Akhdam children in a Ta'izz neighborhood.
|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' Veddoid-like physical features and stature. They are considered to be at the very bottom of the societal ladder, are socially segregated, and are mostly confined to menial jobs in the country's major cities. According to official estimates, the Akhdam numbered between 500,000 to 3,500,000 individuals.
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.
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. The Al-Akhdam formed a kind of hereditary caste at the very bottom of Yemeni social strata. Intermarriage was also traditionally not practiced, as the Al-Akhdam were deemed untouchables. 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 and immoral. They also tend to work menial jobs.
Studies by Al-Serouri et al. report lower education among the Al-Akhdam. Additionally, due to a poorer understanding of HIV risks, group members also have higher reported rates and risks of contracting HIV infections.
Many NGOs and charitable organizations from other countries such as CARE International are reportedly working toward improving the living circumstances of the Akhdam. However, Huda Sief disputes the extent of these efforts.
Most Al-Akhdam live in segregated slums on the outskirts of Yemen's main urban centers. Many of them reside in the capital Sana'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. Other estimates put their number at over 3.5 million residents in 2013, out of a total Yemeni population of around 22 million.
Genetic studies by Lehmann (1954) and Tobias (1974) noted the sickle cell trait at high frequencies amongst the Akhdam. According to Lehmann, this suggests a biological link with the Veddoids of South Asia, who also have a high incidence of the trait.
- Lehmann, Hermann (1954). "Distribution of the sickle cell trait". Eugenics Review 46 (2): 113–116. PMC 2973326. PMID 21260667. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
- Robert F. Worth, "Languishing at the Bottom of Yemen’s Ladder", New York Times, (February 27 2008)
- 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.
- "Caste In Yemen". Baltimore Sun. April 25, 2004.
- Marguerite Abadjian (April 22, 2004). "In Yemen, lowest of the low". The Baltimore Sun.
- Al-Serouri A. W., Anaam M., Al-Iryani B., Al Deram A. & Ramaroson, S. (2010), AIDS awareness and attitudes among Yemeni young people living in high-risk areas, Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, 16(3): 242-250
- Yemen Times
- 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, (pages 10, 29)
- Yemen’s Al-Akhdam face brutal oppression
- Tobias, P.V. (1 June 1974). "An Anthropologist Looks at Malaria". S.A. Medical Journal. pp. 1124–1127. Retrieved 5 August 2012.