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Prior to the building of the BP refinery, the Little Aden peninsula. or Jebel Ihsan as it is also known had two main centres of population. These were the fishing villages of Bir Fuqum and Bureikha. Bir Fuqum still exists, but in order to make room for the present Ghadir housing estate, the villagers of Bureikha were moved to a new settlement which was built for them at Al Khaisa. Although there is evidence of human occupation of Little Aden dating back to the Chalcolithic period, (C. 4500 to 3000 B.C.). it was not until the early nineteenth century that the forefathers of the present villagers began to establish their communities. At this time the land was owned by the 'Aqrabi tribe who had broken away from the Lahej Sultanate in 1770 and, under their leader Sheikh  Mahdi, established an independent state with their centre at Bir Ahmed.

 

In   1834 Captain Haines of the  Indian Navy. (who was to capture Aden some five years later), visited the area whilst conducting a survey of the south coast of Arabia. Of Bir Fuqum he says, ''On the western shore of the bay is the tomb of Sheikh Samsarah. surrounded by a few fishermen's huts.  His remarks about the Bandar Sheikh and Ghadir areas include, ''The white tomb of Sheikh Khadir (Ghadir) is about 1100 yards from the extreme point of Ras Abu Kiyamah, near this spot the 'Aqrabis deposit coffee, cotton and a few other articles of merchandise, in readiness for the small trading boats lying in Bander Sheikh and Ghor Khadir. The only ports belonging to the Aqrabi tribe's.  As Haines does not mention the village of Bureikha we might assume that it did not exist at the time, or was so small as to be insignificant. Strangely enough, the first people to settle in Bir Fuqum were not fishermen by tradition, but tribesmen from the hinterland who came down from the Wadi Ma'adin near the present Yemen frontier. They were all of one tribal group. the Masaferah and first settled in Bandar Sheikh at a place then known as Taqaiz; but after quarrels with the 'Aqrabi tribesmen they moved around the coast a little and established themselves at Bir Fuqum where they have remained ever since.

 

The tribesmen who were grazing their flocks on the peninsula at this time were a sub-group of the 'Aqrabi known as the Maqwari and their grazing lands extended through Silent Valley and around the area where the  BP Refinery now stands. There was far more vegetation in Little Aden in those days than there is today. Indeed, some of the older members of the Maqwari can still remember chasing gazelle through the bushes in Silent Valley. With the establishment of the two village communities, the shrubs and trees in the valley were cut down to provide fuel for the settlers, and the area was gradually denuded of all major growth. With the decrease in vegetation, the Maqwari moved away to Rubaq, on the road to Aden, but the present tribal leader, Sheikh Saleh bin Salem Dabash, Darweesh Al Aqwar, still grazes his camels upon their old lands. He also cultivates a patch of land near to the British Military Cemetery in Silent Valley  known to the Maqwari, as AI-Mihraga.

 

 The   first inhabitants of Bureika came from the Hadhramaut,  they were the Suba'i and the Shahari who came from Shihr, to the east of Mukalla. Other early settlers were the Hinaidi, the Gibaili and the Rasidi. With the exception of the latter, all these families are strongly represented in the community today. In the early days of settlement the villagers were under the protection, or ra'iyya of the 'Aqrabi Sheikh who demanded taxes from them. The protection afforded in return for these taxes seems to  have been non - existent, for the villagers were constantly pestered and even attacked by wandering 'Aqrabi tribesmen. In   1850 a British seaman was murdered at Bir Ahmed and relations between the British in Aden and the  'Aqrabi tribe broke down. This necessitated a blockade of the Little Aden area to prevent the 'Aqrabi running supplies to Bir Ahmed from the coastal landing places on the peninsula. The blockade was lifted in 1857   and although relations with the British were again established, things were never too     happy until the British purchase of the Little Aden peninsula in   1869 for which  the Aqrabi sheik was paid 30.000 dollars. This followed general complaints from the villagers   in Little Aden about the heavy taxes imposed upon them by the 'Aqrabi'. With the later purchase of the shore between Little Aden and Khormaksar in   1888 for a further 2000 dollars, the two villages were able to settle    down and were from then on administered from Aden.

 

One  of the major problems facing the settlers was water. There were three main wells in the district; Bir Fuqum drew its supplies from Bir  Hariqah. a little way up the  valley from the village. Bureika had the Bir Nasir    well near to Al Khaisa and there was a  well in Silent Valley known as Bir Selma. The quantity and quality of water presumable from the wells  varied with the rainfall, but there were never sufficient supplies for the growing villages. Whilst the area was still under the 'Aqrabi, water had to be purchased from Bir Ahmed or the 'Aqrabi coastal village of Hiswa. The water was conveyed to Little Aden by camel train or by dhow. Following the British purchase, the villagers of Bureika bought their  own dhow and began to transport the water themselves from Khormaksar. Soon after the turn of the century. the headman (Aqil) of Bureika asked the government to construct two water reservoirs: in the mountain behind the village. Modeled on the famous Taweelah tanks in Aden, opinions vary as to whether these were of completely new construction, or the repair of an ancient system dating  back to the same period as the Aden tanks, One old man. Abdullah Saleh Debash, says that there were no tank there prior to the present ones being built. whilst the Mansab of the Wali al Ghadir is equally certain that Government repaired and renewed an existing system. Once in use, the reservoirs were able to catch the rain water and this was used solely for drinking purposes. A police post was built on the path from the village to the tanks and two policemen were stationed there to ensure that people received only the amount of water allocated to them by the Aqil. When the monsoon prevented the village dhow from landing water at Bureika, the vessel would lie In the Khor Bir  Ahmed, near to the present BP OiI Harbour and the women and children would be employed to carry the family ration in goat skin bags back to the village. Water  at this  time used to vary in price from two to three annas for four gallons, (about 2d. to 3d.). During the years just prior to the Second World War a contractor was engaged by Government to build a concrete tank within the village and water was then supplied by a motor tanker traveling to and from Sheikh Othman. When this service was brought into being,  the villagers were able to sell their dhow.

 

 The Maqwari who as we have seen, still graze their camels around Silent Valley, call the valley Beyn al Jebelain (between the two mountains). They have names for all the mountains around these being Jebel Hunood. Jebel Halagah.  Jebel Muhaaymar, Jebel Muzalkam and Jebel Rumaanah Jebel Hunood, or the Mountain of the Indians gets its name from the Indian troops who were stationed   upon it during the First World War, and were supplied with milk and eggs by the Maqwari.  The First World War is known locally as Harb al Basha, the War of the Pasha, after the Turkish general Said Pasha who came down from Yemen in 1915  and captured Lahej and Sheikh Othman. According to the local people, the Turks did not   occupy the Little Aden peninsular during that war as stated by Sir Tom Hickinbottom in his book ''ADEN''.

 

The Second World Was ls known locally as the Harb Al-Talyani, or the Italian War. Early in   1940 the British built a fort on top of Abu Kiyamah, with a flight of stone steps leading up to it. This was to provide a look out post and commanded a good view of the coast. With the Italian entry into the war an official was sent around the villages to advise the people on what to do in case of an air raid. Through an interpreter he told them to leave the villages and go to the hills if enemy aircraft came. One evening as the people of Bureika were setting out in the moonlight, an Italian aircraft flew low over the village. and around the fort. Caught in the searchlights, it dropped its bombs, six of which fell near to the tomb of the Wali al Ghadir and a seventh landed in the sand on the other side of the hill. This last one failed to explode. The villagers, remembering what they had been told, fled from Bureika, many of them going to the far end of Silent Valley.  As they had not been told by the official how long to stay away. they camped in the valley for ten days before returning to their homes.

 

Since the last war the inhabitants of Little Aden have seen many changes. The building of BP's oil refinery and housing estates made the first major impact upon their lives, and more recently  a large military cantonment has been established near to Bir Fuqum. Many of the villagers have left their fishing and taken up employ with either the refinery or the military and the villages have expanded as people from the hinterland have settled there. This has altered their lives and standard of living enormously and even those who have remained fishermen have seen changes with the introduction of the powered fishing boat and the nylon net. Also they have motor transport to convey their catches to market where once they used to walk as far as to Lahej, some twenty-five miles away to sell their fish. In spite of all these things however, the village life still retains much of its early simplicity and the people hold strongly to the beliefs and customs of their ancestors.