Oceanic Yemen Syllabus

The “Yemen” perhaps most familiar to us is one situated at the foot of the Arabian Peninsula and within the confines of Middle East Studies. It is a Territorial Yemen that orients its histories northwards towards the broader “Arab” and Islamic world. But what if we were to reorient Yemen southward towards the Indian Ocean? What histories might an “Oceanic Yemen” reveal that a Territorial Middle Eastern Yemen obstructs? When Yemen shares its world with East Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia instead of the Gulf and Levant, what individuals become newly included in the category of the “Yemeni”? The Oceanic Yemen Syllabus presents tools to help us grapple with these questions.

An Oceanic Yemen does not deny the significance of the more familiar Territorial Yemen. Instead, an Oceanic Yemen is one of the multitudes of Yemens that The Global Yemen Project (TGYP) makes legible. In both Middle East Studies and Indian Ocean Studies literature, histories of particular Yemenis are presented while others are marginalized. However, this syllabus aims to show how we can come to understand the complex and rich social lives of Yemenis when we traverse the boundaries of area studies. What we come to find is that Hadhrami merchants, African Zar priestesses, Adeni port workers, rural women of the highlands, Jabarti street performers, Mokha coffee traders, and marginalized public servants become legible as important historical actors. In this way, an Oceanic Yemen demystifies and de-exceptionalize both Yemenis and Islam to instead reveal an everchanging and fluid Yemen.

The collection of work included below begins to do this work. TGYP will continue to update this syllabus with monographs, articles, novels, and movies that educators and students alike can use to begin unraveling Yemen’s global histories.




Alatas, Ismail Fajrie. What Is Religious Authority?: Cultivating Islamic Communities in Indonesia. Princeton University Press, 2021.

Bezabeh, Samson A. Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States: Yemenis in Djibouti and Ethiopia. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Boxberger, Linda. On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean, 1880s-1930s. SUNY Press, 2002.

Casale, Giancarlo. The Ottoman Age of Exploration. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Freitag, Ulrike, and William G. Clarence-Smith, eds. Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s to 1960s. Vol. 57. Brill, 1992.

Green, Nile. Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Hathaway, Jane. A Tale of Two Factions: Myth, Memory, and Identity in Ottoman Egypt and Yemen. Albany (NY): State University of New York Press, 2003.

Ho, Engseng. The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility Across the Indian Ocean. University of California Press, 2006.

Laffan, Michael Francis. Under Empire: Muslim Lives and Loyalties Across the Indian Ocean World, 1775–1945. Columbia University Press, 2022.

Low, Michael Christopher. Imperial Mecca: Ottoman Arabia and the Indian Ocean Hajj. Columbia University Press, 2020.

Mathew, Johan. Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism Across the Arabian Sea. University of California Press, 2016.

Prange, Sebastian R. Monsoon Islam: Trade and Faith on the Medieval Malabar Coast. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Reese, Scott S. Imperial Muslims: Islam, Community and Authority in the Indian Ocean, 1839-1937. Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

Tagliacozzo, Eric. In Asian Waters: Oceanic Worlds from Yemen to Yokohama. Princeton University Press, 2022.

Um, Nancy. Shipped but Not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Protocols of Trade during Yemen’s Age of Coffee. University of Hawaii Press, 2017.

Um, Nancy. The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port. University of Washington Press, 2011.

Willis, John M. Unmaking North and South: Cartographies of the Yemeni Past, 1857–1934. New York University, 2007.

Yahaya, Nurfadzilah. Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia. Cornell University Press, 2020.


Beckerleg, Susan. 2009. “From Ocean to Lakes: Cultural Transformations of Yemenis in Kenya and Uganda.” African & Asian Studies 8 (3): 288–308.

Green, Nile. “Rethinking the “Middle East” After the Oceanic Turn.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34, no. 3 (2014): 556-564.

Hathaway, Jane. “The Ottomans and the Yemeni Coffee Trade.” Oriente moderno 25, no. 1 (2006): 161-171.

Limbert, Mandana E. “Caste, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Arabness in Southern Arabia.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34, no. 3 (2014): 590-598.

Low, Michael Christopher. “Introduction: The Indian Ocean and Other Middle Easts.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34, no. 3 (2014): 549-555.

Vianello, Alessandra. (2012) “One hundred years in Brava: The migration of the ʿUmar Bā ʿUmar from Hadhramaut to East Africa and Back, c. 1890–1990.” Journal of Eastern African Studies, 6:4, 655-671.

Walker, Iain. (2008) “Hadramis, Shimalis and Muwalladin: Negotiating Cosmopolitan Identities Between the Swahili Coast and Southern Yemen.” Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2:1, 44-59.

Willis, John M. “Making Yemen Indian: Rewriting the Boundaries of imperial Arabia.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 41, no. 1 (2009): 23-38.



Abdul Wali, Muhammad. They Die Strangers. University of Texas Press. 2001.

Al-Muqri, Ali. Ta’m aswad, ra’iha sauda. (Black Taste, Black Odor). Dar El-Saqi, Beirut. 2008.


Abdul Wali, Muhammad. “The Ghoul.”

Abdul Wali, Muhammad. “The Chinese Road.”

Abdul Wali, Muhammad. “The Land, Salma.”

Abdul Wali, Muhammad. “On the Road to Asmara.”

Abdul Wali, Muhammad. “Abu Rupee.”


Though not all the films below deal with questions of migration and oceanic imaginaries, they all present a window to the “other” Yemens that exist beyond the headlines and that The Global Yemen Project aims to make legible. As such, these films can serve as powerful pedagogical tools. They are all directed by Yemeni filmmakers and many are filmed in Yemen. They raise questions of diaspora, memory, loss, and hope. The descriptions included are those provided by the filmmakers.

“Immigrant at Home.” Director: Sufian Abulohom (2020)

Affected by past family trauma, the daughter of Arab Immigrants struggles to find independence as an entertainer and maintain her culture at home.

“Ozazah.” Director: Ala’a Hafed (2020)

In this dreamy and aesthetic documentary, we meet an old woman named Aziza – nicknamed Ozazah – who lives in the rural mountain area called Jabal Sabr, one of the most important landmarks in the city of Taiz. Ozazah takes us on a tour of her village, and her daily life. She talks to us candidly about the life of a Sabrian woman in the old days, and compares this to the community’s growing interest in educating young women beyond local forms of knowledge production.

“When are you coming back?” Director: Abdurahman Al-Ward (2018)

Yemeni teenager Mohammed traveled to the USA in the 90s, and began working in a bodega store in New York. He encountered a few issues over the course of a few years, which landed him a criminal record. After marrying an American woman who gave him two sons, he was deported back to Yemen, where he has been estranged from his children for the past 10 years.

“Fareed” Director: Mohammed Al-Raqeeb (2018)

Fareed is a passionate Yemeni singer, who has made a living from playing his Oud. However, the onset of war stunted his career and increasing health problems prevented him from singing. The film tells the story of an artist and a lifelong relationship to his Oud, and he still plays music for Mohammed, his son, to sing and carry on the legacy of local music.

“Lama” Director: Salman Aleyan (2020)

After her parents were killed in the war, 10 year old Lama was forced to move to the local refugee camp. We watch her meeting and learning the oral histories of those confined in the camp. Lama makes a pledge: she resolves to try and bring humour and joy into their lives. This is a large undertaking, and she faces some challenges along the way: will she succeed?

“In The Middle.” Director: Mariam Al-Dhubhani (2019)

Forced to pick up arms against his will, Ali is stuck in between his crushed dreams and the harsh reality in the city of Aden.

“The Way Home.” (2018)

Two Yemeni refugee camp children go on a naive journey to find their way home.

“Just Another Memory.” Director: Mariam Al-Dhubhani (2018)

Amidst an ongoing war, you feel unsafe and are weighed down by the ever-present mental and emotional baggage, that holds your life back. Al-Dhubhani asks: How do you move forward and heal? How do you deal with so much suppressed pain? In this profoundly affecting documentary, we investigate these questions and explore what it feels like to be suddenly uprooted and displaced by war.