A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen

A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen

A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen

A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen

Synopsis

A Tribal Orderdescribes the politico-legal system of Jabal Razih, a remote massif in northern Yemen inhabited by farmers and traders. Contrary to the popular image of Middle Eastern tribes as warlike, lawless, and invariably opposed to states, the tribes of Razih have stable structures of governance and elaborate laws and procedures for maintaining order and resolving conflicts with a minimum of physical violence. Razihi leaders also historically cooperated with states, provided the latter respected their customs, ideals, and interests. Weir considers this system in the context of the rugged environment and productive agricultural economy of Razih, and of centuries of continuous rule by Zaydi Muslim regimes and (latterly) the republican governments of Yemen.

The book is based on Weir's extended anthropological fieldwork on Jabal Razih, and on her detailed study of hundreds of handwritten contracts and treaties among and between the tribes and rulers of Razih. These documents provide a fascinating insight into tribal politics and law, as well as state-tribe relations, from the early seventeenth to the late twentieth century. A Tribal Orderis also enriched by case histories that vividly illuminate tribal practices. Overall, this unusually wide-ranging work provides an accessible account of a remarkable Arabian society through time.

Excerpt

This book is based on seventeen months’ fieldwork on Jabal Rāziḥ in the far north of the Republic of Yemen, where I spent from March to October 1977, October 1979 to May 1980, and January and February 1993. the “ethnographic present” therefore refers to that period. Throughout my fieldwork I lived in the tiny “town” or madīnah of al-Naẓīr, the main settlement of a tribe in southern Rāziḥ. During my first two stays I maintained a semi-independent household; and on my third I lived en famille in the house next door. the madīnah was an ideal fieldwork base. It is socially and occupationally heterogeneous. Men prominent in tribal and government affairs were among my neighbors. and visitors came from far and wide to its lively weekly market. I did most of my research in and on the tribe of al-Naẓīr, one of the ten small tribes of Rāziḥ, partly because I wanted to understand one community well, and partly because travel was difficult in the mountainous terrain. There were no motor tracks during my first fieldwork in 1977, and although the construction of a transRāziḥ track and feeder tracks had begun by 1979, travel remained slow and most places could still only be reached on foot. Although I traveled widely in Rāziḥ and visited the neighboring tribal region of ʿUqārib, therefore, my deepest firsthand knowledge is about the tribe of al-Naẓīr, and I describe the tribal system of Rāziḥ mainly from that perspective.

No-one in Rāziḥ spoke English, so all my fieldwork was conducted in Arabic. the local dialect, or language, is extremely unusual, and was always a difficulty, but some male informants could switch registers to a form of Arabic I could understand more easily. My linguistic struggles were greatly helped by Bonnie Glover Stalls, a specialist in Arabic dialects . . .

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