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Little has been written on the social superstitions spread in our Yemeni society. Many of those beliefs have been inherited through generations and are still alive among us. Here we describe the main Yemeni superstitions.
The Ram (Al-Hamal)
Al-Hamal is a superstitious animal which is also called the graveyards' monster. It is believed that it exhumes buried bodies in the first week of burial. Al-Hamal is interested only in those whose horoscope is the ram. During the first week of burial in which the ram is believed to appear, relatives of the dead keep on the watch.
Beliefs in this superstitious creature is spread in Tihama and its surroundings. Al-Bodda is a witch that can change her appearance into many different shapes. Recently, it has been said that a great number of them were burnt when people's awareness about the spread of immorality increased. It is more interesting to know that young people who are not able to afford marrying expensive, beautiful brides go to Boddas requesting them to change themselves into their beloved ones and make love with them on sand.
It is a lion-like beast with a smooth body. Its speed is compared to that of a bullet. That is why nobody has so far been able to capture or kill it. Al-Hawban Tahesh in Taiz has been most famous through Yemeni history and on which many stories have been told and written.
Quest for Treasures
In many villages, especially the remote ones, people believe in the existence of buried treasures. Stories of such treasures are told by old people. People leave homes for mountains in quest of treasures believed to had been left by their grandfathers in stores dug in the earth. Some people succeed to find such stores but all they find is invaluable items or coal. The failure to find treasures is always attributed to the fact that they did not slaughter sheep before searching the store.
Sayad is a devil in the shape of a woman that often exists in inhabited areas. She is amazingly beautiful but with donkey legs! As soon as one discovers the reality about her legs she vanishes.
Al-Odroot is a devil that is believed to inhabit houses. It is a noisy creature that tends to move house wares tools or hide them for some time but return them to their places when house members have lost hope of finding them. They sometimes make strange sounds as well.
Do You Want to Send a Letter to Your Dead Relatives?
Some people claim that their souls visit the dead in their graves when they are asleep. In their tours, souls gather information and messages to be delivered to those alive. When those people wake up, the first thing they do is to deliver the messages of the dead to the intended targets.
The Al-wali is a faithful Muslim man who made good deeds and virtuous all his life. People seeking recovery, penance, etc. visit their graves to be blessed. When one has a problem he vows to slaughter a sheep or a cow for the Al-Wali, if his problem is solved. But if he doesn't meet his vows, the Al-Walis spirit comes to him at night threatening. In their pursuit of recovery, blessing, etc. visitors may eat soil covering the graves, light candles, etc.
It is a sour Arabian herb with a disgusting smell. It is used to rub the skin of patients of epilepsy because it is believed to drive the bad spirits outside the sick body.
Charms are small pieces of papers bearing meaningless words and signs with some verses from the Holy Quran. Those pieces are tied on patients and hands of children.
Eggs Are Sometimes Cheap to Break
Before the bridegroom steps out of her father's house, eggs are broken in front of her to protect her from devils and evil spirits. The same is done when a baby is taken outside the house for the first time.
Burning the Aloe
When women give birth to babies they burn the aloe in their rooms from sunset until they sleep. This goes on for almost a month so that the new born babies would grow up safely away from the evil influence of devils.
If astrologers tell parents that the name they have chosen for their baby does not agree with its horoscopes they change it. Sometimes it is the astrologer who chooses the new name.
Anointing Children's Tongues with Oil
Some parents anoint their children's tongues with oil or honey when they are 2 years or older in order to be eloquent.
Many people pretend to be palmists. They claim that they can foretell the future of people through the lines on palms.
The Tar (Qatran)
This black substance is used to anoint peoples foreheads so as to be protected from evil. Before the Yemeni revolution in North Yemen, when the Imam wanted to test the mentality of his people he would claim that his jinns had run away and that people who did not cover their foreheads with tar would be harmed by jinns.
Swimming for Recovery
A swimming pool located inside the Ahmad ben Alwan Mosque is said to cure a lot of diseases.
Sell Your Fever and Malaria to Ants!
It is said that there were people who believed that they could sell their fever and malaria to ants. When these people cathch fever or malaria, they used to go to ant nests. There they tie themselves with a thread and say: We sell you the fever, ants.
Some patients are cauterized in different parts of their bodies to be healed spiritually and physically.
Have You Ever Tried Your Urine?
Some people believe that urine therapy is helpful for people who have experienced fearful shocks.
A Knife And Some Salt Will Do!
The purpose of putting a knife with some salt under the patients' pillow while asleep is thought to drive away devils which may cause delirium.
You Want Your Bride To Obey You?!
Step on her foot before she is in.
The bridegroom must in some villages put his right foot on his bride's foot so that he will be obeyed by his wife.
What Doctors Cannot Do Donkeys Can
Undesirable pimples can vanish when hair from a donkey's tail is tied on them.
Throwing hot substances and other materials in bathrooms and deserted places is believed to be harmful. Doers may be paralyzed or become mad if they hit the invisible creatures. If a jinn is hit a court session will be held soon inside the doer's mind until they decide to forgive. During the period of holding those sessions the host is mad.
Your Car May Need A Pair Of Shoes!
Putting shoes or sandals on properties is believed to protect them from the evil eye.
Astrologers May Prevent Your Marriage
Men intending to marry go to astrologers to see whether their wives would be suitable for them. They also ask about the most suitable day for marriage.
If You Love Your Bride Don't Let her out in the first 8 days.
If the bride appears to people during the first 8 days she might be in danger of the evil eye, Satan, etc.
Don't Kill A Snake Unless You Have His Permission
Snakes may be harmful even after they are killed. So don't kill them unless they refuse to quit even after your polite request. It is believed that some snakes are jinns which can harm you
Cough and Choke
A sudden choke or cough is sometimes caused by malicious gossip about you. To recover bend part of your clothes or plant a stick in the earth.
Have You Ever Got A Premonition That Something Bad Will Happen?
If your eye twitches watch out for a near danger. If your foot itches, expect a guest. And if your palm itches, expect a good thing to happen to you.
¥ Signs of disasters of woes
It occasionally happens that dogs turn their eyes to the sky and keep barking for a long time. It's believed then that some great disaster will soon happen in that area.
¥ Take care of monstrous ladies
If a monstrous lady steps over someone, it is believed that he won't grow up anymore. Some say pimples appear on his skin.
¥ No need for ultra-sounds
If a pregnant lady wants to know whether the baby she is carrying would be a baby boy or girl, simply she can get a dead snake and throw it up in the air. When it falls and lies on the ground, she can then distinguish. If the snake lies on its back, this means she will have a baby girl and vice versa.
¥ Counting stars can cause troubles
It's believed in some areas in Yemen that counting the stars can be harmful. Thus, whoever counts stars, will have pimples all over his skin particularly on the hands and face.
¥ Never sweep floors at sunset
Some believe that if any one sweeps floors at sunset he/she will be in danger. It's believed that one of their relatives will soon die.
¥ Visitors, no more
It has been known to lots of people that throwing salt in the air soon after your guest had left your house can be effective. He won't be back at your door anymore.
¥ Avoid having ugly children
pregnant ladies are advised not to gaze at ugly children. Otherwise, they will have ugly ones like them. The opposite however is not true.
¥ Make your beloved return back sooner
This spread a lot when Yemeni people used to migrate to Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries. When they get too late, their families used to get nostalgia. Thus, they used to burn hair and aloe to make them feel homesick and patently eager to come back.
¥ Don't get sterile
In some villages children are not allowed to bath in cold water. It's believed that their sexual organs will be ineffective and accordingly they may get sterile.
¥ Never have shower at sunset
Having shower at sunset can be harmful. It's believed some evil spirits will hurt the body i.e he/she may get paralysis or go insane.
¥ Garlic can fight evil eyes
Slices of garlic are placed over the wrist of the arm to defend children from evil spirits and eyes.
¥ Don't catch your death
Some people believe that if they dream during sleep that someone gets married, this means or can be interpreted to be death for them. And if they dream that someone dies, this means he may resume to live long.
¥ Keep your things out of the reach of pregnant ladies
Pregnant ladies can destroy yogurt and make injuries to worsen. If they look repeatedly at them.
¥ Never kill this?!
A reptile looks like a lizard, yet, the former is too small. It keeps nodding its head. If someone kills it, it's believed they may die or fall ill.
¥ Lest you go crazy!
Looking frequently at the mirror for a long time can make little children go crazy. This is also true in talking to the shadow of the body.
In any country we have things like this. Those in Yemen have begun to decrease and I'm sure they will soon die out. Depending upon no references nor books I've got hold of these. I've undertaken this strenuous effort to project the Yemeni socio-cultural heritage.
BY/MOHAMMAD NOAMAN AL-HAKIMI