Soqotra: original features of an isolated culture as reflected in the botanical and ethnobotanical peculiarities

  • Luigi Guiglia studioso non affiliato/unaffiliated scholar
  • Daniela Bouvet Università di Torino


The authors discuss some characteristic aspects of the culture of the island of Soqotra, located in the Indian Ocean, 400 Km from the coast of Yemen and the main island of a small archipelago that looks like the natural extension of the Horn of Africa.

 The geo-physical configuration of the island provides for a great variety of climates; consequently, its flora is extremely rich and it includes an impressive percentage of endemic species.

 The main source of sustenance for the Soqotri population is goat farming, since the land is not suitable for agriculture; fishing has become increasingly important after the construction of paved roads and the diffusion of modern means of transport, thus reducing the distance between coast and inland areas.

 Wild plants have always been very important for the survival of the inhabitants of Soqotra, who used them as remedies for both people and animals. This central role of plants is reflected in the botanical knowledge of the islanders: the different uses of plants are well known and plants that have the same uses share the same name.

In the past commercial trading was extremely developed; historically trade linked Soqotra with the Horn of Africa, Egypt, Rome and India. In more modern times the commercial importance of the island stems from its strategical position in the Indian Ocean. Not only goods moved, but people too. The case of the Soqotra fishermen is often cited as an example: some of them are the descendants of ancient African settlers.


Even the Soqotri language, now endangered, tells a story of ancient contacts.


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Author Biographies

Luigi Guiglia, studioso non affiliato/unaffiliated scholar

Luigi Guiglia, doctor in Classics (University of Turin); Doctor in Psychology (University of Padua); Psychologist psychotherapist. Currently retired, he has decided to commit himself to his strong interest in Botany as an external unpaid collaborator of the Botanical Garden of Palermo; his studies focus on the endemic flora of Soqotra, of which he is an expert. He is also interested in analyzing the rapid cultural evolution of the island, a process recently accelerated by tourism as well as by the recent building of new roads.

Daniela Bouvet, Università di Torino

Daniela Bouvet graduated in 1997 in Natural Sciences at the University of Turin; she later obtained the diploma of European Master in Environmental. She collaborated with the Department of Plant Biology, University of Turin, from 1998 and is working as a graduate technician since 2005, mainly dealing with flora and nature conservation. She taught Systematic Botany at the Faculty of Architecture and of Agronomy and for professional training courses. She is the author or co-author of twenty-nine botanical publications.


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