The name Socotra derives from a Sanskrit name, meaning “The Island of Bliss”; these Islands are known as the most alien place on earth. The island is situated in the Indian Ocean between Somalia and Yemen, two countries torn by war, and it is filled with the most beautifully illogical nature on earth. Infact, a third of the plant species found in Socotra are nowhere else in the planet.
Although the climate is hot and dry, so much life thrives here. The landscape looks like it was taken out of one of Salvador Dali’s paintings, with surreal forms, beautiful and bright colours and never seen before nature. It is like the universe put those plants there to play with our imagination. Even the names of these plants and trees have a surreal mythological sense to them; such as the Dragon’s Blood Tree, only found in the island’s plateaus. This plant was christened the dragon’s blood tree by traders who believed that its crimson sap was actual dragon’s blood with medicinal properties. Another amazing plant is the Socotran Fig, which does not need soil to grow.
A group of Belgian speleologists came to Socotra in 2001 for an expedition called the Socotra Karst Project. During their visit, they made an incredible discovery in one of the caves of the island. Deep inside the cave they found a large number of inscriptions drawings and archeological objects left by sailors who visited the island between 1st century and 6th century AD. Most of the texts are written in the Indian Brāhmī script, but there are also inscriptions in South-Arabian, Ethiopian, Greek, Palmyrene and Bactrian scripts and languages. With this discovery they found one of the main sources for the investigation of the Indian Ocean trade networks in the first centuries of our era.
There are 50,000 inhabitants in Socotra, and they all live in the main island of the archipelago. Most of the inhabitants are indigenous of the Soqotri people from the Al-Mahan tribe, but there are also some black africans who are believed to be descendants of runaway slaves. The economy of the people of Socotra relies mainly on the cultivation of dates, and fishing.
Due to the strict regulations and the political turmoil in Yemen, Socotra is not often visited by tourists, and its beauty remains untouched and unseen by many, which probably adds to its mysterious character. The pictures of this beautiful island speak more than any words can.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this column on Yemen’s cultural heritage and have come to appreciate as much as we have all that Yemen has to offer.