn and Socotra, 1873-97, and a translation of Schweinfurth’s German account of his voyage to Socotra in 1881. Hadramawt, the Aden Settlement and the Islands, including Kamaran, round off the volume.
V (1900-14) marks the beginning of the twentieth century and, not surprisingly, the Anglo-Turkish boundary is the predominant topic. The Convention, Turkish-Yemeni relations and the accession of Imam Yahya in 1905, as well as the affairs of the Idrisi (1909-10), the Italian-Turkish war (1911-13), the Aden Settlement and the Islands are other topics in this volume.
VI (1914-1923) commences with the entry into World War I of the Turks (1914). The British treaty with the Idrisi (1915), British policy towards the Aden hinterland and the Turks during the years 19 16-19, relations between the British and the Imam and the Idrisi towards the end of World War I find their place in the documents in this volume. It ends with the affairs of the Aden Settlement and the Islands.
VII (1924-33) has documents concerning the Anglo-Yemeni frontier, the British and Italian mission to Imam Yahya (1924-26), the Idrisi and Ibn Saud, the Mecca agreement (1927), preparations for the Anglo-Yemeni treaty (1927-32), negotiations over Asir (1930-34), the policy in the Protectorate (1927-33), the Settlement, the Protectorate and the Islands.
VIII (1934-45) begins with the Treaties of Sana’a and Taif in 1934 and is followed by documents on the institution of Aden Colony in 1937, its social and economic affairs prior to World War II, the Islands and the effects of World War II on the Colony and Protectorate.
IX (1933-45) covers the same chronological ground as the previous volume but the major topics are the sultanates and their boundaries (1933-36), expansion of British interest in the Eastern Aden Protectorate (1936-45), peace in the Hadramawt (1937), development schemes, agriculture and famine in the Protectorate (1933-45) and the affairs of the Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra (1937-44).
X (1940-50) firstly deals with the internal affairs of the Yemen during the period, then with the assassination of Imam Yahya in 1948 and the accession of Imam Ahmed. Frontier disputes, oil, boundaries, air operations etc. ((1940-50) then appear. Colony and Protectorate affairs and those of the Islands end the volume.
XI (1950-54) deals with the Yemen internal and foreign affairs, relations with Egypt, the Anglo-Yemeni Conference in London (1950-5 1) and later disputes and negotiations between the years 1953-4. The volume ends with the affairs of the Colony and the Protectorate during the years 1950-54.
XII (1955-57) contains some important subjects: the attempted coup against Imam Ahmed (1955-56), movements against British rule and calls for independence (1955-57), Britain’s long-range policy and security review (1954-56), Anglo-Yemeni frontier relations and UN involvement, the affairs of the Islands.
XIII (1957-58) deals with the Anglo-Yemeni frontier, the affairs of the Colony and Protectorate and the Islands, Aden’s becoming the headquarters of the British forces in the Middle East (1957-58) and the Adenisation Committee.
XIV (1957-58) covers the same period as XIII above. Here the topics covered are, however, the United Arab States (1958), the Anglo-Yemeni boundary and the Protectorate boundaries, border disputes and Colony and Protectorate affairs.
XV (1958-60) deals with the events leading up to the end of royalist rule in the Yemen and of British rule in Aden, Anglo-Yemeni relations, state of emergency in Aden, the Aden TUC, Legislative Council elections, the institution of the Federation of the Amirates of the South, unrest in the Colony and Protectorate, the South Arabian
League, the future of the Islands.
The documents themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, manuscript, typescript and print. They are all well reproduced and for the most part are fairly easily legible, though the user should be warned that he will find some difficulties of reading in places, and not only then the manuscript material, for some of the early typescript must have reproduced badly even in the original. The researcher may therefore find he needs to resort to the originals on a very few occasions.
Musing about the whole, it occurred to me what a feast the linguist, and in particular the sociolinguist, might make of this collection of official documents. Their presentation in this way will make a study of official civil service English over the past two centuries a relatively easy one, if this should take anyone’s fancy. Whereas ‘My dear Bill Yours ever, John’ is common enough, what is one to think of ‘Dear Department, ... Yours ever, John’!? Obviously a difficult man to get rid of! Other things too stuck in my mind: the amount of effort spent and paperwork involved over the years administering the Islands; the fascination of the documents in XV concerning the future of the Islands after an independent Aden; the joint visit to the Kuria Muria Islands on 16th December 1959 by Sir George Middleton, Political Resident, Persian Gulf, and Sir William Luce, Governor of Aden, and their two reports, the former’s official and rather dull, the latter’s lively and even in places humorous (XV, pp. 789-92).
It would be impossible to exaggerate the debt owed to the two editors with the publication of the Records. Both have in a sense been passionately involved in the area all their lives and, despite the difficulties and frustrations which must have attended them at times, my strong feeling is that this editorial task, however long it took, was a true labour of love.
Assembling all these documents together in this way puts all those with an interest in the history of the Yemen of the past two centuries forever in their debt. Their expertly compiled lists and clear and well written introductions form the icing on the cake. The saving of time and effort to the researcher will be incalculable. They can take great pride in what they have achieved and a sequel, at least down to 1967, will, I hope, follow in time. The sixteen stout volumes, priced at £3,995, will neither fit into, nor be within the reach of, the individual’s pocket, but there will be a fair scattering of copies throughout the country in several university as well as copyright libraries. This will certainly open the door to inquiring amateurs, as well as professional historians, more indeed - and quite rightly so - than those who would have had the inclination and the opportunity to hunt down these documents for themselves before the publication of the work under review.
G. Rex Smith