Artistic Handcraft - Souvenirs from South Yemen: Indian round shield, locally manufactured baskets with lids and Chinese smelling bottles

Origing and time: Yemen, Hadhramaut, before 1832 
Museum of Ethnology, Vienna
Collection: Karl Alexander Anselm von Hügel
Inv. No. VO_3487 & others

International seafaring of the late 13th and early 14th centuries in the Western Indian Ocean, the Arabs’ ‘Mare Nostrum’, was largely dominated by Southwest Indian ports like Calicut (today’s Kozhikode) and Quilon (today’s Kollam), by trading centres in the Northwest Indian Gulf of Cambay (today’s Khambhat) and the Strait of Hormuz, and the port of Aden. According to ancient chronicles, Aden was a meeting place for merchants from all over the world who were attracted by precious goods from China, such as musk, porcelain and spices of all kinds turned over there.

On 2 May 1831, Karl Alexander Anselm Baron von Hügel (1796–1870) started his six year round-the-world-trip in Toulon. The nine items he acquired on the markets of al-Mukha, Aden and al-Mukalla in 1832 – now part of the collection of the Museum of Ethnology – are probably the oldest explicitly documented ethnographical collectibles from South Arabia in a museum. Four baskets with lids representing coiled basketry are made from palm fibres and dyed with Dragon’s blood (a type of red resin) and belong to a group of six locally manufactured items. The Indian round shield made of rhinoceros skin, decorated with gold-coloured varnish and brass embossing, as well as the two smelling bottles of Chinese provenance clearly demonstrate the former importance of the above mentioned South Yemenite ports as international reloading points.