Region of the Arabian Peninsula bordered by the Rub al-Khali desert on the north and the Arabian Sea on the south.
The Hadramawt is a mountainous land traversed by a valley and a narrow coastal strip with a hot, arid climate. In 1986 there were 686,000 people living in an area of 62,150 square miles (155,376 sq km). Mukalla is the capital, and Shabwa, Hurayda, Shibam, Saywun, Tarim, Inat, and Kabr Hud are important towns.
Agriculture is largely confined to the upper valley, where there is alluvial soil and water from intermittent flooding; the lower valley that runs to the ocean on the east is largely uninhabited. Newly introduced irrigation and flood control methods are increasing agricultural production. Although dates have typically formed the main crop because of their hardiness, cotton has become an important commodity in recent times. Corn, wheat, and oats are the local grain crops, and tobacco is grown along the coast.
The inhabitants of the Hadramawt have sought their fortunes abroad for centuries. In the modern period, they have been economic middlemen in the European colonial domains spanning littoral East Africa, India, and Southeast Asia—so much so that the economy of the Hadramawt has been heavily dependent on foreign remittances. Indonesia had the most important Hadrami colony until World War II; now it is in the Hadramawt's oil-rich neighbors. The discovery of gold deposits in the 1980s was an important development.
The language of the Hadramawt is Arabic. Outside of literate circles, where modern standard or classical Arabic is the norm, a Hadrami dialect that is close to the former is in general usage. The languages and cultures of the Hadrami diaspora have influenced life in the Hadramawt. Besides its fame as a center for Islamic scholarship, the Hadramawt is noted for its social structure, in which descendants of the Prophet ( known as sayyids) have occupied a position of politico-religious and economic paramountcy.
Although the Ottoman government historically claimed the Hadramawt as part of its empire, it did not maintain garrisons or levy taxes in the area. The imam of Yemen exerted some authority, but it is the Kuwaiti and Kathiri ruling houses that have competed for political control over the area in its modern history. The Hadramawt was a British protectorate from the late nineteenth century until 1967, when it became independent under the leadership of the National Liberation Front. It was one of the six governorates of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen until 1991, when it became part of the Republic of Yemen.
See also rub al-khali.
Bujra, Abdalla S. The Politics of Stratification: A Study of Political Change in a South Arabian Town. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.