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Published:September 26th, 2006 06:40 EST

National Museum Of Yemen

By Robert Draper III


There is nothing like third world love, and I sure do have it bad.  Before I came to Yemen, I was told by an Egyptian man that Yemen is like taking a trip 100 years into history with some modern day technology thrown into it to make it bearable.  When I arrived in Yemen, it occurred to me that he was almost 100% correct in his opinion. But if you actually want to know more about the history of Yemen you better stroll into the National Museum of Yemen.  Upon entry into the National Museum of Yemen, centered in Takreer, tourist are presented with the spectacular sight of two bronze statues of nude men covered only in a loin cloth standing erect.   Inscribed in the bronze plated chest of the statue that depicts an older man reads King Damar Alay Yuhabirr, and inscribed in the chest plate of the other statue is the name Thara.  Both of these leaders, who were father and son, rained over the same empire during the days of pre-Islamic rule.  

I must admit that at first, I was shocked to see statues of people in Muslim countries, but then I was remained that most cultures at one time made statues of theirs most believed rulers.  In a way the statues of King Damar Alay Yuhabirr and his son thara inspired me to reminisce about my college studies in the Roman Empire.  Sure enough, the bronze statues of the Yemeni father and son royalty embodied a since of pride.

Once I am finished gazing upon the statue of the ancient rulers of Yemen, my feet some how make their way up the carved rock steps that ascend from the fist floor, and curve around the middle aged brick walls. My feet don`t stop until they reach a wide wooden castle like door. This door is affixed with a medieval iron handle, and when you lift it up and drop it down, it knocks upon the door. Lucky for me the museum guide is present. She pulls out a key ring, and fingers through the large iron keys that are each about the size of a grown man`s hand. Eventually, she finds the key for the wooden door that I am standing in front of. She inserts the key, and when she turns it, I hear the sound of a large metal lock opening. When she opens the 4 foot high wooden door the door appears to be about 4 inches thick. It is obvious that this door is archaic in nature, and it resembled a castle door that you would see in a movie about middle aged Europe. I duck by head down, and I enter into the open doorway.  The room has a ceiling high enough for the tallest basketball player to feel comfortable standing in.  Once we enter the room, we look to our left see stone tablets dating to the time of pre-Islam. 

Pre-Islamic Section:

When you stroll into the pre-Islamic section, directly to your left is an assortment of various carved rocks encased in a glass table for preservation and protection. These carved rocks are actually pre historic tools; such as a, a fine granite axe, and a chisel made of bronze.  Furthermore, an assortment of lithic tools, pottery, and loomed weights " is a few of the artifacts that were extracted from an actual grave.  Accompanying these tribal artifacts is a grinding stone, bronze spatula, a bell bracelet, a bead bracelet, and a necklace.  According to the historical explanation, these items originated from the Neolithic culture of Yemen, which was located in a region between Sana`a and Marib and Dahmir.  The people living in the Neolithic culture between the regions mentioned above survived in the desert and mountainous land of Yemen by hunting animals.  I love the concept that these people were tribal by nature, and that they were hunters. In a way, the people of ancient Yemen, and the Native Americans are similar. It is enjoyable to find similarities between cultures, even if it is an ancient culture. In this civilization, they had weights, pottery, and tools made from the elements of nature. The ancient tribal Yemeni was just like the Native American in the fact that they took what they needed from nature without harming the environment. Yes the ancient tribal Yemeni is similar to the Native American in the fact that they were a tribal culture and hunters. But in some parts of Yemen, there were agricultural tribes dedicated to cultivating the lush and fertile land, and extracting fruits and vegetables from it.   Apparently, prior to Islam, there was a Sabaen culture comprised of a small population of agricultural settlements in small southern Arabian villages.  In this region, the excavators found grinding stones, decorated pottery, silo storage pits, bronze and flint.  Most likely, the silo storage pits were used to store grain, barley, rice, and wheat that was grown and then uprooted for the people of the land. Also the silo storage pits probably were used for long term storage of the above material during times of famine.  This culture lived from 111-11 millennium B.C.  In addition to this display, if you look directly to your left, a detailed model of the Ather Thu Rasm Fam temple sits propped up on a showcase table. Also, within the pre Islamic section, artifacts from the Kingdom of Hadhramaut are displayed.
Kingdom of Hadhramaut
Presently, Hadhramaut is a province in the Republic of Yemen, and it is frequented by numerous expatriates and Yemeni citizens alike.  It is famous for its delicious and expensive honey, and presently it is a popular tourist attraction in Yemen.  But, prior to the unification of Yemen, prior to the many different rulers that followed, Hadhramaut was a kingdom that represented itself.  Within the National Museum, visitors learn about the rich culture of Yemen through its artifacts.  Speaking of artifacts, a collection of granite stone and statues of various human heads sit on wooden pedestals for museum guest to admire.


The stone heads are in a wooden display case with a translucent glass like wall placed in front of it.  Also, the Kingdom of Sheba hall has a limestone sacrificial table used by the people of the Sheba period to offer animal sacrifices to the god Al Maqah.  The front of the limestone table is adorned with twin like limestone statues of two bull heads with a drainage channels carved in the middle of each head.  These channels were used to drain the blood of the sacrificial animal.

The Sheba Makrab used to have both the spiritual and earthly powers of the priesthood and kingdom " " because they were considered decedents of gods. The king is but the first born child of the gods, " reads the historical plaque. It is interesting to know that Yemen`s history is similar to some westernized history in the fact that people here in Yemen also believed in multiple gods.  This is a primary indication that polytheism has been around since the beginning of time, and during different times in history polytheism had its roots firmly planted in the minds of the people.  When I realize this fact, I am aware that the Quran is correct when Allah talks about the wide spread ignorance of the people.  In the past, many people did not know who to worship, and it was not until the Quran came that this ignorance was confronted with truth about Allah.  With that in mind, I can understand why it was important to maintain the holy books of Allah.  Daood bin Benia was famous for this.

Gallery President of the Republic
When I walk into the Gallery President of the Republic, there is a  large Hebrew scripted book incased in a protective iron table, covered by a translucent glass firmly affixed to the iron legs of the table.  This book was copied in 1485 by the writer and great artist Daood bin Benia, an offspring of the family of writers that had gained an international fame.  Both male and female members of this family were in the occupation of copying the holy books, " according to the explanatory plaque adjacent to the book. As you can probably tell, this pre-Islamic section is pretty huge, and to fully grasp the entirety of Yemen history you must walk through every show room.  Next, came the  Kingdom of Main. 
Kingdom on Ma`in 
In this particular section we have many figurines of bulls, cats, cows, camels, and horses made of limestone and marble.  Directly to the right are two stone tablets affixed to the brick wall of the room.  The first limestone tablet is divided into scenes of a camel and a rider. Two lines of Musnad script are on the upper side of the marble. " The informative plaque pertaining to the Kingdom of Ma`in tells us that the people of this period were known for their elaborate construction of various irrigation systems.  Apparently, the Ma`in people would construct various irrigation systems to transport potable water from the mountainous areas and remote areas to different villages and other populated areas of the kingdom.  This civilization came into being between early 600 to 200 B.C. "  The capital city was named Qarnao, and apparently high brick walls encased the city for protection against invasions and hostile tribal wars.  Outside of the metropolitan area of the capital Qarnao, the grand temple Rasfum was constructed. The kingdom was ruled by various dynasties.  The reign of the leaders was marked by the implementation of distinctive religions and it was understood that the ruler was the provider of the people.  Furthermore, the economic backbone of the country comprised of the export of southern products to foreign markets, " according to the explanatory plaque accompanying this section.  Apparently, the Kingdom of Ma`in was managed by distinctive levels of governmental rule ranging from the prominent position of king, to the mayoral position of various tribal chieftains. Depending upon the governmental position one held, they would managed over the daily task of taxation, the implementation of public policy, and issues of warfare.   Praises due to Allah, my guide and I are now finished viewing this section, and now I want to walk upstairs to the Islamic Section. 
Islamic Section

As I stand in front of the entrance way to the Islamic section, the museum guide inserts her iron key into the thick wooded door.  She slowly pulls the unlocked castle like door to unveil three large stone tablets scripted with the holy Quran immaculately displayed on a beautiful maroon wooden case for tourist to admire.   Also, A cote of male armor, which fighters used for protection, stands propped up on a manikin.  The dome shaped helmet is beautifully engraved with the phrase Commander of the faithful. "  Directly to the right, an assortment of muskets placed in a decorative circular style with the two hand guns painted with colorful circular shapes in the center are affixed to the showcase wall.  Many of the muskets are adorned with small orange, yellow, or even silver, bronze, or gold circular plates.  Furthermore, A collection of Arab guns decorated in silver and brass, " originates from 18th to 19th century A.D. sits in a case for viewers to see. Across from the gun case is an immaculate display of iron cast swords, and long wooden spears capped with a bronze and silver blade.  This is the last of the museum exhibits, so now it is time for me to leave.

My tired museum guide and I slowly walk down the stone tablet stairs, and eventually we make it past the bronze statues of the father and son ruler.  I say, "Peace to you, and the mercy of Allah," to my museum guide.  I leave the museum guide behind, and once again I am on the streets of Sanaa.  But this time, I am more cultured and my knowledge about Yemen has a greater depth to it.