Doreen In­grams

was the first Euro­pean woman to live in the Hadhra­maut, an iso­lated, bone-dry re­gion of South­ern Ara­bia. A younger con­tem­po­rary of Freya Stark, she travelled ex­ten­sively through­out the Ye­men and was in­te­gral in bring­ing peace to the re­gion

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS - By El­iz­a­beth In­grams

Doreen In­grams (nee Shortt 1906-1997) was the first Euro­pean woman to live in the Hadhra­maut, a strangely cos­mopoli­tan but lit­tle­known re­gion of South­ern Ara­bia, out­side the con­fines of the Bri­tish Em­pire. Aban­don­ing her ca­reer as a stage ac­tress to marry then colo­nial of­fi­cer and later res­i­dent ad­vi­sor to Hadhra­maut, Harold In­grams, in 1930; she thus be­gan a life­long love af­fair with South­ern Ara­bia.

The land­scapes that greeted Doreen when she and Harold were to em­bark on their first ‘re­con­nais­sance’ jour­ney into the Hadhra­maut in 1934 must have been im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially after the rel­a­tive com­forts of colo­nial life, with its op­pres­sive rit­u­als, in the neigh­bour­ing Bri­tish colony of Aden.

Hadhramis living abroad in the di­as­pora had made their for­tunes in Java, In­done­sia, Hy­der­abad or even Zanz­ibar, since there was lit­tle money to be made in their home­land. Many of these em­i­grants dreamed of re­turn­ing to Hadhra­maut, where their re­mit­tances could be used to build seven-storey-high palaces, with de­fen­sive walls around the towns.

In the towns of Shihr, Shibam, Seiyun, and Tarim, earthen palaces, com­plete with gar­dens, wa­ter pools and the odd mo­tor car were set against a stark

land­scape of bar­ren rock, high cliff faces, and 1,000-foot-deep crevasses with date-palm groves.

But Doreen was not the only fe­male Euro­pean trav­eller in South­ern Ara­bia at that time - her peer, ar­chae­ol­o­gist and trav­eller Freya Stark (1893-1993) ded­i­cated her book Win­ter in Ara­bia to Doreen and Harold, whilst a [fe­male ge­ol­o­gist], Eli­nor Wight Gard­ner vis­ited the Hadhra­maut with Freya Stark and

Gertrude Ca­ton-Thomp­son in 1938, re­mark­ing, ‘ We found their name an open sesame to us wherever we went. We were asked did we know In­grams and even more...did we know Doreen...’

Doreen spent the first fif­teen years of her mar­riage sup­port­ing Harold’s posts, typ­ing up his re­ports, or­ga­niz­ing re­pairs to the new roads in his ab­sence, li­ais­ing with the an­tiq­ui­ties’ sur­veys car­ried out from Egypt and Su­dan, sup­ply­ing em­ploy­ees with medicines and help, trans­lat­ing let­ters (dur­ing the war all let­ters abroad were cen­sored).

This was no mean task, for in con­junc­tion with the lo­cal ‘ seiyids’ (de­scen­dants of the prophet) and tribal lead­ers, Harold pro­posed the man­u­mis­sion for slaves in 1937; the devel­op­ment of agri­cul­ture in the ‘flood plain’ ar­eas; in­tro­duc­tion of school (at least for the sons of the seiyids); the es­tab­lish­ment of gov­ern­ment links with the Hadrhami In­dian di­as­pora, and, per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly, the in­tro­duc­tion of a tribal peace be­tween 1400 Hadrhami tribes with the ap­proval of the Qu’aiti and Kathiri sul­tans in Hadhra­maut. This peace, which lasted about 12 years, was com­monly known as the ‘In­grams Peace’ (or in lo­cal pro­nun­ci­a­tion, ‘In­grains Peace’).

As Harold fre­quently needed to re­port back to his colo­nial su­pe­ri­ors in Aden, Doreen un­der­took peace mis­sions of her own to lo­cal tribes, in­clud­ing two sig­nif­i­cant jour­neys to Wadi Amd and Wadi Hajr in 1937-1939.

Doreen was a skilled com­mu­ni­ca­tor with her lo­cal bedou tribes­men who of­fered pro­tec­tion, although at one point the

cou­ple’s 1934 re­con­nais­sance mis­sion was threat­ened with am­bush. She also shone as a skilled mis­sion­ary for peace, gain­ing ac­cess in a way that few, if any, Euro­peans had, to the wom­en­folk of lo­cal tribes­men and to the wives of palace harems.

Her ap­proaches to lo­cal fam­i­lies are of far more last­ing sig­nif­i­cance than of­fi­cial Bri­tish gov­ern­ment pol­icy of ad­vanced warn­ing air-raids on tribes such as the Bin Ye­meni.

Doreen’s visit to Wadi Amd by camel in 1937 was to ob­tain the sup­port of the Ja’ada tribe for the ‘In­grams Peace’, Ja’adis be­ing known for their slav­ing con­nec­tions with South-east Asia. She started out at Hurei­dha, where Freya Stark was to dig the fol­low­ing year, under the pro­tec­tion of the Seiyid Alawi Al At­tas fam­ily. With her usual good sense, she be­friended the un­crowned ‘head’ of the Al At­tas house­hold, a re­tainer, Jemila, a hu­mor­ous 30-year-old woman, with whom she formed an al­liance, can­ter­ing up and down the wadi on camel back to visit the other seiyids. A can­ter on a camel, Doreen said, was like riding in a ‘Rolls Royce’.

Most tribeswomen were cu­ri­ous as to why she should care about their af­fairs - as a soft-skinned Chris­tian and, trav­el­ling alone, pre­sum­ably a mere ‘trav­el­ling wife’ of her ab­sent hus­band. But, pa­tient, Ara­bic-speak­ing Doreen al­ways ex­pressed her con­cern for the state of their under-ed­u­cated or mal­nour­ished chil­dren and of­fered ad­vice and help in ar­eas where she felt she could in­ter­vene; mak­ing her way into the hearts of the lo­cal ladies, the wives of the seiyids, the ‘sher­i­fas’.

One of these wives was to re­turn her kind­ness by spit­ting into a cup of cof­fee for her, a sur­pris­ing wish for good luck for Doreen’s own fertility. But Doreen’s rap­port with women was key to her suc­cess with the men; by the end of the trip she had won over the Ja’ada tribes­men too and the sign of her ac­cep­tance as peace­maker was to be in­vited to dis­cuss the killing of Mus­lim by Mus­lim, ‘man to man’, over a din­ner of mut­ton heart, which she was told, de­spite her dis­gust, she ‘must eat’.

Her next solo trip in Ye­men was by don­key from Mukalla (the In­grams’s home on the coast) to the Wadi Hajr. Once again, she needed to travel with bedou - although this time her bedou guides were un­armed and she at­trib­uted this new-found sense of se­cu­rity due to the In­grams Peace. She climbed up and down don­key tracks to 2,000 feet, shar­ing

Eli­nor Wight Gard­ner vis­ited the Hadhra­maut with Freya Stark and Gertrude Ca­tonThomp­son in 1938, re­mark­ing, ‘We found their name an open sesame to us wherever we went. We were asked did we know In­grams and even more...did we know Doreen...’

meals of shark, rice and cof­fee under the stars with her no­madic bedou guides, for whom a sin­gle thorn tree would do as ‘home’ through­out one’s life. She found the bedou were gifted seers – pre­dict­ing the ar­rival of aero­planes and guns to their coun­try; as well as the ‘emp­ty­ing’ of their own trade: mo­tor­cars and roads (which were among the colo­nial in­no­va­tions) were to ob­vi­ate the need for no­madic traders. But the pres­sures of Doreen’s colo­nial po­si­tion meant that many of her friend­ships with lo­cal peo­ple turned to ei­ther ques­tions of po­ten­tial agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment or the re­quest for help in var­i­ous dis­putes.

It was the re­quest to help in one such dis­pute, a key to the ‘In­grams Peace’, that led Harold to be pre­sented with the child of a slave woman who had been freed and was due to marry a new hus­band. Doreen and Harold there­fore adopted Zahra, a one-year-old. Zahra stayed with the fam­ily through­out their sub­se­quent trav­els, which in­cluded to Aden, to Cairo, to Bri­tain dur­ing the war, the Gold Coast (via a mo­tor­car ride across the Sahara) and thence on to a tra­di­tional Bri­tish ed­u­ca­tion which in­cluded train­ing as the only non-na­tive Wren of­fi­cer in her year. She went on to marry a Bri­tish Naval Cap­tain, and they both worked in Bahrain

As war started to threaten the East, Doreen was shipped to Cairo in 1940, to give birth to her daugh­ter Leila; but the fam­ily were to re­turn to Ye­men dur­ing the war, hit hard by famine, as re­mit­tances dried up while the Ja­panese oc­cu­pied South-East Asia.

Doreen and Harold pub­lished widely on the Hadhra­maut and their ser­vices were rec­og­nized by be­ing jointly awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety as well as the Lawrence of Ara­bia Medal of the Royal So­ci­ety for Asian Af­fairs. In ad­di­tion, Doreen re­ceived in 1993 the Sir Richard Bur­ton Medal of the Royal Asi­atic So­ci­ety.

After the un­wel­come break-up of her mar­riage, Doreen took up a ca­reer as Se­nior As­sis­tant with the BBC Ara­bic Ser­vice where she worked be­tween 1956 and 1967 and which brought her into close touch with other parts of the Mid­dle East, de­vel­op­ing her con­tacts with Pales­tini­ans pub­lish­ing Pales­tine Pa­pers 1917-22: Seeds of Con­flict (re­pub­lished by Eland in 2013). Dur­ing the last decade of her long and var­ied life, she un­der­took with her daugh­ter Leila the con­sid­er­able task of edit­ing and pub­lish­ing in 16 vol­umes Records of Ye­men 1798-1960 (1993).

Leila was wel­comed to Aden as a baby on the back of a mule along with

Zahra, and spent her early child­hood in the Ye­men (and Ethiopia). In later life she was an in­vet­er­ate vis­i­tor to the coun­try and or­gan­ised ex­hi­bi­tions through­out England, Ire­land and Wales, on the history and cul­ture of Ye­men. She worked for the Cen­tre for Arab Bri­tish Un­der­stand­ing (CAABU), con­tin­u­ing the work of her par­ents after their deaths.

Au­thor Adel Au­laqi said that he of­ten cor­re­sponded with her us­ing such names as ya sheikhah-ma­hariyah, ya sheikhah­hadhramiah although she pre­ferred Sheikhah to the more el­e­vated Ma­likah, Sul­tana or Amira, ‘all best suf­fixed with a well-loved an­i­mal, coun­try or place: Hadhra­maut, Mahra or Ethiopia.’ Leila was fiercely proud of her mother’s work along­side her fa­ther’s: if the Ye­meni women’s con­tri­bu­tion was edited out of her par­ents’ books in Ara­bic trans­la­tion, Leila would refuse trans­la­tion rights. Leila never left Hadhra­maut in her heart, and be­fore she died, she told me that she was really a bedou at heart, adding, that by shar­ing peo­ple’s trou­bles and joys, as her mother had done, the bar­ri­ers – of lan­guage, pol­i­tics and re­li­gion – soon came down.

Above: Farm­ers con­vers­ing in the street Right: From left to right, the Zanz­ibar­iO­mani Wazir of the Qu’aiti State Sheikh Seif bin Ali al-Bu Ali OBE; Sul­tan Salih al-Qu’aiti; Harold In­grams in Arab dress; Crown Prince Amir Awadh al-Qu’aiti, fa­ther to the cur­rent Sul­tan and Doreen In­grams (in Syr­ian dress, her ev­ery­day at­tire) in front of the palace in Mukalla, 1942

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