Yemen is the lead sponsor of this year’s Nour Festival. In an address at the opening night at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall on 20 October 2014, Ambassador Abdulla Ali Mohamed Al-Radhi said:
It is a pleasure and an honour to be sharing Yemen’s culture with you on the opening night for Nour 2014. Nour festival has been doing a wonderful job of celebrating the varied and multi-layered cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, over the past years.
Thank you for all your efforts to shed the light this year on Yemen and its fabulous culture and heritage which are the most appealing and mysterious ones among all other nations. I would also like to thank The Worshipful the Mayor, Councillor Maighread Condon-Simmonds, for her kind hospitality in inviting us to the Mayor’s parlour.
Tonight we begin a festival, which promises a wonderfully rich programme covering a wealth of cultural events commencing with Yemen. You have smelt our frankincense, heard a little of our music and encountered a small selection of the modern art being produced in Yemen today.
I would like to share a little more about Yemen with you tonight. There are two possible roots for the title Yemen. Yamin which means ‘On the right side’, being in southern Arabia Yemen faces the sunrise; or Yumn for felicity, as much of the country is highly fertile. The Romans called it ‘Arabia Felixa’ meaning Happy Arabia. We are blessed with fertile lands facing the sun with a smile.
Yemen has 1200 miles of coastline stretching from the Red Sea, through to the Gulf of Aden, rising gently into mountainous terrain, before reaching out further still to the calm of the desert sands. Sitting on the cross roads of so many cultures, trade played a key role in the country’s history. Since ancient times Yemen has exported spices and incense and from the Middle Ages Yemen has been renowned for its coffee to this day.
– Coffee lovers, the world over, have mocha served to them daily, a distinctive coffee named after a port in Yemen. We will be serving this coffee alongside a delicious drink made up of the coffee husks, which we normally only drink in our homes.
Early civilizations and Kingdoms rose up in this land, including that of the legendary Queen of Sheba, Belkiss, the first female ruler in history who ruled Yemen and took Sheba as the headquarter of her Kingdom. She could control her Kingdom by her justice, wisdom and genius.
Yemen is the country where we see some of the earliest dams in human history, it also has an ancient city building tradition, with ‘Manhattan of the dessert’ a name given to the old walled city of Shebam – one of the oldest examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. Shebam is one of four world heritage sites in Yemen, alongside ancient cities, such as the Old City of Sana’a and other sites, breath taking landscapes, a unique culture and 200 islands, Yemen is a country of interest for world travellers.
With such extensive coastlines and established trade routes, Yemen’s people have also been travelling to and settling in lands including the Asia subcontinent, North Africa and Andalusia, Canada and the United States of America.
And here, I must emphasis on the early arrival of Yemenis to the United Kingdom that may have been made in the later part of the Nineteenth Century. Accordingly; the Yemeni community may be considered to be one of the oldest Muslim communities in Britain. To this date it has been estimated that the number of Yemenis in the United Kingdom ranges between 70,000 and 80,000.
I must end with thanking again Nour Festival and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for their hard work, bringing so many unseen aspects of the cultures of Middle East and North Africa. May you long continue to shine a light, as the name Nour implies, on the MENA regional cultures.
Thank you all for coming and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.
[End of text, made available to The Middle East in Europe]
Editor’s Note: nour, noor or nur, Arabic meaning light, is common to many other Middle Eastern, Central and South Asian languages and is also a unisex name for individuals. An-Nur, meaning ‘the Light’, is the 24th sura of the Quran.