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Hadhramis: Cultural and Ethic

Hadhramis: Cultural and Ethic

The Hadhramis community an Islamic community that traces its origin from Hadramawt (Freitag). They were subdivided into families, migrated and dominated the Indian Ocean region. Their main economic activities before the migration were farming and trade of the farm products (Aishobaily). When they wandered towards the Indian Ocean, they specialized in trading an activity which saw them generate a lot of wealth (Freitag). Whenever they settled in the migration process, the Hadhramis left one mark or another that marked their history to date (Aishobaily). The Hadhramis are Arabs and have strong background knowledge of the Islamic faith. Their faith has been their primary source of unity since their early civilization. As a community, they are staunch supporters of Islamic culture (Freitag). The Hadhramis has influenced not only their offspring’s but also taught other communities in the world about the Islamic religion.

Hadramawt is the place where the Hadhramis are believed to have originated. It has its legendary but is considered mysterious. Hadramawt is a small village that is surrounded by valleys (Freitag). This made the habitat inhospitable due to the severe desert environment and hostile communities. The Hadramawt is located deep in Southern Arabia, where it is believed to be a land of civilization. For this reason, the Hadhramis were skilled in farming and trade. As a result, they were able to settle in the cities where skilled labor was required (Walker). The Hadhramis are skilled to the extent that, they were able to build mud skyscrapers and old markets where the camel caravan docked the transport goods and slaves from their surrounding communities. The people of the Hadhramis maintained their culture, and this saw them prosper even in overseas countries (diaspora). They have maintained their culture for centuries, unlike the Saba community who bordered them as their family.

The Hadhramis has been involved in many cases of migrations, especially in the 19th and 20th century (Aishobaily). By mid-1930s the Hadhramis were estimated to have migrated over 110,000 people abroad, which is almost equivalent to a third of the population (Freitag). “New opportunities opening up overseas encouraged the Hadhramis to venture out from their homeland around the Indian Ocean.” (Calvin, Ulrike Freitag and Clarence-Smith 3). Their migration was as a result of their sea trade, escape from hard living conditions and to spread the Islamic Faith. For this reason, we find many Hadhramis scattered in different countries in Asia, especially along the South and Southeast Asia (Ibrahim and Ibrahim). During the 19th and the 20th emigration most of the Hadhramis who migrated settled in India, Malaysia, Singapore, and in the Dutch Indies which later became Indonesia (Talib). A few moved and settled in western countries such as Cardiff in South Wales, Gulf, and Saudi Arabia. Some Hadhramis have also settled in East Africa especially Tanzania and Zanzibar where they have settled for more than 2000 years (Freitag). These Hadhramis have a solid connection to their homeland, Hadhramawt, where they are seen to send their children for further studies and marrying. This has been captured as it has been described “The Hadhramis have enjoyed relatively open access to their homeland compared to other migrants. Indeed many were wealthy enough to sustain intense and intimate relations with their land of origin” (Calvin, Ulrike Freitag and Clarence-Smith 4).

Wadi Hadhramawt were the first half to have migrated in the 19th century due to poverty. They once had a flourishing agricultural economy, but due to war, they migrated in search of security and better living conditions. The majority moved to India while a small group moved to Aden and the Red Sea towards the East African coast. The migration along the Indian Ocean was further influenced by the opening of the Suez Canal in the year 1869 (Manger). In whichever directions the migrants turned to, they could find their compatriots heading major activities, and this gave them chances to easier jobs mainly at the port. The compatriots would host them and later organize them for further journeys towards the south or help them find employment in that area.

Many Hadhramis saw migration as a means of social and economic advancements (Potter). This was because of the strong background that had really equipped them with skills. While some of the Bedouin were gathering ideas on how they would raise enough money to go and stock their large flocks back home (Manger), other brilliant minds were figuring how they would set international businesses that would see most of their people employed and others move to other countries in such more wealth (Walker). Wherever they settled, they intermarriage with the local communities and taught them their Islamic faith, this led to the rise of communities such as the Muwalladin (Manger). Though not all Hadhramis were successful, some were rebellious and thus remained dislocated and disoriented people. The economic and political conditions are what determined how the migrants faired. In some regions, the migrant was forced to move even further to the Indian Ocean while those who had accumulated enough wealth went back home.

From the migration activity, some settled as foreigners for a good while others went back home. Those who remained behind were in pursuit of more wealth and education (Manger). This saw them, tour the whole region beside the Indian Ocean in search of more resources. An example of those families that remained behind is the Sayyid Abu Muhammad Bin Shihab (who went to study along Shafii mufti of Mecca), Ahmed b. Zayni a- Dahlan and many others.

The Hadhramis moved to the diaspora in families and settled in different regions. It is difficult to tell which family moved where since it has not been adequately captured by the history authors. In the diaspora, they were required to embrace one another and help each other economically until one could support himself. An example of those who moved to the diaspora is Muhammad ‘T’ who was born in the Hadhrami tribe inhabiting the al- Hawta. He had many wives and children whom he moved with. Later he was joined by his son Salim whose mother was diverse. Salim became his father’s favorite, and after his death, he moved to Kalimantan where he used to trade with the Dayaks. Salim was able to establish himself in the Jakarta, and he mainly traded Muslim clothes. He became prominent, and therefore his commercial activities went as far as Vietnam. Salim had so much stock which he sold after World War I at a very high price, therefore, making him gain a lot of wealth (Walker). He later became the richest person in Singapore by surpassing the wealthy Al- Kaff family who also came from the Hadramawt.

Hadramawt is considered a cosmopolitan place. This is because there are many trade routes that passed across it. These routes brought the Phoenicians, the Hajez and the Yemeni to the land. There were many ports along its coast and ships from all corners of the Indian Ocean harbored there. They mostly harbored on the port of Mukalla and the Shihr on the Gulf of Aden.

The modern Hadramawt is the 5th governorate of the Republic of Yemen. It retains its cosmopolitan characters in that oil and fishing industries attract laborers mainly from Yemen and East Africa. Some Somalis have also escaped their country to go and seek refuge there. It has an inland about 200 kilometers from the coasts called the valley of Wadi Hadramawt (where Osama Bin Laden’s family is believed to have originated) where many foreigners influence is discreet.


Aishobaily, Abdulrahman. Migration from Arabia Peninsula. Arab News, 19th February 2014. Accessed 14 April 2019.

Ibrahim, Ahmed Abashouk and Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim. The Hadhrami Diaspora in Southeast Asia: Identify Maintenance or Assimilation? Koninklijke Brill, 2009.

Talib, Ameen Ali. Hadhramis in Singapore., November 1995. Accessed 14 April 2019.

Walker, Iain. The Hadhramis of the Indian Ocean: A diaspora and its network. Copas Ox, 2011.–diaspora-and-it-networks/. Accessed 14 April 2019.

Potter, Lawrence G. Sectarian Politics in the Persian Gulf. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Manger, Leif. The Hadhrami Diaspora Community- Building on the Indian Ocean Rim. Berghahn Books, 2010.

Allen, Calvin, Ulrike Freitag, and William Clarence-Smith. Hadhrami Traders, Scholars, and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, the 1950S- 1960S, Int J Afr Hist Stud, vol 59, no 3, 1997.

Freitag, Ulrire. Hadhrami migration in the 19th and 20th centuries. British Yemeni Society’s Journal, 1999. Accessed 14 April 2019.

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