Being a real man in Yemen

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7

It is said that a Yemeni tribesman is a real man if he can work the earth, compose and sing poetry, and shoot a gun. Young and old carry weapons for both decoration and protection; a knife called a jambia (jahm-bee-ah) is part of

the traditional dress for men. Even small children may be seen carrying a rifle. “Once a child tried to shoot down the president’s

helicopter when he was flying overhead,” explains 20-year-old Hussein (hoo-sayn). Gun control laws were passed but did not have much effect in some places. To give up one’s gun would bring shame to one’s family and perhaps put them in danger.

All this is rooted in the culture of honor and revenge. “If someone kills a child’s father, retaliation is planted in his heart,” says Hussein. If a tribe refuses a man from another tribe permission to marry one of their daughters, for example, there may be a conflict. Disputes over land and sometimes much smaller matters can also lead to violence.

A man will lay down his life for the honor of his tribe; young men will follow their leaders into battle with no questions asked. Tribal conflicts may spring up quickly but last 10 or 20 years and take many lives. Sometimes, however, these conflicts can be stopped by wise mediators and financial settlements.

There are other ways to bring honor to one’s family and tribe besides violence: bringing sons into the family, demonstrating bravery, showing hospitality, and conforming to the expectations of society.


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