Adapting to wealth : social change in a Yemeni highland community.
The thesis is based on field-work in 1981-1983 in a
small, peripheral and once isolated, town in the western
mountains of the Yemen Arab Republic. A population of
nominally tribal sedentary cultivators is structurally divided
into three endogamous groups. The effects of monetarisation,
male labour migration to Saudi Arabia, the emergence of a
modern republican state, the collapse of cereal production and
growth in cultivation of
a popular Yemeni stimulant, are
examined. New criteria by which townsmen assess each other are
contrasted with existing ascriptive diacritics of status. The
opening of the community and a burgeoning entrepreneurial
ethos associated with a laisser-faire frontier economy have
blurred what are still regarded as immutable boundaries.
Extreme situational manoeuvrability allows expedient and
contradictory performances in different arenas of power as the
male population seeks to adopt a romanticised lifestyle
associated with the Yemeni tribesman. The ebullient optimism
spawned by an unexpected advent of prosperity takes little
regard of the cosmetic nature of development in rural Yemen.
New notions of individualism have led 'to an increase in the
proportion of nuclear households, weakening of the web of kin
solidarity and an erosion of communal spirit which has given
the community a reputation as being demoralised and divided.
The study complements a growing body of ethnographic
literature on south-western Arabia, most of which is concerned
with larger or more centrally located Yemeni communities. I
believe it contributes to anthropological understanding of
stratification and economic and social change in the
contemporary Middle East and sheds more light on the, as vet
little studied q effects of the mass movement of male labour
from the resource--poor to the oil-rich Arab states.