Yemeni Silversmith Hopes to Preserve Culture

By Begley, Alex | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

Yemeni Silversmith Hopes to Preserve Culture


Begley, Alex, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Kamal Rubaih, a jewelry-maker and purveyor of silver crafts from Sana'a, Yemen, brought his collection of new and antique pieces to retired foreign service officer, writer and jewelry collector Marjorie Ransom's District of Columbia home on Nov. 13, to display, educate and sell.

Silver has long been a symbol of wealth in Yemeni society and a vital part of a woman's dowry. Bridal dowries in the form of intricate necklaces, earrings and bracelets were often the work of Yemen's Jewish silversmiths. The two most common styles, the intricate filigree of bowsani and the floral patterns of badeehi, are named for the families who perfected the craft. As the Jewish population began emigrating from Yemen, and as the tradition of keeping wealth in the form of silver jewelry became outdated, the iconic Yemeni silverwork became harder to find.

Yemen is one of the region's poorest countries, and as the raw materials in silver bracelets and beaded necklaces became more valuable than the pieces themselves, Rubaih saw pieces of Yemen's rich history disappearing. To ensure that young Muslim artisans could make a living, and to preserve decades-old jewelry from destruction, he began traveling to Europe, the United States and Japan. …

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