From Yemen to Eritrea and back: A twentieth century family history

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At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, a large number of Yemeni men migrated to the Horn of Africa, and in particular to Ethiopia and present-day Eritrea. After the downfall of the Yemeni Imamate in the 1960s, and in particular after Mengistu came to power in Ethiopia in the 1970s, many Yemenis returned to Yemen with their African wives and children of mixed descent. Although the social status of Yemenis in Ethiopia was relatively high, their social status and the status of their wives and children in Yemen was much lower. In this article, I describe and analyze the family history of a Yemeni woman of Ethiopian-Yemeni descent in the city of Al-Hudaydah, Yemen. The story of Noura's (grand)parents' migration and work trajectories and her own life story form an excellent case to study the intersection of people's lives with global developments, in general, and political and historical events, in particular. In addition, this case study shows the connection between macro- and micro-histories and gives insight into the relations between gender, migration, work, and social status. It also shows that an historical and intersectional approach is of utmost importance to understand current social and political dynamics. The article is based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Yemen, two in-depth interviews with Noura, and insider knowledge of her life over the past twenty years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-49
Number of pages24
JournalNortheast African Studies
Issue number1
Early online date1 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


  • migration, gender, family history, Yemen, Eritrea


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