Touma by Joseph Sokhn
from Wadi Qannoubeen, the Holy Valley surrounded by the twelve villages
of the Bsharri-Ehden region, in the nineteenth century the grandparents
of Toufiq Touma went up and settled in Hadeth el-Jobbeh. The personal
life, character and work of their grandchild were much affected
by the way the family was uprooted, an experience common to all
In 1937 Toufic, still entirely illiterate, gave up laboring in the
fields as he had done during the first seventeen years of his existence.
Having the good fortune at this late age to get educated at the
Jesuits, and being persistent and hard-working, he made up for lost
time, obtaining the Lebanese and French end-of-high-school baccalaureates,
diplomas of teaching and educational psychology, and university
degrees in law, philosophy and history. In 1954 he obtained the
title of Former Graduated Student in social and economic sciences
from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris Sorbonne) and in
1970 at the University of Paris the French State Doctorate in Letters
and Human Sciences with the mention “Très Honorable”.
His monumental work on Lebanese sociology published in two volumes
in Beirut, 1972, entitled Peasants and Feudal Institutions among
the Druze and Maronites of Lebanon from the 17th century to 1914,
placed him in the highest rank of our scientific and literary contemporary
What is most striking about this great contributor to Lebanese thought
is that he never forgot his own peasant origins, the nostalgia and
burden of which no doubt did much to determine his vocation of sociologist
of rural life, as well as his preference for spending his vacations
and spare moments in tending a vegetable patch in a village high
up in the mountains of Kesrouan. The chance visitor might easily
find him watering egg-fruit and tomatoes under the strong July sun,
with a straw hat on his head and a book in his hand.
From the writings of this son of peasants, a farm worker, university
professor, scientific researcher and gifted author, we offer our
readers (in translation) some passages where observation of living
reality is paralleled by carefully developed literary style.
From a chapter on the emigrants from Hadeth el-Jobbeh:
“The place held by the emigrants in the feelings of the inhabitants
is immense. Prayers are offered for their success and good health.
Their life is the favorite theme of the village bards. Conversation
is often centered on their names. A letter coming from America,
Africa or Oceana fills hearts with joy for many a week. It is passed
from hand to hand and is treasured as if it were sacred.
“Photos of emigrants dominate the most beautiful corners of the
houses, in their gilt or silver frames. The clothes they had worn
before their departure remain a long time carefully kept in solid
“Between the motherland and the country of immigration there is
a deeply moving dialogue lasting throughout the year! Every week
the mail is awaited with the same impatience, the same trepidation,
and the same hope.
“The distant horizon enclosing the blue sea arouses so many bitter
memories! Many are the tender mothers who weep every day looking
at it with eyes from which sight is already half extinguished...”
G.H. was born in Hadeth in 1878. His early childhood was spent in
the village school, learning reading and writing and a little arithmetic.
At the age of nine he was in Baalbek, where he helped his father
in his store. It was a period of buying and selling, but profitable.
At one time his father had to stay in his village where he was blocked
for more than two months by the snow. On his return, a great surprise
awaited him. The child had made a net profit of two hundred gold
sovereigns which he had hidden under a piece of flooring to hide
them from the attention of any possible thief. From this really
considerable sum he had not allowed himself even to take the wherewithal
to buy a few ounces of the candies which he so loved. The little
man was clever, careful with his money, and able to control his
appetite. Neither he nor his father needed any further test to find
out what was his true vocation. The sum he had gained was left to
him as a reward. He took it away with him to his village to open
a store for trade in dyes and in cereals.
1890: Now he was twelve. He took ship with his elder sister and
his brother-in-law for America, passing by Marseilles, The Canaries,
Porto Rico and Mexico, a little adventure that lasted only a couple
1894: He returned to Hadeth with only eighty gold sovereigns.
1905: He was off to America again, with seventy gold sovereigns
in his pocket, a few more years behind him, and a lot more experience.
With fifty sovereigns’ worth of goods bought in Marseilles, and
then sold at Teneriffe, he made a profit of 220 sovereigns. He returned
to Marseilles, went on to Paris, and there met a businessman of
Lebanese origin who opened him a credit for 20,000 gold francs.
He was soon off on his travels again, with best wishes for good
1896: The Canary Isles, Colombia. 1988: Paris, and then off to Colombia
1899: The Colombian currency was devalued, bringing ruin! The loss
was 90%. The sums owed in Paris were enormous. His creditor lost
all hope in him and closed his account. But the young man did not
1901: His debts, capital and interest, had now all been paid off;
his name inspired confidence and represented a billionaire’s fortune.
1904: Now he was in New York, where great financial institutions
gave him unlimited credit, money which he invested in Colombia.
1906-1907: He returned to Lebanon, where he married a maternal cousin
who accompanied him to the land where he had emigrated.
1911: He was in Lebanon once again together with his wife and first
child. He engaged in a very profitable business dealing in oil.
1912: Back to Colombia.
1913: He was back in Lebanon where he stayed throughout the First
World War. He traded in cereals, with a double play of credit; in
Lebanon he lent devaluated currency against checks drawn by the
debtors on their emigrant relatives. On his return in 1920, the
latter were grateful to him for having saved their families from
famine and paid the face values with their interest, without bothering
about the difference, considerable though it was, between the sums
lent in Turkish currency and the sums repaid in dollars. The sum,
a fortune, was soon made up.
1920-1921: He returned to Lebanon to open an important business
in Tripoli. He made two visits to Germany, making enormous profits
thanks to lucky speculation on the mark.
1923: He suffered because of the unexpected rise of in value of
the gold sovereign.
1925: He traveled to Colombia, where he rented land, planted mulberry
trees, and imported silkworm-breeding material from France. While
waiting for the harvest, he returned to Lebanon to take his family
to Colombia, only to be told of the collapse of the prices for natural
silk. “We are always at a crossroads,” he said. “Now we must settle
down a bit.” He bought a large building in Beirut, returned to Colombia,
tore up the mulberries, planted sugarcane and built a refinery.
This time prices did not collapse. Our fellow-citizen was astonished
at his new wealth.
1931: His eldest son replaced him abroad and he retired to Hadeth,
constructing another building in Beirut.
1934: He went back to Colombia, where he opened a business separate
from that of his son, selling the refinery and its accessories.
He put up a large building, the rents of which soon paid off the
1937-1945: This was a prosperous time spent in Lebanon.
1946-1947: He made a short trip to Colombia, returning with 65 kilos
(about 145 pounds) in gold bars and dust. There was danger that
this might be confiscated in a European port, so he carried all
this precious metal under his clothes or hidden in crates of old
shoes. Dressed as a vagabond and pretending to be a down-and-out,
our commercial friend made a vow to the Holy Virgin that if she
protected him he would rebuild her old chapel, then in ruins, in
Hadeth. The Holy Mother had pity on him and accepted the offer.
The Customs official turned away in disgust from what he saw as
a dirty old man in his rags. Having spent enough time in Europe
to sell his load and to convert his profit into checks convertible
in Beirut, on his way back to his homeland, G.H. slipped twenty-five
dollars into the hand of the official who had unknowingly saved
him. The Customs officer certainly did not recognize the disgusting
old vagabond and was never to know the mysterious reason for this
Following his return home, G.H. became a peaceable inhabitant of
Hadeth. He built a magnificent church dedicated to the Holy Virgin
in return for her discreet and kindly complicity. He had several
buildings and business affairs in Beirut and Tripoli. To pass his
time, he would play chess and make loans of money at an interest
of 15 to 20% against mortgages of several times the value.
Accustomed to long voyages and adventure, he did not seem despite
his eighty years to apprehend the day when his last ship would raise
anchor and “take him away into the unknown.”
in the Village
Time itself has a certain measure of importance, whether for good
or for evil. The month of February, for example, despite its promise
of summer, is a pitiless accomplice of death. It picks on both the
youngest and on the oldest in the family, unless at the end of January
the precaution has been taken of tracing on the outer side of the
door a clearly visible cross in either quicklime or white ash. In
this case the vehicle of death halts, turns around and makes off.
The family rests assured for another year.
It is ill-advised to prune a vine on a Friday if the soil is damp,
for the shoots will then be covered with tubercles.
The lunar month is divided into five full days, five slack ones,
four full ones, four slack ones, three full ones, three slack ones,
two full ones and finally two more slack ones. Because of the risk
of a sterile branch resulting, a graft should be inserted only on
a full day. The same holds true for seedlings of cucumbers, haricot
beans, potatoes, and marrows, which should be pulled up only during
the second half of the lunar month. To protect wood from blight
before time, trees are to be cut only on slack days, and this applies
even to the cedar despite its reputation for resisting decay.
However, certain events of daily life are unaffected by the succession
of lunar phases. For planting vines, for example, there is no need
to bother about anything other than the degree of humidity of the
soil. Any day is suitable for reaping wheat. On the other hand,
goats and ewes should be impregnated only during the full moon.
following passage is an extract from Peasants and Feudal Institutions.
The Peasant has his Own Back on the Lord
“Losing mastery of agriculture, abstaining from industry and commerce,
and refusing to emigrate, those of noble origin would have suffered
a constant decline were it not for the continuing interest shown
them by the government administration. Their experience, craft and
ability to govern people and to keep company with the powerful recommended
them to those who accorded public favors under the mutassarifs and
then under the French mandate.
“However, because of their repugnance towards the lucrative professions
and trades, the financial situation of the important personalities
who were not actually officials, or who were unfortunate officials,
became steadily worse. Many family dynasties began to suffer real
“Their wealth diminished while their number increased and the standard
of living of those around improved, creating new demands and offering
more new objects for their desires. There was a rapid decline of
purchasing power, while at the same time there was an urgent desire
to remain on a higher level than the great majority of peasant consumers.
All this led to a real feeling of both material and psychological
“This poverty had begun with the extensive pillage practiced during
the struggles between Druze and Maronites, when many houses of notables
were suddenly attacked by armed bands that killed, burnt, and plundered
with impunity. For some their situation was made still worse under
the regime of the caimacam governors. They had lost the right to
claim a share of six to ten percent on taxes and also other sources
of revenue that they had enjoyed because of their feudal power.
Those who held land in the Beqaa, such as the Abillama, in effect
lost it by the attachment of this district to the governorate of
Damascus. The writer Churchill shows them to us in a sad state already
“Emirs and sheikhs no longer had the means to offer hospitality
and in order not to suffer the shame of having to refuse it they
hid their homes away from the view of passers-by. They no longer
had the means to employ the domestic servants that had surrounded
their fathers. It was quite an exception nowto see a servant carry
a narghileh (water-pipe) up to an emir or a sheikh.
“Well before 1860, even Saïd bey Junblatt, the richest feudatory
of any community, was deep in debt. Among his creditors was Habib
el-Doumani from Deir el-Qamar, a bourgeois of quite modest background.
In 1848 Mislin met several families of emirs living in very reduced
circumstances at Ghosta, where they had taken refuge after the departure
of Emir Bashir II Shehab. Towards 1852, the Shehab princes opened
a subscription to cover the expenses of the preparation, ceremonies
and fsubsequent requirements of the wedding of one of their family.
In 1854, Emir Abd el-Hamid Shehab hesitated before the possibility
of a marriage that he himself wished for and was advised by his
relatives, because his rents were not enough to allow the founding
of a family. The debts of some of the Khazen family, accumulated
over the century, led the notables to set up in 1900 a welfare association
to take under its wing family members. Their case raised a problem
of conscience and it seems of dignity in their social milieu, at
least in the sight of their long-standing peasant clientele.
“Since then, the situation has resulted in a movement of human solidarity
in the form of a discreet call for assistance. These who have seen
better days are called ‘iyal mastura’, families whose fortunes have
gone downhill and who need to be helped by generous charity, while
at the same time it would be indelicate to reveal names on account
of their social rank, whether past or present.
“This solidarity was such that the monks have opened in their account
books a special heading ‘help for emirs and notables fallen on hard
times’. The aid is distributed through the intermediary of the higher
clergy, for example the bishop of Beirut, who has passed on their
share to the Shehab emirs. For this higher clergy, for reasons easily
understood, have tender feelings for this unhappy nobility, for
whose fate they have expressed sympathy in their writings.”