Undiscovered Asir

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Press:Stacey International Stacey International; 1 edition (1993)
Author Name:Mauger, Thierry


The mountainous region of Saudi Arabia's Asir is one of the wildest and most remote places on earth. 
The tribes here work the soil on intricately terraced farms in remote valleys.
Their mud-brick houses are decorated with bright colours, their people adorned with flowered headdresses and elaborate jewellery.
Over the years their idiosyncratic way of life has remained remarkably unchanged.
Thierry Mauger has captured the beauty of this enigmatic region in words and stunning photographs.
Undiscovered Asir is the first and, one must fear, perhaps the last glimpse of a vanishing way of life.


Travel,Asia,General,Religion & Spirituality,Islam,History,Middle East

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  •     ... is an expression used for a place that was impossibly remote from "civilization," and was most often associated with mountains ranges in Central Africa. It is an even more appropriate expression for the Asir Mountains, which exceed 3000 meters in elevation, in the far western region of Saudi Arabia, an area with a strong resemblance to Yemen; in fact the area has been ruled by the tribal leadership of Yemen for periods throughout history.Thierry Mauger "grabbed the brass ring," and almost certainly he was not anticipating it when it came around. He had signed on to work for the Peregrine Falcon defense contract with the Saudi Arabian government, and was re-located to Taif, in 1980, just a few years after a tarmac road was completed, connecting Taif to Abha, thereby opening the Asir region to outsiders. He apparently quickly tired of the endless whining at expatriate social gatherings, "Having had enough of the shriveled expatriate atmosphere..." he decided to explore the marvelous world around him. It was quite possible, in this country that did not issue tourist visas at the time, to be an "internal tourist," freely traveling wherever during your off-days and vacations. A few other expats took advantage of the same opportunity, but we are all the richer for Mauger's decision, since he captured a culture and way of life that has now essentially vanished. Most Western expatriates lived in Dhahran, Riyadh or Jeddah, but Mauger was able to use his special location at Taif as a "springboard" to see the most fascinating and diverse region of the country, some 10% of the total area.Mauger is neither a trained anthropologist nor ethnologist, and as he says, they are "sometimes prisoners of their discipline." The book is comprised of meaningful and straightforward text, but the true documentation of this region comes from his unique, quality, and at times, stunning pictures. There are two excellent maps at the beginning, including one that defines the tribal areas. Mauger does explore the areas surrounding the Asir Mountains proper, and the book is divided into five chapters: The Highland Plateau; The Qahtani Tihamah; The Hilly Tihamah; The Coastal Plain; and Desert Approaches. The fourth chapter looks at the seeming antithesis of the mountains, the hot, humid, agricultural productive region between Jeddah and Jizan, which resembles Africa with its thatched-roofed, conical huts. The fifth chapter, on desert approaches, looks at the area between the mountains and Najran, which is only at 1000 meters.Some of the surprises of the region, for even those familiar with the principal regions of the Kingdom are the gaily painted houses, which recall Mexico. Most of the women work, and are unveiled. The houses often have three or four stories, with thin stones set uniformly in the mud walls, to retard erosion from downpours, which occur as the hot, humid air, coming off the Red Sea, rises into the mountains. It is also the region famous for the "flower men," those who wore flowers in their headdresses as a daily decoration (even though they weren't going to San Francisco!). The region once also had a "hanging village", accessible only by ropes, and was established by those who did not want to live under Turkish rule when the Hijaz was part of the Ottoman Empire. The region experiences snow each winter, and regrettably a snowy landscape is not included in this work.Mauger's book most reminded me of the book by George Condominas "We Have Eaten the Forest," which documented the last days of another mountain people, the Montagnards of Vietnam. For sure, they are quite different, Condominas' book is a classic ethnographic study, and he captures these people in words, before they were decimated by war. Mauger captured the Asir region before its way of life was "decimated" by economic progress, not all of which was bad, such as the banishment of various endemic diseases and a more nutritious and varied diet, along with education. However, there is now a cable car to the hanging village, a bit of "Disneyland"; and numerous "summer homes" for the Saudis trying to escape the heat of Jeddah or Riyadh.From my own "perch" in Riyadh I managed to explore the same area from time to time, and even took the same picture as on page 129, the ancient petroglyphs that seem to depict women with "dreadlocks." My travels were never as extensive as his, but I am able to appreciate the difficulty and significance of Mauger's achievement.(Note: the page number refers to the 1993 edition)

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