By: Almigdad Mojalli
SANA’A- June 17- Tribal leaders or sheiks are very powerful in Yemen, and represent the engine of the Yemen society that can develop or disrupt the social, political, economic and cultural situation in Yemen.
The source of tribal leaders’ power is their tribes themselves; as a norm, when the tribal leader passed away or killed, tribesmen gather during the funeral and select the most sophisticated, cunning, and aware about tribal norms and customs. However, tribes nowadays have started abandoning this norm, and they directly appoint the oldest son of the sheikh to rule the tribe eve n if he is still underage.
“In the past, if the sheikh is killed or passed away, all the villages’ heads and as many as possible of the tribesmen gather on the tomb of the Sheikh during the funeral and selected the most sophisticated, cunning, and aware about tribal norms and customs person in the tribe regardless of either this person is a relative of not to the passed-away or killed sheikh,” said a0 tribesman Mohsen Naji Muthanna, adding, “..but now situation has changed and people started appointing the son of the sheikh even if he is still underage and unable to lead the tribe.”
However, if the newly appointed sheikh is still young and has no experience enough to lead the tribe, people around him help him or rule the tribe with him.
Similarly, though it is very rare to happen, tribesmen can sack the sheikh in case of violating tribal norms or neglect about defending tribes’ dignity . “If we do not commit to tribal norms or committed serous fault, they can sack us but they never do that because each party knows his limits and jurisdictions, so everyone respects his duties and obligations,” explained Sheikh Mohsen Al-Nini.
The power of tribal sheikhs differentiate from one tribe to another due to many factors like the population volume of the tribe, the geographical features of the tribe, the awareness and educational level of tribesmen, their tribes’ nearness from cities, the level of sticking tribesmen to norms.
The most and key factor contributing in the power of the sheikh and the tribe in general is the level of sticking to tribal norms and customs as, as according to the tribal norms, the more tribesmen are stuck to tribal norms, the more powerful the sheikh will be. “If people are stuck to tribal norms this means that they obey and respect the sheikh, therefore, they will be ready at any time to fight and die for him and for the tribe regardless of the personality, tribe or entity they will face,” emphasized a head of tribal head of a village Ahmed Yahya,
However, the power of the sheikh with their tribe differentiate from one tribe to another.
In some tribes in the middle and the far north of the country, the sheikh has a very strong power on his tribe and acts as a king for the tribe with jails and supervising the marriage of boys and girls, dealing with lands …etc. “The sheikh in Ibb, Al-Baida’a and Hashid is like a king… no one can marry his daughter, sell or buy a land, or solve a problem without the sheikh knowing,” noted Jamal Al-Ga’ashani of Al-Ga’ashin tribe, Ibb governorate adding, “… the sheikh usually has a prison and he is the judge at the same time without an official court, so he can imprison anyone for whatever he wants and release anyone only when he wants.”
Tribesmen in these areas usually respect and obey the decisions taken by the sheikh as these decisions are taken basically with consulting the tribes men and heads of villages. “We never have jails and never send people to prisons because they are our brothers….only those who do not respect their tribes men have jails ,” stated sheikh Mohsin Al-Nini.
On the contrary, the power of sheikh on his tribe in the tribe of the north and east particularly around Sana’a, Marib, and Shabwah is based on mutual respect; the sheikh does not have a jail and people are free to do whatever they want without any necessity to resort to him unless they are facing a problem or he summon them for an issue concerned the tribe.
The geographical features of the tribe are considered the second most important factors contributing to the standing and power of the sheikh and the tribe. The sheikh of a mountainous tribe is more powerful than that of a tribe in plains or valleys as it is difficult to attack the mountainous tribes with the traditional weapons even for the state. “Bani Dabian of Khawlan tribe, which is famous for kidnapping foreigners, is considered one of the strongest in Yemen as it is difficult reach them, consequently, their sheikhs are very powerful and even the state submit to their demands particularly when they use foreigners as a tool to extort the state,” noted Nasser Al-Sailan, a village head of Khawlan.
The sheikhs of Tehamah and some other places as they realize that their tribes are located in plain lands that others can reach and attack them easily and their tribesmen are not stuck to tribal norms and customs anymore due to the widespread of education and civilization. “They are not tribes anymore because they forgot about the tribal norms and the sheikh there is a sheikh on his tribe; he does not have any influence on any party or people outside his tribe..” stated sheikh Ahmed Hizam of Bani Hushaish tribe.
The population volume of the tribe is another factor influencing the power of both the sheikh and the tribe itself, as all the weight and position among the other tribes particularly the surrounding ones is measured by the population volume of this tribe, therefore if the population number is huge, all other tribe will never dare to go into conflict with it and the vice versa.
“The number of the tribe’s population is important but to be honest , not always unless many other factors are available like sticking to tribal norms, mountainous geographic features ..etc… in this case, population will be an important factor,” stated tribesman Ahmed Saleh Al-Matari.
The spread of education and the nearness to the cities contributed widely in dropping many tribal norms and, consequently led to the weakness of sheikhs’ power, “ in the tribes close to urban areas, many people prefer to resort the governmental authorities to solve their problems and are employed with either with the state, study at schools and universities, self-employed, or private sector, therefore, they have no time for tribal meetings, wars and issues and these weaken sheikhs’ power.
2012-08-09 12:27:22 UTC