THE FLOATING ISLANDS OF THE MAD’AN OF SOUTHERN IRAQ

LOCATION | Southern Wetlands of Iraq

TYPOLOGY | Islanding
SYSTEM | Qasab Reed Islands
PEOPLE | Ma’dan

In an area known as Iraq’s Garden of Eden, at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, relics of a six thousand year old ancient water-based civilization still in existence today can be found. This Mesopotamian Venice has been almost continually inhabited by the semi-nomadic, tribal Ma'dan, meaning "dweller in the plains (ʻadan)", or Marsh Arabs. Iraq’s southern marshes are by far the Middle East’s most important wetland. The marshlands considered by many scholars as the inspiration for the biblical Garden of Eden in the Bible and the Koran, the site where the Great Flood occurred, and the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham. The Iraqi marshlands are therefore an area of major significance in the history of the three monotheistic religions - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. In it, or rather, on it, the Ma’dan civilization inhabits both the natural and constructed islands of locally harvested Qasab, a giant twenty-five foot long grass - akin to bamboo - that flourishes throughout the marshlands and is the Ma’dan’s cultural keystone species. It is upon these islands that the Ma’dan construct their beautifully elaborate floating houses made in under three days entirely from Qasab reeds without nails, wood or glass. This ancient system of island-construction and architecture allowed a civilization to flourish in an usually inhospitable wetland environ while supporting the wetland ecosystem. However, in recent decades the Ma’dan’s floating islands and their ancient building techniques all but disappeared, due to the political turmoil and water insecurity that pervades the Middle-East region.

Illustrations by Brittany Roy

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© 2019. Julia Watson Studio

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