chapter  2
54 Pages

Foundations: Training Labourers in a Traditional Apprenticeship System

To interiorise life itself and to become aware of the inward dimension, man must have recourse to rites whose very nature is to cast a sacred form upon the waves of the ocean of multiplicity in order to save man and bring him back to the shores of Unity. 1

Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Studies on Yemeni architecture have overlooked the manner in which skilled spatial judgment and technical expertise are inculcated in the individual builder. In the recent past, all young Yemeni men seeking a career in the building trade negotiated an apprenticeship with a Master Builder, or usta, in an urban centre. As recently as 1970 there were no professionally trained architects in Sana'a, and all building and architectural decoration were the exclusive domain of these Masters. Although this situation has changed considerably with the introduction of modern building technologies, the usta, as a socially constituted agent, continues to manipulate significant power in the production and reproduction of both his trade and the built environment which, in turn, embody the complexities of contemporary Yemeni culture and education within an Islamic context. Before addressing the issues of knowledge and training, it is important to first briefly contextualise the social status and profession of the builders within the larger Sana'ani framework. It should be noted that the system of social ranking has changed considerably since the revolution of 1962, and continues to evolve.