Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean, 1880s-1930s

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean, 1880s-1930s

Article excerpt

ARABIAN PENINSULA

On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean, 1880s -1930s, by Linda Boxberger. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002. xix + 246 pages. Appends. to p. 251. Notes to p. 276. Select bibl. to p. 286. Index to p. 292. $68.50 cloth; $22.95 paper.

This study of the South Arabian region of Hadhramawt in present-day Yemen can be best characterized as a good example of historical anthropology. It draws on a wide range of local sources, both written and oral, which Boxberger is the first Western author to have used for her fascinating and well-written study. She introduces the region and its inhabitants, before moving to discussions of life in towns and in the countryside. We read about the learned descendants of the Prophet and fishermen, about struggles between undertakers from rivalling urban quarters over who was allowed to bury corpses, and about the landless laborers whose wives had to shorten the period of confinement after birth in order to rejoin the family's struggle for economic survival. Boxberger describes in loving detail the rites of passage which marked highlights in the life of ordinary Hadhramis, and she gives a vivid account of the social criticism which emerged particularly with regard to local celebrations and religious beliefs in the early 20"' century. Only the last two chapters introduce the realm of "grand politics," the statebuilding enterprise started in the midnineteenth century which, by 1937 (p. 214 erroneously notes 1936) was transformed beyond recognition with the signing of advisory treaties by the paramount Qu`ayti sultan.

The book, which is well illustrated with photographs and maps and available in paperback, will attract students of modem Middle Eastern history as well as of Arabian anthropology, not least because it shows how what is today remembered in Hadhramawt as the "good old days" was, in effect, a period fraught with social conflict resulting from emigration, economic pressures and the increasing integration into the wider imperial world. It is in this regard, however, that the book also disappoints, notably those interested in a comparative perspective. …

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