Narrowly,Hadhramaut refers to the historical Qu'aiti and Kathiri sultanates, which were in the Aden Protectorate overseen by the British Resident atAden until their abolition upon the independence of South Yemen in 1967. The current governorate of Hadhramaut roughly incorporates the former territory of the two sultanates. It consists of a narrow, arid coastal plain bounded by the steep escarpment of a broad plateau (al-Jol, averaging 1,370 m [4,500 feet]), 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 Hadhramis live in densely built towns centered on traditional watering stations along the wadis. Hadhramis 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 Prophet Muhammad, traditionally educated and strict in their Islamic observance and highly respected in religious and secular affairs. Since the early 19th century, large-scale Hadhramaut migration has established sizable Hadhrami minorities in South and South East Asia, namely Hyderabad, Bhatkal, Malabar, Java, Sumatra, Malacca and Singapore.For example, several Indonesian ministers, including former Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and former Finance Minister Mari'e Muhammad are of Hadhrami descent, as is the former Prime Ministerof East Timor Marí Alkatiri. Hadhramis have also settled along the East African coast, and two former ministers in Kenya, Shariff Nasser and Najib Balala, are of Hadhrami descent.