The Kathiri State of Seiyun in Hadhramaut (السلطنة الكثيرية – سيؤن – حضرموت — al-Salṭanah al-Kathīrīyah Sayʾūn Ḥaḍramawt) was a sultanate in the Hadhramaut region of the southern Arabian Peninsula, in what is now part of Yemen and the Dhofar region of Oman. From 1940, Kathiri was administered as part of the Eastern Protectorate of the Aden Protectorate (محمية عدن — Maḥmiyyat ‘Adan), a British protectorate which had evolved in the hinterland of the port of Aden (Aden Colony, مستعمرة عدن — Musta‘marat ‘Adan) and in the Hadramaut following the conquest of Aden by Great Britain in 1839, and continued until the 1960s. Additional states in the Eastern Protectorate included Qu’aiti (القعيطي — al-Qu‘ayṭī), Mahra (المهرة — al-Mahra), and Wahidi Balhaf (واحدي بالحاف — Wāḥidī Bālḥāf). The current governorate of Hadhramaut roughly incorporates the former territory of the two sultanates of Kathiri and Qu’aiti, consisting of a narrow, arid coastal plain bounded by the steep escarpment of a broad plateau with a very sparse network of deeply sunk wadis (seasonal watercourses). The undefined northern edge of Hadhramaut slopes down to the desert Empty Quarter. In a wider sense, Hadhramaut includes the territory of Mahra to the east all the way to the contemporary border with Oman. This encompasses the current governorates of Hadramaut and Mahra in their entirety as well as parts of the Shabwah Governorate.
The al-Kathiri dynasty once ruled much of Hadhramaut but their power was truncated by the rival Qu’aitis in the nineteenth century. The Kathiris were eventually restricted to a small inland portion of Hadhramaut with their capital at Seiyun (سيئون — Say’un). The inhabitants live in densely built towns centered on traditional watering stations along the wadis. They harvest crops of wheat and millet, tend date palm and coconut groves, and grow some coffee. On the plateau, Bedouins tend sheep and goats. Society is still highly tribal, with the old Seyyid aristocracy, descended from the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, traditionally educated and strict in their Islamic observance and highly respected in religious and secular affairs.
In 1609, The Ascension was the first English ship to visit Aden, before sailing on to Mocha during the fourth voyage of the East India Company. The region was ruled by the Sultanate of Lahej (سلطنة لحج — Salṭanat Laḥij), under the suzerainty of the Zaidi imams of Yemen. The Sultanate became self-ruled in 1728 and gained independence in 1740. At this time, Aden was a small village with a population of 600 Arabs, Somalis, Jews and Indians — housed for the most part in huts of reed matting erected among ruins recalling a vanished era of wealth and prosperity.
The location of the port city of Aden made it a popular exchange port for mail passing between places around the Indian Ocean and Europe. Captain Frederick Haines stated that it could become a major trading center. In 1838, under Muhsin bin Fadl, the Sultanate of Lahej ceded 75 sqaure miles (194 km²), including Aden, to the British.
The British needed to resort to force the establish their rule. On January 19, 1839, the British East India Company landed the Royal Marines of the 24th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry at Aden who stormed and captured the city. The British secured the territory for its strategic importance because of its location on the main British shipping route to India. Aden port lies about equidistant from the Suez Canal, Mumbai, and Zanzibar, which were all important British possessions. Traditionally Aden had been an entrepôt and a way-station for seafarers since ancient times where supplies, particularly water, were replenished.
Under British rule, Aden was governed as the ‘Aden Settlement’ after occupation. It was placed under the Bombay Presidency and all foreign affairs were conducted through the Indian Political Service (IPS), being treated in practice as if it was a province of British India. The Aden Settlement consisted of the port city of Aden and its immediate surroundings. The original 75-square mile territory of the settlement was enlarged in 1857 by the annexation of the 13 -km² outlying island of Perim, in 1868 by the 73-km² Khuriya Muriya Islands, and in 1915 by the island of Kamaran, a quarantine station for Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca that was under Ottoman rule. The British captured Kamaran in 1915 and, since they could not come to an agreement with the Imam of Yemen who claimed the island, they became the de facto rulers continuing to occupy the 42 square miles (108 km²) island without a clear title to it.
Following occupation, mail services were immediately established in the settlement with a complement of two postal clerks and four letter carriers. An interim postmaster was appointed as early as June 1839. Mail is known to exist from June 15, 1839, although a regular postmaster was not appointed until 1857; one of the officials of the Political Agent or the civil surgeon performed the duties of postmaster for a small salary. By the Indian Post Office Act of 1837 (Section XX) all private vessels were required to carry letters at prescribed rates for postage. A handstamp was applied to preadhesive ship letters in Aden; although these handstamps were used until 1867, examples are rarely seen.
The Aden Settlement used adhesive postage stamps of British India from October 1, 1854, until Aden became a crown colony on April 1, 1937. As an outpost of the British East Indian empire, Aden was supplied with India’s first lithographed adhesives, which became available in Aden just as they were issued on the Indian mainland. Until 1857, the only Aden post office was in the Crater, later known as Aden Cantonment or Aden Camp. Mails were carried by camel to and from Steamer Point. In 1857, a Postmaster was appointed and the main post office was moved to new quarters at Steamer Point. Covers from Aden with the Indian lithographed stamps are rare.
Although these stamps did not have an Aden overprint, many of them may be recognized (even off cover) from the frequent use of the number 124 in postmarks, a number assigned to Aden as part of the Indian post office identification system. However, other numbers and letters also were used to identify the offices in Aden: these include 132, 125, A/125, B and B-22.
British expansion into the area was designed to secure the important port that was, at the time, governed from British India. These protection arrangements existed with the tacit acceptance of the Ottoman Empire that maintained suzerainty over Yemen to the north and the polities became known collectively as the “Nine Tribes” or the “Nine Cantons.” The Sultanate of Lahej was one of the original “Nine Cantons” that signed individual British protectorate agreements with Great Britain. In 1869, these were joined together to become the Aden Protectorate. From 1874, the Sultanate of Kathiri entered into treaty relations with the British and became a part of the Aden Protectorate.
Aden soon became an important transit port and coaling station for trade between British India and the Far East, and Europe. The commercial and strategic importance of Aden increased considerably when, after ten years of construction, the nearby Suez Canal was officially opened on November 17, 1869. From then and until the 1960s, the Port of Aden was to be one of the busiest ship-bunkering, duty-free shopping, and trading ports in the world.
Beginning with a formal treaty of protection with the Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra in 1886, Britain embarked on a slow formalization of protection arrangements that included over 30 major treaties of protection with the last signed only in 1954. In exchange for British protection, the rulers of the constituent territories of the Protectorate agreed not to enter into treaties with or cede territory to any other foreign power. The boundaries between the polities and even their number fluctuated over time. Some such as the Mahra Sultanate barely had any functioning administration. Not included in the Protectorate were Aden Colony and the insular areas of Perim, Kamaran, and Khuriya Muriya that accrued to it.
In 1917, control of Aden Protectorate was transferred from the Government of India, which had inherited the British East India Company’s interests in various princely states on the strategically important naval route from Europe to India, to the British Foreign Office. For administrative purposes, the protectorate was informally divided into the Eastern Protectorate (with its own Political Officer, a British advisor, stationed at Mukalla in Qu’aiti from 1937 to 1967) and the Western Protectorate (with its own Political Officer, stationed at Lahej from April 1, 1937, to 1967), for some separation of administration.
In 1928, the British established Aden Command, under Royal Air Force leadership, to preserve the security of the Protectorate. It was renamed British Forces Aden in 1936 and was later known as British Forces Arabian Peninsula and then Middle East Command (Aden).
Under the Government of India Act 1935 the territory was detached from British India, and was reorganized as a separate Crown Colony of the United Kingdom, taking effect on April 1, 1937. Aden Colony consisted of the port city of Aden and its immediate surroundings, as well as the outlying islands of Kamaran, Perim and Kuria Muria.
Once Aden became a crown colony it received a series of pictorial stamps, produced by Thomas de la Rue & Co. The stamps of Aden Colony were valid throughout the Western and Eastern Protectorates and their various sultanates from their initial release in April 1937. The post office at Seiyun was opened on May 25, 1937, and several smaller postal agencies elsewhere in Kathiri State soon followed.
In 1939, a new issue of stamps for Aden included a portrait of King George VI, but the sultans in Hadhramaut objected to this. The British government issued separate stamps in 1942, but with the additional inscriptions Kathiri State of Seiyun and Qu’aiti State of Shihr and Mukalla (later, Qu’aiti State in Hadhramaut), plus portraits of the respective sultans. All of these types were valid in Aden and the Aden Protectorate. The first set of eleven Kathiri stamps were released in August 1942. The three lowest values of these stamps — ½-anna, ¾-anna and 1 anna — featured a large portrait of Sultan Ja’far bin Mansur al-Kathiri while the remaining stamps pictured the mosques at Seiyun and Tarim, the large palace of the sultan built in the 1920s, and other local views all with a small portrait of the sultan located in the upper corner just as the British monarch had been.
In 1938, Britain signed an advisory treaty with the Qu’aiti sultan and, throughout the 1940s and 1950s, signed similar treaties with twelve other protectorate states in the Eastern and Western Protectorates. These agreements allowed for the stationing of a Resident Advisor in the signatory states which gave the British a greater degree of control over their domestic affairs. This rationalized and stabilized the rulers’ status and laws of succession but had the effect of ossifying the leadership and encouraging official corruption. Aerial bombardment and collective punishment were sometimes used against wayward tribes to enforce the rule of Britain’s clients. British protection came to be seen as an impediment to progress, a view reinforced by the arrival of news of Arab nationalism from the outside world on newly available transistor radios.
British control was also challenged by King Ahmad bin Yahya of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen to the north who did not recognise British suzerainty in South Arabia and had ambitions of creating a unified Greater Yemen. In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, Yemen was involved in a series of border skirmishes along the disputed Violet Line, a 1914 Anglo-Ottoman demarcation that served to separate Yemen from the Aden Protectorate.
Al Husayn ibn Ali al-Kathiri became sultan in 1949, although his portrait didn’t appear on stamps until 1954. In 1951, the currency on the Kathiri stamps changed from Indian rupees to East African shillings. That year saw a number of the earlier stamps surcharged with the new currency values. The Kathiri State of Seiyun participated in three British Commonwealth omnibus issues — a pair of stamps marking the 25th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and King George VI, four commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union in 1949, and a single stamp honoring the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Silver Wedding and Coronation issues, of course, all featured images of the British monarchs.
In 1950, Kennedy Trevaskis, the Advisor for the Western Protectorate drew up a plan for the protectorate states to form two federations, corresponding to the two-halves of the protectorate. Although little progress was made in bringing the plan to fruition, it was considered a provocation by Ahmad bin Yahya. In addition to his role as king, he also served as the imam of the ruling Zaidi branch of Shi’a Islam. He feared that a successful federation in the Shafi’i Sunnite protectorates would serve as a beacon for discontented Shafi’ites who inhabited the coastal regions of Yemen. To counter the threat, Ahmad stepped up Yemeni efforts to undermine British control and, in the mid-1950s, Yemen supported a number of revolts by disgruntled tribes against protectorate states. The appeal of Yemen was limited initially in the protectorate but a growing intimacy between Yemen and the popular Arab nationalist president of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser and the formation of United Arab States increased its attraction.
Nationalist pressure prodded the threatened rulers of the Aden Protectorate states to revive efforts at forming a federation and, on February 11, 1959, six of them signed an accord forming the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South. In the next three years, they were joined by nine others and, on January 18, 1963, Aden Colony was reconstituted as the State of Aden (ولاية عدن — Wilāyat ʿAdan), within the new Federation of South Arabia (اتحاد الجنوب العربي — Ittiḥād al-Janūb al-‘Arabī). With this, Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston stepped down as the last Governor of Aden.
The final stamps of the Kathiri State of Seiyun were released on July 1, 1964. In all, the sultanate had issued 42 stamps since 1942. Starting in 1967, stamps inscribed Kathiri State In Hadhramaut began flooding the collector market, along with others from nearby individual emirates. These aren’t listed in the Scott catalogue due to their lack of postal validity.
The Kathiri State declined to join the Federation of South Arabia but remained under British protection as part of the Protectorate of South Arabia (محمية الجنوب العربي), thus ending the existence of the Aden Protectorate. Al Husayn ibn Ali, Kathiri sultan since 1949, was overthrown on October 2, 1967, British rule ended on November 30, 1967, and the former sultanate became part of newly independent People’s Republic of South Yemen (جمهورية اليمن الديمقراطية الشعبية — Jumhūrīyat al-Yaman ad-Dīmuqrāṭīyah ash-Sha‘bīyah). In line with other formerly British Arab territories in the Middle East, it did not join the British Commonwealth.
Many of the problems that Aden had suffered in its time as a colony did not improve on federation. Internal disturbances continued and intensified, leading to the Aden Emergency and the final departure of British troops.
South Yemen united with North Yemen in 1990 to become the Republic of Yemen (الجمهورية اليمنية — al-Jumhūrīyah al-Yamanīyah), but local sheikhs in Yemen are reported to still wield large de facto authority.
The first Prime Minister in the history of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri (mar’ī al-Kathīrī), is a third generation descendant of immigrants from Kathiri, part of a significant migration of Hadhramis to Southeast Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is reflected in his name (Alkatiri). The Indonesian human rights activist Munir Said Thalib is also a descendant of immigrants from Kathiri.
Scott #13 was released on October 15, 1946, to mark the Allied victory in World War II. The 2½-anna deep blue originally released in August 1942 as Scott #6 was overprinted VICTORY / ISSUE / 9TH JUNE / 1946 in red ink. Engraved by de la Rue & Co. and perforated 11½x13, the stamp portrays the mosque at Seiyun. Used copies of Kathiri stamps generally bear Aden GPO or Aden Camp cancels. Examples with cancellations from offices in the Eastern Protectorate command a premium.