There’s no doubt the caveman of Socotra is the most famous person on the island to both tourists and locals. Socotra is an island a part of the Republic of Yemen and located on both the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It’s an island completely isolated from most civilization with very few tourists visiting each year which grants it safe from the ongoing civil war back on mainland Yemen. However, everyone who comes to visit island and its majestic Dragon Blood Trees first ask on their arrival “can we meet the caveman of Socotra?”.
How does everyone know about the caveman of Socotra?
If we were to have this discussion back in 2021 you wouldn’t be reading this article as the caveman was not famously known yet. A reporter for the BBC visited the island in December 2021 and wrote an article about how he keeps up the way locals once lived on the island. Which is overly exaggerated, which he agrees, and I’ll cover this more in detail further below.
Who is the caveman of Socotra?
His name is Ellai, he’s over 60 years old and he earnt the title of the caveman of Socotra after he claimed a cave for himself located strategically above the Detwah Lagoon which is full of marine life.
The caveman himself admits he doesn’t live in the cave. He has a home in Qalansiya, the second largest city on the island located nearby where his wife and 16 children grew up. Sadly three of them died from hardships the locals on the island face.
He used to walk an hour to the cave every day, but now drives his car so he’s able to produce aloe vera and collect goat skin that are kept in the cave to sell back in the city. His wife is very well aware about the cave and what he does but wasn’t always happy for him to spend time there.
However, back in 2015, Cyclone Chapala ravaged through Socotra destroying most of the homes, displacing 47,000 people, killing 26 and knocking down hundreds the Dragon Blood Trees that can take up to thousands of years to grow. Ellai took his family to the cave where they were well protected by the harsh winds and raging waters. Since then, she doesn’t mind him working in the cave anymore.
How to meet the caveman of Socotra?
We here at YPT are very well familiar with Ellai. He is incredibly warm, welcoming and down to Earth with our tourists during our Socotra tours. His English is one of the most impressive on the island, and he is very open to share about his experience and what he does to earn a living.
He’ll show you how he captures fish, stingrays and squid as well as how he collects oysters and muscles from the rocks that line the bay. His children join in on the hospitality and will even prepare a fresh catch for you as a meal as you’ll most likely seek shelter from the bright sun in his cave.
The caveman of Socotra laughs when he’s asked about his unofficial title. When asked about life outside of his cave, he replies that he’s not interested in current affairs that happens both on and off the island. He loves the ocean, he loves being close to the sea, he loves what the ocean provides for him and his family which is why even with a home, and a car, he comes to the cave daily.
My favourite story from Ellai is when he was out fishing during the day and he ran into a wandering French tourist at the lagoon. He was excited to meet her and wanted to be a good host of the island and show her the whale bone collection he has back at his cave. In particular the jaw of the whale which in local language is called Fok. Which unfortunately for the caveman sounds very similar to another naughty word in English. “I told her, come to my cave and I show you big fok”. Oh dear, maybe next time Ellai.