Yemeni Ethnicity

Yemen slavery
Figure 1.--These are Yemenis of African origins. The photograph was taken in Aden, probably during the 1930s. Africans form the Al-Akhdam minority group which are subject to discriminatory treatment. Slavery was not officially abolished in Yemen until 1963. Photographer: M. Howard.

Despite the country's location close to Africa, Yemenis are primarily of Arab origins. The Suni/Shi'a religious division is somewhat ethnically driven. The social structure of Yemerni Arabs Arab consists of four classes of people: the Sayyid, or wealthy (who trace their decent to the grandson of Muhammad), the Qatani, (tribesmen), the Shafi'ite townsmen (merchants, artisans, and craftsmen), and the Akhdam (slaves). Despite prejudices toward Africans by Arab Yemenis, academic studies have found that Yemenite Arabs have 35 percent Black African genes in their mtDNA (maternal line)), while some other Middkle Eastern people have less. The most obvious explanation is that Yemen is very close geographically to Sub-Saharan Africa and is not separated by the Saharan barrier. Middle Eastern countries far away from the Arabian peninsula, have as little as 10 percent African blood in their mtDNA. One possibility is that the African gene was merely diluted by the introduction of non-Arab (and non-African) genes to the pool when Arabs began to conquer other Middle East people with the Islamic outburst (7th century AD). The "real" Arabs -- those who have Arab ancestors stretching beyond the last 1,400 years are actually 35 percent black in their mtDNA. These Arabs like Yemebis are from the Arabian peninsula. [University of Chicago Study] Another study found evidence of similar levels of African likneages in Yemeni populations. [Richards et. al.] There used to be a substantial Jewish minority with a destinctive culture. There were reprtedly about 50,000 Jews in Yemen in the early-20th cedntury. They dominated important industries such as silversmiths. Most Yemeni Jews after the establishment of Israel emigrated to the new nation. Operation Magic Carpet was particularly important (1949-50). Only a few hundred Jews remain in Yemen. Africans are looked on a separate hereditary caste, a cultural matter without foundation in the Koran. Aden was an important slave market in the Arab African slave trade that lasted more than a milenium. Slavery was not officially abolished in Yemnen until Saudi Arabia abolished slavery (1962-63). Africans in Yemen form the Al-Akhdam minority group which are subject to discriminatory treatment. It is uncklear at this time just when African DNA was introduced into Arab populations. The gene flow probably occurred within the past 2,500 years. [Richards et. al.] It is, however, unclear to what extent it occurred during the Islamic period when the slave trade was a factor. The fact that the the gene flow was female-mediated, does suggest that the slave trade was a factor.

Social Structure

The Suni/Shi'a religious division is somewhat ethnically driven. The social structure of Yemerni Arabs Arab consists of four classes of people: the Sayyid, or wealthy (who trace their decent to the grandson of Muhammad), the Qatani, (tribesmen), the Shafi'ite townsmen (merchants, artisans, and craftsmen), and the Akhdam (slaves).

Ethnic Groups

The two major ethnic components in Yemen are Arab and African. Therevis evidence of both Arab and African populations exchange across the narrow waters separationg the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa (Bab el Mandeb). Yemeni Arabs have a higher African ethnic compoment than most other Arab countries. There are also largely Africn Yemenis. Jews are a third ethnic group, but much smaller. Since the Islamic era, they were a traitionally repressed group and virtually all have had to leave Yemen when represion escalated as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict (1948-50).

Arab

Despite the country's location close to Africa, Yemenis are primarily of Arab origins. Despite prejudices toward Africans by Arab Yemenis, academic studies have found that Yemenite Arabs have something like 35 percent Black African genes in their mtDNA (maternal line)), while some other Middkle Eastern people have less. The most obvious explanation is that Yemen is very close geographically to Sub-Saharan Africa and is not separated by the Saharan barrier. Middle Eastern countries far away from the Arabian peninsula, have as little as 10 percent African blood in their mtDNA. One possibility is that the African gene was merely diluted by the introduction of non-Arab (and non-African) genes to the pool when Arabs began to conquer other Middle East people with the Islamic outburst (7th century AD). The "real" Arabs -- those who have Arab ancestors stretching beyond the last 1,400 years are actually 35 percent black in their mtDNA. These Arabs like Yemebis are from the Arabian peninsula. [University of Chicago Study] Another study found evidence of similar levels of African likneages in Yemeni populations. [Richards et. al.]

Africans

Africans are looked on a separate hereditary caste, a cultural matter without foundation in the Koran. In addition to making a substantial contribution to the Arab gene pool in Yemen, there are also Yemenis with primarily African origins. Aden was an important slave market in the Arab African slave trade that lasted more than a milenium. Slavery was not officially abolished in Yemnen until Saudi Arabia abolished slavery (1962-63). Africans in Yemen form the Al-Akhdam minority group which are subject to discriminatory treatment. It is uncklear at this time just when African DNA was introduced into Arab populations. The gene flow probably occurred within the past 2,500 years. [Richards et. al.] It is, however, unclear to what extent it occurred during the Islamic period when the slave trade was a factor. The fact that the the gene flow was female-mediated, does suggest that the slave trade was a factor. The African component presumably predates modern times. In modern times, the primary factor was the Indian Ocean slave trade. This was not the only source of African slaves for Arab lands, but in Yemen it would hve been the primry source.

Jewish

There used to be a substantial Jewish minority with a destinctive culture. The origins of the Jewish community is not known, but there are legends. They include both the migration of Jews from the Levant and the pre-Islamic conversion of local peoples. There is some archeological evidence for an important Jewish presence in modern Yemen. DNA studies show some interesting insights. First of all there are great similarities between Jews and Arabs to begin with a relatively recent separation. There are, however, some genetic differences. One DNA reseracher writing about Jewish genetics in general, tells us, "Despite their long-term residence in different countries and their isolation from one another, most Jewish populations were not significantly different from one another at the genetic level. The results support the hypothesis that the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East are descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and they suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora." [Hammer] DNA studies suggest that the vast Majority of Middle Eastern Jewish communities descend from the earliest Assyrian (late-8th Century BC) and Babylonian (6th Century BC) Jews and their foreign exile. Their mtDNA pools virtually lack sub-Saharan L and North and East African-specific M1 and U6 mtDNA variants. Thhere are genetic conections with both Levant and Ethiopian Jews. The genetic traces are primarily through the paternal line. [Thomas et al., 2002] Gentic reserch so far suggests that the Yemeni Jews were primarily a migratory group with no evidence of the massive conversion of local peoples. [Non, et. al.] There were reprtedly about 50,000 Jews in Yemen in the early-20th cedntury. They dominated important industries such as silversmiths. Most Yemeni Jews after the establishment of Israel emigrated to the new nation. Operation Magic Carpet was particularly important (1949-50). Only a few hundred Jews remain in Yemen.

Sources

Hammer, M.F. Proc. Nat'l Academy of Science (June 9, 2000).

Non, Amy L., Ali Al-Meeri, Ryan L. Raaum, Luisa F. Sanchez, and Connie J. Mulligan. " Mitochondrial DNA Reveals Distinct Evolutionary Histories for Jewish Populations in Yemen and Ethiopia," American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2010).

Richards, Martin "Extensive female-mediated gene flow from Sub-Saharan Africa into Near Eastern Arab populations," American Journal of Human Genetics (April 2003) Vol. 72 No. 4, pp. 10581064.

Thomas et al. (2002).

University of Chicago study. We do not yet have the specific citation.








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Created: 2:51 AM 6/15/2009
Last updated: 1:19 PM 1/6/2018