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The Hadhramaut, now part of Yemen, is the coastal region of the south Arabian peninsula on the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea, extending eastwards from Yemen to the Dhofar region of Oman. Historically, the name refers to the Hadhramaut sultanates, a collective term for the Q'uaiti and Kathiri sultanates, which were loosely under a British protectorate of South Arabia, guided by the British resident at Aden, until 1967. It consists of a narrow, arid coastal plain bounded by the steep escarpment of a broad plateau (averaging 4,500 ft/1,370 m), with a very sparse network of deeply sunk wadis (seasonal watercourses). The undefined northern edge of the Hadhramaut slopes down to the Rub al-Khali desert of the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia.

The Hadranis live in densely-built towns centered on traditional watering stations along the wadis. Hadranis harvest crops of wheat, millet, tend date and coconut groves, and grow some coffee. On the plateau Bedouins tend sheep and goats. Society is still highly tribal, with the old Seyyid aristocracy descended from Muhammad, traditionally educated and strict in their Islamic observance, highly respected in religious and secular affairs. Hadhramaut emigration on a large scale since the early 19th century has established large Hadrani minorities in Java and Sumatra.

Though Bible dictionaries derive 'Hadhramaut' from Hazarmaveth, a son of Joktan in Genesis 10:26-28, the name 'Hadhramaut' actually derives from Greek hydreumata or enclosed (and often fortified) 'watering stations' at wadis. A hydreuma is a manned and fortified watering hole or way station along a caravan route. Juris Zarins, rediscoverer of the city of Ubar, described that site in a 'Nova' interview:

'The site that we uncovered at Shisur was a kind of fortress/administration center set up to protect the water supply from raiding Bedouin tribes. Surrounding the site, as far as six miles away, were smaller villages, which served as small-scale encampments for the caravans. An interesting parallel to this are the fortified water holes in the Eastern Desert of Egypt from Roman times. There, they were called hydreumata.' The frankincense trees that supplied the 'Incense Road' grew to the east of the Hadhramaut, in the Dhofar.

Modern history of the Wadi Hadhramaut

The Qu'aiti sultans ruled most of the Hadramaut, under a loose British protectorate of South Arabia, from 1882 to 1967, when the Wadi Hadhramaut was annexed by Yemen.

The Qu'aiti dynasty was founded by 'Umar bin Awadh al-Qu’aiti, a Yafa’i tribesman from Southern Arabia, whose wealth and influence as hereditary Jemadar of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s armed forces enabled him to establish the Qu’aiti dynasty in the latter half of the 19th century, winning British recognition of his paramount status in the region, in 1882. The British Government and the traditional and scholarly sultan Ali bin Salah signed a treaty in 1937 appointing the British government as 'advisors.' in the Hadhramaut. The British exiled him to Aden in 1945, but the Protectorate lasted until 1967.

The capital and largest city of the Hadhramaut is the port al-Mukallah. The population of Yemen is crowding into its Hadramaut cities: al-Mukallah had a 1994 population of 122,400 and a 2003 population of 174,700, while the port city of ash-Shahir has grown from 48,600 to 69,400 in the same time.

External note