Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen

Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen (Stanford University Press, November 2018) is the first ethnographic study to examine the imbrication, implementation, and impact of conservation, development, and heritage projects in an Arab-majority state. It traces the intersections of these projects in Soqotra, the largest island of Yemen’s eponymous Soqotra Archipelago, which was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a natural World Heritage Site in 2008.

Drawing on extensive fieldwork in a pilot protected area shortly after the island’s opening to economic liberalization and environmental regulation, the book examines how concepts such as “the environment” and “heritage” were introduced to and taken up by a people on the geographical and cultural margins. It argues that, despite Soqotrans’ skepticism toward these conservationist interventions, many appropriated the language of heritage as a bulwark against external control.

Through a close examination of the diverse notions of heritage in contention in Soqotra and among its diasporic population in the Arab Gulf, the book details how everyday Soqotrans came to assemble, defend, and promote what they determined to be their cultural and linguistic heritage. Initially conservative, these efforts eventually dovetailed with and lent weight to Soqotrans’ calls for political and cultural revolution. Islands of Heritage posits that far from being merely a conservative endeavor, the protection of heritage can have profoundly transformative, even revolutionary, effects.

Islands of Heritage, book cover (Stanford University Press)

Gate of Tears: War, Famine, and Migration Across the Red Sea

Based on ethnographic research between 2016 and 2020, Gate of Tears explores a complex set of migratory movements and displacements in a geopolitically-sensitive region where refugees from Yemeni interact daily with Ethiopian migrants heading to Yemen. Focusing on the historic migration patterns between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa and the contemporary encounters between “refugees” racialized as Arab and “migrants” racialized as African in a Djiboutian port town, this book project interrogates the categorical distinctions made between refugees and migrants and theoretical distinctions made between states of abandonment and captivity

Albeit a small country, Djibouti is a critical site for anthropological research on refugee movements, encampment, and local integration due to its four-decade-long open-door policy toward refugees, its large number of diverse refugee populations relative to its citizenry, its historic role as a portal for migration between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and its current locus as a gateway for both Arab refugees fleeing Yemen and African migrants seeking passage through Yemen.

Moreover, these migratory movements cannot be disentangled from Djibouti’s strategic location as a maritime port linking the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean and as host to several foreign military bases.

Taking its name from Bab el-Mandeb—the Arabic name for the narrow strait that separates the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa—Gate of Tears brings vital refugee voices and historical experiences to bear on these recent developments in refugee and migration governance, thus contributing to current academic debates on humanitarianism, captivity (immobility), and social abandonment.