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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]


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]

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.[3]

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][5] They form a kind of hereditary caste at the very bottom of Yemeni social strata.[5][6][7]

Many NGOs and charitable organizations from other countries such as CARE International are working toward improving the living circumstances of the Akhdam.[8]


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.[9]


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][10] 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. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Marguerite Abadjian (April 22, 2004). "In Yemen, lowest of the low". The Baltimore Sun. 
  5. ^ a b "Caste In Yemen". Baltimore Sun. April 25, 2004. 
  6. ^ Worth, Robert (December 7, 2008). "In slums without hope, Yemen's untouchables". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ IRIN
  8. ^ Yemen Times
  9. ^ Yemen’s Al-Akhdam face brutal oppression
  10. ^ 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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