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Akhdam children Taizz.jpg
Akhdam children in a Ta'izz neighborhood.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Sana'a, Aden, Ta'izz, Lahij, Abyan, Al Hudaydah, Al Mukalla

Al-Akhdam, Akhdam or Achdam (singular Khadem, meaning "servant" in Arabic; also called Al-Muhamasheen, "the marginalized ones") is a social group in Yemen, distinguished from the majority by its members' Negrito-like physical features and stature.[1] They are considered to be at the very bottom of the societal ladder and are mostly confined to menial jobs in the country's major cities.[2]

The Arabic Muslims do not intermarry with Akhdam Muslims in Yemen, shunning them as untouchables.[3] The social stratification and historical exclusion of Al Akhdams has been referred to as a caste system in Yemen.[4][3]


Akhdam man or Khadem in Ta'izz

The exact origins of Al-Akhdam are uncertain. One popular account holds that they are descendants of Nilotic Sudanese people who accompanied the Abyssinian army during the latter's occupation of Yemen in the pre-Islamic period. Once the Abyssinian troops were finally expelled at the start of the Muslim era, some of the Sudanese migrants are said to have remained behind, giving birth to the Akhdam. Another theory maintains that they are of Veddoid origin.[1]

Social stratification[edit]

Anthropologists such as Vombruck suggest that Yemen's history and social hierarchy that developed under various regimes, including the Zaydi Imamate, created a caste-like society.[5]

Though their social conditions have improved somewhat in modern times, Al-Akhdam are still stereotyped by mainstream Yemeni society; they have been called lowly, dirty, immoral and untouchables.[4][6] They form a kind of hereditary caste at the very bottom of Yemeni social strata.[6][7][8]

The Akhdam people have historically lacked occupational mobility and suffered social exclusion.[9][10] They do the sanitation jobs, and live in the slums of Yemen.[11] A 2014 Khaleej Times article reports a popular saying in Yemen, "Clean your plate if it is touched by a dog, but break it if it’s touched by a Khadem".[11]

Many NGOs and charitable organizations from other countries such as CARE International are working toward improving the living circumstances of the Akhdam.[12] Huda Sief reports a lack of official response to the social discrimination and exclusion of Al Akhdams by Yemeni government officials, as well as lack of any action by the United Nations and other international organizations in Yemen.[13]


Most Al-Akhdam live in segregated slums on the outskirts of Yemen's main urban centers.[2] Many of them reside in the capital San‘a’. Others can also be found in Aden, Ta'izz, Lahij, Abyan, Al Hudaydah and Al Mukalla.


According to official estimates, the Akhdam numbered around 500,000 individuals in 2004.[2] Other estimates put their number at over 3.5 million residents in 2013, out of a total Yemeni population of around 22 million.[14]


Besides their social position, the Akhdam are distinguished from the general Yemeni population by their distinctly Veddoid or Negrito-like physical appearance. They are considerably shorter in height than the average-statured Yemeni. They also possess facial features, hair texture and skin color characteristic of Negrito populations in general.[1]


Genetic studies by Lehmann (1954) and Tobias (1974) noted the sickle cell trait at high frequencies amongst the Akhdam.[1][15] According to Lehmann, this suggests a biological link with the Veddoids of South Asia, who also have a high incidence of the trait.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lehmann, Hermann (1954). "Distribution of the sickle cell trait". Eugenics Review 46 (2): 113–116. PMC 2973326. PMID 21260667. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Robert F. Worth, "Languishing at the Bottom of Yemen’s Ladder", New York Times, (February 27 2008)
  3. ^ a b Lehmann, Hermann (1954). "Distribution of the sickle cell trait". Eugenics Review 46 (2): 113. PMC 2973326. PMID 21260667. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Marguerite Abadjian (April 22, 2004). "In Yemen, lowest of the low". The Baltimore Sun. 
  5. ^ GABRIELE VOMBRUCK (June 1996). "Being worthy of protection. The dialectics of gender attributes in Yemen". Social Anthropology 4 (2): 145–162. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8676.1996.tb00322.x. 
  6. ^ a b "Caste In Yemen". Baltimore Sun. April 25, 2004. 
  7. ^ Worth, Robert (December 7, 2008). "In slums without hope, Yemen's untouchables". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ IRIN
  9. ^ Najwa Adra (2006), Social Exclusion Analysis – Yemen DFID and World Bank
  10. ^ Victor Dike, The Osu Caste Discrimination in Igboland, ISBN 978-0595459216, Chapter 4, Quote - "In Yemen, the black skinned - lowest of low castes - are held at the bottom of social ladder. They are almost always kept at an arms length and any chance of social integration is next to impossible."
  11. ^ a b Akhdam: A look into lives of Yemen’s untouchables Khaleej Times (22 January 2014)
  12. ^ Yemen Times
  13. ^ Huda Seif (2005), The Accursed Minority: The Ethno-Cultural Persecution of Al-Akhdam in the Republic of Yemen, Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Art. 9
  14. ^ Yemen’s Al-Akhdam face brutal oppression
  15. ^ Tobias, P.V. (1 June 1974). "An Anthropologist Looks at Malaria". S.A. Medical Journal. pp. 1124–1127. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 

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