The Culture of Yemen
Yemen Culture Overview
The population of Yemen is ethnically Arabic dominated by Sunni Muslims of the Shafi'i School and Shi'a Muslims of the Zaydi School. There are also small groups of Jews, Hindus, and Christians. Islam is the religion of the state. However, the constitution provides religious freedom to the followers of other religions. Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is prohibited. Non-Muslims cannot hold any elected office in the state and the constitution proclaims that Shari'a is the source of legislation.
Yemenis speak Arabic. The different dialects of Arabic typical to the six cultural zones are used in daily life. Certain south Arabian languages like Mehri, Soqotri, and Bathari are also seen among certain sections of the population. Russian is understood in certain parts of the country. Though English is taught in private and public schools, only Arabic is predominantly used for communication. Some schools even teach French. The number of people who can speak English in Yemen is small compared to other Arab countries.
For breakfast, Yemenis generally have a sweet strong tea with breads made of wheat, barley or sorghum. The most common dinner is a porridge prepared from fenugreek seeds served hot in a stone or clay bowl, consumed along with meat, eggs, herbs, spices and vegetables. Apart from sorghum, lentils and peas are the traditional staple food of the country. Boiled meat from goat or sheep served on heaps of rice is popular during feasts and celebrations. Fruits and raisins are consumed as desserts. During the recent days, poultry, fish and dairy products are becoming popular. Qat is a narcotic bush, like the coca plant. Over 90 percent of the population chews qat for more than five hours a day.
Islamic Clothing of Yemen
Participating in the popular tradition of the Middle East, the people of Yemen too cover their heads with thob or shiwal. However, the costume style varies considerably between the north and the south. In some regions, the thob worn is full and flowing, whereas in some others, it is slim fitting. Twisted and tweaked natural color braid is tacked on to the base cloth. The costlier versions of the same consist of silver works on the chest, shoulders and panels. The cotton thob dyed black with indigo is decorated with embroidery. A majority of women living in Yemen wear an all-encompassing black cloak called Balto. A very few walking on the streets may show their faces, while the rest prefer to cover it. Wearing black cloaks has even influenced foreign women living in Yemen.
Yemeni Social Life
The 1994 constitution of Yemen has granted equal rights to women. However, outside the family, gender disparities are visibly seen in the society. The conservative religious authorities strongly recommend segregation of sexes. In urban centers, women are employed in educational and health care sectors. The cultural values of Yemen include decency, hospitality and respect for elders. The holy text of Koran has become one with the life of Yemenis. The familiarity of people with Koran is versatile that, one would see them profusely quoting from it in day-to-day affairs.