Socotri Culture

Socotra is a remote island far from the mainland that only a decade ago has opened to the outside world. Therefore you are coming to a conservative society based on traditional Socotri and Islamic rules. Even though local people have been getting used to tourists coming from different cultures and you can wear your bikini on the beach, the locals are still not ready to see you in your beach outfit in the streets of their villages.

The population of the archipelago is estimated at 44,000 inhabitants. Apart from people with a long Socotri descent there are many immigrants of African origin and a continuous influx from the mainland. The population of the island still relies upon traditional sources of livelihoods such as livestock, fishing, date palm plantations and primitive home gardens. Most of Socotris are semi-nomadic pastoralists. Agriculture is unknown and therefore local food consists mainly of fish, meat, milk and dates, supplemented by imported rice and flour.

The capital of Hadibo differs from the rest of the island. A considerable number of people are employed in governmental jobs, many people temporarily come to Hadibo for work or to study. However outside the capital, villagers suffer from lack of safe water, health care, education.  A majority of the population of Socotra Archipelago are considered to live below the absolute poverty line.

Socotri traditions

Original Socotri culture includes traditional conservation techniques, natural medicine, fishing methods and orientation at the sea, and first of all original Socotri language. It is an ancient unwritten language of pre-Islamic origin related to Mahri spoken in the Mahra region of Southern Arabia. Traditional art of Socotri poetry has been still maintained and a competition in reciting own Socotri poems is held every year.

Nowadays, Arabic is the official language taught at schools and most people are bilingual in coastal areas. But in rural areas, especially among old people, Socotri is still the only language to describe the world.

 

Socotra Heritage Fund has been working towards preserving original Socotri traditions. You can visit their office in Hadibo. In Raqleh village, a Folklore museum has a collection of traditional household and fishing equipments together with old wedding dresses and photographs of the last sultan of Socotra whose son has been working as a protection areas specialist nowadays.

Find your way to local people 

There are some basics you should know before coming to Socotra in order to make your contact with local people easy and enjoyable.

Socotra is a Muslim society, so do respect their habits and cover up your body. Swimming suit or walking without a T-shirt is not proper apart from the beach. Shorts have become acceptable recently but don’t go for anything shorter than knee length. If you feel too warm try local futa – a strip of fabric that Socotri men wrap around their waist. It’s airy and traditional. Women are recommended to wear baggy trousers and blouses covering their buttocks. Short sleeved T-shirt is also acceptable but not tops. Choose clothes that hide your body curves. A headscarf will be more than appreciated by locals. Showing them respect will open you the door to Socotri hospitality.

When invited into a Socotri house always remove your shoes. Greet everyone by shaking hands and do not omit anyone. Some people however prefer not to be touched, especially local men when meeting a female foreigner. Simply wait if they stretch their hand to you or not. On departing, greeting with everyone is required again.

Do not worry to accept drinks and food when invited by local people. Even sour milk, halub, won’t do you any harm if you are not prone to digestion disorder. Paying contribution after the meal is highly recommended. Keep in mind that Socotri villagers live below the poverty line and they are hospitable more than they can afford.

There is hospitality you can pay back. When driving with empty seats in your car stop for locals hitchhiking. Apart from a not frequent bus line, getting a lift is often the only way for them how to get to their destination.

Don’t take pictures without asking permission. Especially photographing women might turn out into a disturbing situation however even many local men refuse taking pictures.

Muslims pray five times a day and your local guide will obey this rule. Since it is important to wash properly before praying, he will sometimes stop by sources of water well before prayer times. Be patient and don’t be angry for the delay which won’t take longer than 15 minutes.

When selecting a campsite or a place for a rest, do not stay at a spot beside a local source of water. Your presence is likely to make the women and girls whose job it is to fetch water feel nervous. Do not wash clothes or yourselves unless you are invited to do so. Remember that any body of water is likely to be the main source of drinking water for neighboring villages. Local villages do not have water systems and water needs to be fetched every day.

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