Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation [NOOK Book]


A report like no other from the heart of the Arab Middle East

In 1979, Steven C. Caton went to a remote area of Yemen to do fieldwork on the famous oral poetry of its tribes. The recent hostage crisis in Iran made life perilous for a young American in the Middle East; worse, he was soon embroiled in a dangerous local conflict. Yemen Chronicle is Caton's touchingly candid ...
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Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation

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A report like no other from the heart of the Arab Middle East

In 1979, Steven C. Caton went to a remote area of Yemen to do fieldwork on the famous oral poetry of its tribes. The recent hostage crisis in Iran made life perilous for a young American in the Middle East; worse, he was soon embroiled in a dangerous local conflict. Yemen Chronicle is Caton's touchingly candid acount of the extraordinary events that ensued.

One day a neighboring sheikh came angrily to the sanctuary village where Caton lived, claiming that a man there had abducted his daughter and another girl. This was cause for war, and even though the culprit was captured and mediation efforts launched, tribal hostilities simmered for months. A man who was helping to resolve the dispute befriended Caton, showing him how the poems recited by the belligerents were connected to larger Arab conflicts and giving him refuge when the sanctuary was attacked. Then, unexpectedly, Caton himself was arrested and jailed for being an American spy.

It was 2001 before Caton could return toYemen to untangle the story of why he had been imprisoned and what had happened to the missing girls. Placing his contradictory experiences in their full context, Yemen Chronicle is not only an invaluable assessment of classical ethnographic procedures but also a profound meditation on the political, cultural, and sexual components of modern Arab culture.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466807730
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/3/2006
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 859,785
  • File size: 590 KB

Meet the Author

Steven C. Caton, a professor of anthropology at Harvard University and director of its Center for Middle Eastern Studies, is the author of Lawrence of Arabia: A Film's Anthropology. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2012

    Good Story of Personal Experience

    Steven Caton’s “Yemen Chronicles” is a personal and artistically crafted ethnography set in the remote area of Yemen. This diary-like book covers both the pleasures and difficulties of being a young American ethnographer in the Middle East. With the goal of studying the region’s famous oral poetry, Caton went to Yemen to do fieldwork; however, he discovered that the tribes were much more intricate. “Yemen Chronicles” explores the cultural, political, and sexual aspects of modern Arab culture, while still maintaining a unique and individual approach to this type of anthropology. Steven Caton first travelled to the Yemen Arab Republic in November of 1979, spending nearly three years of his youth conducting his fieldwork. Caton later returned to the region twelve years later and then again soon after the September Eleventh Attacks on the United States in order to “find closure” and to finish “Yemen Chronicles”. Presently, Caton is the director of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, where he is an anthropology professor. The rural village of Khawlan, otherwise known as the “sanctuary” was the place where Caton began his fieldwork. “Called in Yemeni Arabic a hijra, or sanctuary, it was a settlement where the surrounding tribes of this eastern region of Yemen, known as Khawlan al-Tiyal, could pray in the mosque and trade in the souk without fear of being attacked by enemies.” (5) However, despite his seemingly tranquil location Caton still encountered conflict. Shortly after arriving, two girls from his sanctuary were abducted by a neighboring tribesman. Luckily, for Caton, in Yemen, such conflict is mediated through poetry. The author turned this unfortunate situation into an involved case study on the way poetry is used in battle. “The poem is filled with allusions to “hypocrites” and “infiltrators,” meaning that certain negotiators who claimed to be working solely for a good resolution to the dispute were actually pursuing their own political and financial gain with the help of outside powers. There is a premonition of bloodshed.” (173)Battle poems serve as forewarnings of attacks to come, they are meant to scare their readers. The conflict between the tribes grew with the exchange of poems. As the war between neighbors intensified, Caton found himself becoming even more involved within his community; attending local weddings, meetings, and even qat chews. Qat is a slightly narcotic plant that is chewed; partakers masticate the plant while discussing politics and reciting poetry. Caton finds himself caught in the middle of the conflict which causes him to occasionally lose sight of his objectives. Although he attempts to configure a balanced combination of both diary entries and field notes in “Yemen Chronicles,” the goal is lost due to lack of any true organization of thoughts. Thus, making parts of this book difficult to review because the arrangement at times makes it seems more like a novel than an ethnography. A later portion of the book is dedicated to the story of Caton’s arrest and short-term imprisonment, when he was taught to be a spy. “[The U.S. consul] told me that the embassy had been notified of my arrest by the Yemeni government just a few hours after it had happened. It had been a “routine investigation”… in response to complaints about me in Khawlan…” (249) This account is the most fluid of the ethnography because it is not as frequently interrupted by narrative. The lack of “interruptions” makes

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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