Sanaa, Yemen – Outside Bab al-Yaman, the historic entrance to the Old City of Sanaa, there is no sign of war.
The markets are packed with people from inside and outside the capital to buy gifts for the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday, such as ceremonial daggers and henna, and sacrificed sheep.
Eid al-Adha, the most important Muslim religious festival, begins on Friday evening.
Abdul-Raqeeb al-Samey is buying a dagger, called a jambiya and worn by Yemeni men as part of their traditional attire, for his 14-year-old son Mohammed.
“The Yemenis have been wearing a jambiya in Eid since the time of our great-grandparents,” al-Samey, a plumber, explained to Al Jazeera.
“Jambiya has been part of our history for a long time. People have been wearing similar knives since the time of the Himyarites,” he added, referring to an ancient pre-Islamic kingdom of Yemen.
Al-Samey, like many people who live and work in Sanaa, is planning to celebrate Eid in his hometown.
For al-Samey, that meant a trip across Yemen’s front lines to the capital, Taiz, in the center of the country. Even as a United Nations-backed armistice between Yemen’s warring parties has been in place since April, the journey remains arduous.
Negotiations over access to the city of Taiz, one of Yemen’s largest cities, remain a stumbling block in negotiations between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels.
Government-held areas of Taiz, much of the city, are sealed off by the Houthis, forcing residents to travel through treacherous mountain roads.
The warring parties in Yemen are negotiating to reopen roads in Taiz, where road cuts have separated families living in Houthi-held areas and government-administered areas, forcing them to Go through dangerous mountain roads.
But the Houthis have so far only offered to reopen minor tributaries, rather than the city entrance as the government is demanding.
UN-sponsored talks have stalled with the Houthis offering only to reopen the collection road, while the government insists they must reopen a main road.
Jambiya has long been considered a symbol of masculinity.
Curved daggers, worn on embroidered belts can be worth thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity of the design and the material of the dagger hilt.
Waheeb Saif, owner of a large jambiya shop near Bab al-Yaman, sells several types of rearing jambiya.
“The best gilts produced by Yemen are Saiyfani, Ozeiry, al-Mosawaey, al-Zuraf and al-Mahbashi. “The average price fluctuates between five million Yemeni riyals [$9,000] and six million Yemeni riyals [$11,000]. The highest price is 10 million Yemeni riyals [$18,000] for the best jambiya, Saiyfani. “
But for many Yemenis, in the midst of war and economic crisis, those prices are unsustainable.
“Sales were better than before the war because everyone had a regular salary; Now, there are customers who ask about the price, but they don’t buy because they can’t afford the price,” Saif told Al Jazeera as he sat next to the jam cakes on display.
“I inherited this profession from my father at the age of 16, and he also inherited it from my grandfather,” noted Saif.
However, with globalization, the old and expensive methods of making jambiyas are being threatened by cheaper imitators, often made in China, and sometimes from plastic.
“We cannot call for banning Chinese jambiyas because they are cheap and help poor Yemenis to buy them, if they cannot afford Saiyfani or Ozeiry jambiyas,” Saif said.
‘Night of henna’
To the south of Bab Al-Yaman, Nasser al-Harazy was sitting in front of a pile of henna powder – a dye used to paint intricate body designs – for sale.
He’s surrounded by lots of other henna shops, but tells customers, “al-henna al-hali endi,” or “henna is best for me.”
“My clients come from Ibb and Taiz,” al-Harazy told Al Jazeera. “Men and women buy from me. These are my best days to sell henna because it’s Eid and hundreds of people are getting married.”
Al-Harazy explains that the henna he sells comes from his village in the Haraz mountains, west of Sanaa. The village, Badyat Al-Henna, is named after the dye.
“Henna is not used exclusively during Eid, women also use it for wedding receptions and there is a special event called ‘night of henna’, when henna is applied to the hands and feet of the bride, before she He was brought to the groom’s house.” al-Harazy said, when a woman wearing a traditional Sanaani robe orders a pot of henna.
Sacrifice in Qaryat Al-Qabil
Located just east of the Old City of Sanaa is Sanaa’s largest cattle market, Nuqum, named for its location.
Salem Omar al-Dhabiah said he has traveled from Al-Marawiah in the capital Hodeidah to Sanaa since the 1970s to sell hundreds of sheep before Eid Al-Adha at Nuqum market.
This year, however, he did not bring as many sheep as usual. Instead of 500 or 1,000, he would put in a normal year, he only has 150.
Sitting under a tree while his sons negotiated prices with customers, al-Dhabiah told Al Jazeera that he sold the smallest sheep for 30,000 Yemeni riyals ($60) and the largest for 170,000 Yemeni riyals ( 300 USD).
Al-Dhabiah said sheep prices this year were higher than last year because “lack of monsoon rains” forced farmers to sell their sheep before summer because they couldn’t feed them until Eid.
“This year calves are very expensive and rare – only God knows why,” said customer Ali Mosleh al-Rajawi as he left the market and his grandchildren followed. “This time last year, the market was so full of calves, you couldn’t get in.”
Eid Al-Adha is celebrated by Muslims across the globe as a way of marking the Islamic belief that God tested Ibrahim (Abraham) by ordering him to sacrifice his son, Ismail (Ishmael).
Ismail was later replaced with a sheep, which was sacrificed instead.
Al-Rajawi said he sacrifices between five and 10 sheep a year to divide among 26 members of his extended family.
“This year, I only had three large billy goats, which was not enough, so I came here today to buy ‘tabai’,” al-Rajawi told Al Jazeera, using a Sanaani dialect word for a calf. .
But, al-Rajawi complained, he could not find a calf for a reasonable price.
Al-Rajawai is heading to Qaryat Al-Qabil, a village north of Sanaa where he lives, to spend Eid.
He intended to sacrifice a goat, and then divide the meat into three parts.
“One will be a gift for relatives, friends and neighbors, and the second will be for the poor in the village,” al-Rajawi said. “And Tuesday will be for my family to eat.”