The attack took place Saturday night at a funeral in Jaar town in Abyan province, Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported Sunday.
"Latest reports coming from Abyan province indicate that at least 46 people were killed and about 48 others were wounded, some of them in critical conditions," a statement from the Yemen Defense Ministry said.
Among the dead was a pro-government tribal chief, the statement said.
Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack in an e-mailed statement obtained by Xinhua.
"One of our holy warriors carried out a successful jihadist operation on a compound in Jaar town," the statement said, giving no other details.
A witness, whose name was not reported, told Xinhua "an al-Qaida attacker apparently disguised himself as a guest and blew himself up at the entrance of the hall, where prominent tribal chiefs were welcoming guests at the funeral in Jaar town."