The Socotran of Yeman
The inhabitants of Socotra differ from mainland Arabs, and are believed to be a mixture of Greek, Portuguese, African, and Arab. Their language is a version of the ancient Himyarite language, which was spoken in pre-Islamic Arabia for many centuries.
Socotra was long ruled by the Mahra sultans of southeastern Yemen. Their rule was interrupted by Portuguese occupation between 1507 and 1511. In 1834, the British tried, but failed, to purchase the island. However, in the 1880's, the sultan accepted British protection for the sultanate. The sultanate finally came to an end in 1967, when Socotra became part of Yemen.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Socotra is a windswept island of temperate climate. The Hajhir mountains occupy the interior of the island, with a narrow coastal plain in the north and a broader plain in the south. Socotra has only one small airstrip to which there are no scheduled flights. The island is inaccessible to ships during the monsoon season.
The Socotran engage in fishing, pearl diving, and small scale farming. In the interior, nomads keep cattle and other animals and try to raise some crops. The island's principal exports include ghee (a type of butter), fish, and frankincense. The capital (and largest town) is Hadiboh, which is located on the northern coast.
The island has long fascinated scientists because of its high numbers of rare plant species. The plants of the region are related to those of the northeast African highlands and the plains region of Somalia. Altogether, 216 species are unique to Socotra, of which 85 are considered to be threatened. Many of the plants have economic or medicinal value, but little has been done to exploit this opportunity.
There is evidence that Christianity was introduced to the people of Socotra as early as 535 AD, when a Nestorian Bishop resided on the island. It is believed that the Christian church there was a result of the work of the Apostle Thomas.
The Socotran remained faithful to their beliefs as late as 1542, when St. Francis visited them on his way to India. Sadly, by 1680, Christianity was virtually extinct, due to both oppression by the Arabs and the neglect of the Nestorian patriarchs to support the mission on the island.What Are Their Beliefs?
Today, the Socotran are almost 100% Muslim. Approximately 50% belong to the Shi'ite Zaydis sect, which is quite fanatical and rigid in its form. Most of the Zaydis are warriors and perceive all wars to be a manifestation of Jihad (a Muslim "holy war" or crusade against infidels). They take their name from Zayd, who first established a state south of the Caspian Sea, and died in 864 AD. Zaydis reject all forms of Sufism (a mystic sect of Islam). The remaining Socotran are either Sunni Muslim (40%) or Ismailis (9.7%).
What Are Their Needs?
While there are portions of the Bible available in their native language, there is little hope that they will be distributed or used without some form of spiritual breakthrough. Prayer is key to opening the doors of the Gospel to these people.Prayer Points
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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