views updated


One of Yemen's two largest and most important tribal confederations.

The tribes of Yemen have traditionally been the basic unit of social, political, and military organization in the country. Until the reign of Imam Yahya (19181948), the vast majority of the tribes of Yemen belonged to one of four large confederations; the Bakil is one of the two largest and most important. Imam Yahya's campaign to subject the country, and more specifically the tribes, to his control, led him to undertake massive campaigns against their influence and power; in fact, his efforts succeeded in permanently eliminating all but two of the ancient confederations (the Hashid is the other one to survive).

Many writers have referred to the Hashid and Bakil confederations as the "two wings" of the Zaydi imamate; in the sense that many of the tribes that belong to these confederations are and were strongly committed to Zaydi Islam, the imams were recognizedto a greater or lesser degreeas the heads of the Zaydi community and could, therefore, count on a measure of support and loyalty. Not all the tribes, however, accepted the temporal and even legal role that the imams arrogated to themselves; consequently, many imams (Imam Yahya and Imam Ahmad in the twentieth century included) complained bitterly about the tribes' inordinate political power.

The member tribes of the Bakil Confederation are found primarily in the mountains of the west, northwest, and far north of the country; its leaders today are the Abu Luhum clan, of the Nihm tribe.

see also yahya ibn muhammad hamid al-din; zaydism.


Dresch, Paul. Tribes, Government, and History in Yemen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Manfred W. Wenner

Bakil Tribal Confederation

Updated About content Print Article Share Article