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Socotra Island has always been one of the most isolated and hard to reach places on Earth, but in the meantime has always captured the interest of the main political powers in the region. Now the island is part of Yemen, and suffers the indirect consequences of the war taking place on the continent since 2015. Socotra Island is situated 400 km away from the Arabian Peninsula and currently is closed for journalists. In order to get to the island I had to sail illegally on a small cargo ship and to introduce myself as anthropology researcher. On the island I found that there were two military bases of Saudi Arabia and that it was up to the Saudis to decide who comes and goes from the island. Surprisingly local people were very open and gladly spoke about the situation on the island. They believe that their story deserves to be told. All economical investments on the island come from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, thanks to their donations the hospital still functions; they support the function of the local fishing factory and other small businesses. For the past decades life on the island has changed dramatically. In 1967 Socotra became part of South Yemen and started adopting traditions and practices, coming from the continent. Religion became more and more important, leaving not much space for the myths and magic, once integral part of the locals’ belief system. People used to tell stories about jinns roaming the island, held witch trials and composed political poems in Socotri language. Now in school children don’t study Socotri, but only Arabian. . Socotri language is predating the Arabic language, but is on its way to be forgotten for the generations to come. There are fewer poets composing poems about politics and social causes. Tales of jinns are rarely spoken beside the fire. Also due to lack of control and support the island is facing a devastating environmental crisis. Socotra Island is home for 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on Earth. The bizarre, prehistoric looking Dragon Blood Tree grows only in the mountains of Socotra. Unfortunately the trees are dying and the reason is still unknown – it could be climate change or the overpopulation of goats, destroying the fragile ecosystem. Quarrels over land are very common among natives in Socotra, now that the people have foreseen the economical potential of this heavenly beautiful island. Socotri people are often selling their properties to foreign investors, mostly coming from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, for an amount of money only enough to by a second hand car. Salma, who inhabits a small stone cottage on Detwah Lagoon, was born in a cave nearby. She lived there with her whole family. The land belonged to them for decades, but they were about to lose it on trial in court. Salma spent 2 months in prison, protecting the land that belonged to her ancestors. Some locals think that because of the constant ongoing war and instability on the main land, probably it will be best for Socotra to separate from Yemen and seek either autonomy, either some alliance with the Emirates. Others spoke gladly of the president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (current official president) and thought that Socotra must stay as it is – part of Yemen. In the meantime in the small shops on the island you can find only basic supplies as flour, rice, canned fish and beans etc. The currency is constantly fluctuating and devaluating. Locals can’t convert their savings to dollars or to any other currency, as the bank and exchange offices have banned it. People are not sure what the future will bring, but they feel relatively safe as at least there is no actual war happening on the island. They hope that eventually the war will be over and the island will be once again open, welcoming tourist and foreigners. There is no doubt that Socotra has vast potential. The only concerns are which country will actually take advantage of this natural beauty; what will be the outcome and the benefit for the native population; will they manage to preserve the fragile, endemic environment and the Socotri cultural heritage. Text: Rumyana Hristova, photography: Georgi Kozhuharov
Socotra is facing a serious environmental crisis. Tones of trash and plastic are conquering the island and locals doesn't seem preoccupied. Due to the trash the water is contaminated and might cause serious diseases.
Thousands of goats roam freely around the island, including in the capital Hadibu. Life on Socotra is very basic, but people are happy, because they are safe - far away from the war taking place on the continent.
Locals wear the traditional Yemeni skirt for man. The elder still put a traditional knife on their belt, while the younger generation prefers a smart phone. There is no constant internet connection and when it does it is only enough for sending messages.
Socota island has its own spoken language which is predating the Arabic. On the island for centuries has existed the so called War of the Poets. Socotri poets dedicate their verses to politics. They use their talent to promote their views and believes and to gain supporters for certain cause. They challenge themselves to poetical battles.
A boy collects plastic bottles that he will use to store milk. For people who live far away from the city, plastic bottles are extremely valuable.
Night view from the Dragon Blood Tree forest.
Salem (the man on the picture) was born around Dixam Plateau, high in the mountains. He used to live there with his family, but now had to move to the capital, looking for better opportunities. He works as a supervisor in the fish factory. He often visits his parents, wife and four children. His home is near the Dragon Blood Tree forest, so he learned how to collect its precious resin when he was little.
Fishing is the main income for the natives on Socotra. Each morning they go to an improvised fishing market, around an abandoned building in the capital Hadibu.
Old Bedouin pose for a picture next to the fire in his house in the Dragon Blood Tree forest. Many people migrate towards the city and the villages along the coast, some still leave high in the mountain, taking care for their goats and leaving as their ancestors once did.
Dragon Blood Trees are one of the 700 endemic species found on the island. They are slowly dying and the reason is still unknown. Since the war started in 2015 all environmental programs on the island stopped. Some researchers suppose that the trees are disappearing due to the climate change, others say that it might be because of the over population of goats which destroyed the fragile ecosystem. There are no young trees in the wild.
Dead Dragon Blood Tree.
Bottle trees. Locals called these trees “useless trees”.
Salma (the woman on the picture) was born in a cave near the Detwah Laggon on Socotra. Her family lived in a cave for decades. Now she owns the land and a small house made of stones. She spent 2 months in jail, protecting her land from neighbors who wanted to took it from her. Salma thinks that the Yemeni government is weak and allows for it to run from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Because of the foreign influence, the culture and traditions of Socotra will soon disappear.
Salem (the man on the picture) wanted to study in Europe, but then the War started. He thinks that being part of Yemen is no good for Socotra, as the conflicts never stop. He dreams for peace, no matter who will bring it.
Mohammed (the man on the picture) still lives in a cave that belonged to his family for centuries. He is a fisherman. He had sent his little son to study in the village nearby, but he feels to attached to his cave. He tells stories about his meetings with jinns. who he thinks still roam around the island.
Decades ago people on the island were so starved that they didn't have strength to bury the people who died. They just dragged the bodies to a small cave, leaving them there. Still the islanders rely mainly on fishing and imported rice.
Tank located on the beach left from the Soviet occupation of the island in the past.
Boys are selling fish on the beach. Some children quit school to become fishermen and start earning money for their families.
Pupils during a class which they study Islam. Sokotri language is not into the school program.
Khat market in Hadibu. Khat comes by ship every two weeks.
Cargo Ship from Oman to Socotra Island. Indian sailor on a night watch. Twelve Indians work on the small wooden ship, caring cement. They work for around 150$ a month. They don't have cabins, but instead sleep under the stars, along with hundreds of cockroaches and rats.