The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

Men living in the Habala Mountains on the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen take no orders from a government. Instead, they live under their own rules. They are called the “flower men”. They are a tribe descending from the Tihama and Asir groups whose traditions include garlands of herbs and flowers as crowns. The tradition dates back more than two millennia. However, the men are actually the source of some serious strife. With cross-border battles and violence towards outsiders who stumble onto their land, the Saudi Arabian government decided that tourism was still paramount.

In the early 1990s, the government boosted tourism in the region by building cable cars to the specific villages and even built hotels for tourists. This resulted in the flower men being forcibly removed from their homes by development companies. This in turn led to clashes erupting, making the southern area volatile. It doesn’t help that Yemen is in its own turmoil and is so close.

Some garlands are for beauty but others aren’t. Some are used to cure ailments. Some are even made using wild basil and jasmine and are picked from the foothills of the Arabian Mountains. They also put herbs in their noses for colds, so not all of the herbs are made into beautiful garlands. The head pieces conceal a propensity towards violence. A French anthropologist named Thierry Mauger visited in the 1990s and wrote that they attempted to rape him. Read Eric Laffogue’s account at the Daily Mail, he thinks that the entire problem comes down to a lack of exposure.


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