Coal, Frankincense & Myrrh – A new book about Yemen

Coal, Frankincense & Myrrh - A new book about Yemen

Coal, Frankincense & Myrrh – A new book about Yemen by photographer Tim Smith provides a fascinating insight into a Middle East country which has strong links to Britain and which maintains a traditional way of life.

The reputed home of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen has been at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years thanks to its position on the ancient spice routes. Ten thousand years of trade along Yemen’s Red Sea and Indian Ocean coasts, over its mountains and across its deserts made it a meeting point of people, ideas, money and goods and the centuries of trading generated much wealth.

There has been a British presence in Yemen ever since the early 1600s when the East India Company set up trading posts in Mukha (Mocha in the west), a port then famous as the world centre for trade in coffee. In 1839 the port city of Aden was captured to provide a base to protect British trade routes. This began an even stronger relationship which would last some 130 years until 1967 when the Britain finally pulled out, having granted independence after several years of insurgency against British rule including riots and attacks on its troops.

But Britain’s links do not end there.Yemen is the mother country of the longest-established of Britain’s Muslim communities. Yemenis came to Britain from the 1890s onwards, many as an indirect result of having joined the British Merchant Navy, and after World War Two there was further emigration. By the mid-1970s there were some 15,000 Yemenis in Britain, though today this figure has shrunk back considerably.

One of the poorest countries in the region, Yemen still maintains much of its tribal character and old ways. People wear traditional dress and the custom of chewing the narcotic plant khat in the afternoons is still widely observed. Yemen remains a country of great mystery and, though security is an issue, it has attracted the curiosity of a growing number of tourists.

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