The families of Baabdat
For every cause there is an effect and for every emigrant there is a motive. A person, in the absolute, doesn't perform any work, especially having to do with packing bags and searching for a substitute country, if he hasn't reached a maximum level of despair from staying in his native land...
Emigration, as we know, didn't start yesterday. It has created tight bonds with the people. It could be considered one of the most important bases for the evolution of the civilizations and their spreading around the world.
If this happened all around the world, what's been specifically going on in Lebanon?
The history of lebanese emigration started with the history of Lebanon itself. It's the story of a people who constantly felt threatened, who fought to gain their freedom and independence and live a decent life. They crossed the seas and lands in search for a better future. The first episodes of the lebanese emigration started during the days of the Phoenicians who used the sea as a means of transportation and traveling. They traversed long distances and formed a colony wherever they landed. Moreover, they invented the alphabet, the base of our languages and spread it to the world. They reached North Africa and built the city of Cartagena, which is the actual Tunisia, that competed with Rome in different fields. They also settled in Greece and in different parts of the Roman Empire. They reached Spain and spread on the coasts of England. The European Continent, as you know, was named after a Phoenician girl: Europe.
The Phoenicians crossed the Atlantic, turned around Africa and discovered America even before Christopher Colombus. A lot of writings in Brazil on the Pouso Alto Rock in the state of Paraíba and the Pedra de Gávea Rock in the state of Rio de Janeiro prove it. Another proof lies in the writings on the Dighton Rock in the State of Massachusetts in the United States.
The first and foremost reason of the lebanese emigration was to earn a living and trade. Progressively, as decades passed, emigration became a very long absence from the country of origin... It increased in the Middle Ages, especially in Mount Lebanon whose people frequented the business capitals of the world such as Pisa, Genoa, Nice and Venice. People emigrated in the Memluk era to escape from religious persecution and their new destinations were Jerusalem, Rhodes, Malta and Cyprus...
Wars also played their role after Lebanon became the playground of absurd events, riots and revolutions that came from the outside most of the time. The people of this beautiful country went through pressures and tortures and faced moral and financial difficulties especially the Christians of the mountains. Hence, they chose emigration to escape from a sad reality.
Real overspread emigration practically started in 1860 and continued till 1920, the year of the establishment of the State of Great Lebanon. It relatively decreased after this declaration and re-emerged in the mid seventies of the last century, more specifically with the beginning of the lebanese war till now.
Lebanese emigration to the american continent witnessed in the first and second decades of the XXth century a lot of evolution. At first, emigration was achieved randomly and quickly without any study or farsightedness... The immigrant didn't care about the place where he would establish as much as he cared about getting rid of the poverty and injustice from which he suffered in his own country. In other words, the Baabdati was satisfied to stay in a place where there were reasonable working conditions, where he could make some profit and send a part of it to his family. As for the rest, he would keep it to form a capital he might take with him if one day he decides to go back to his country and birthplace.
As we already mentioned, the causes and motives of the lebanese emigration apply in general on the Baabdati emigration. However, there are specific causes and factors that encouraged the emigration of the lebanese to some countries more than others.
The first lebanese emigration was towards the american continent. The initial lebanese immigrants worked in trade unlike their main source of living in Lebanon that was based on agriculture. They became ambulant sellers, "tujjar al-Kasheh", known in Brazil as mascate, in the Unites States as peddlers. The word "Kasheh" in the portuguese language means box. The lebanese immigrants counted on peddling because it didn't demand any experience, education, capital or developed language skills. It also brought quick revenue, independence in movement and it's a freelance work that doesn't have any schedule. The equipment is a wooden box that weighs sometimes up to 50 kilograms carried on the back of the seller. The latter walks with it long distances starting from dawn till sunset. They put some necessary tools in the box such as threads, needles, pins, socks, soap, cigarettes, combs, mirrors, perfumes, underwear, textile, ready-to-wear clothes... that they sold in the city streets or rural areas.
The lebanese were also known as the "credit turks" because they sold their merchandise on credit. They were also called in some areas the "percussion makers" because the wooden meter that they used for the textile looked like a hammer constituted of two pieces of wood linked with a leather cord. When they hit each other, the two pieces made a noise sounding like "trac trac" announcing the arrival of the ambulant seller.
The peddlers started their work very early in the morning. They crossed the roads and streets looking for houses in the heat, cold or under the rain. They carried with them some bread, cheese and a banana to have the only meal they could afford during the day. They went from East to West, North to South, passed by the suburbs, the internal cities, the farms, the woods and the distant plains. They walked on muddy roads where it was difficult to go on foot or on the back of a horse or a mule.
Those who chose emigration faced a lot of dangers including the rough areas, bandits and wild animals. They faced hunger, homelessness or stayed in the barns or on the wet grass. They suffered from exhaustion and dryness of the throat. Their feet chapped from walking long distances in rough lands. Thieves attacked them, they lost their road companions and hundreds of doors were shut in their faces. They were insulted, obliged to escape from the guns of the farmers that were pointed at them or from the enraged dogs that chased them... However, as they always did, they knew how to be patient and wisely overcome their difficulties counting on the knowledge some of them earned from the traditions of the country.
Peddling paved the way for a better life. Later, they opened shops in many places and slowly started to become famous. They succeeded in different fields such as industry, agriculture, politics, business, medicine, law, sciences, engineering, stock exchange, literature and others and reached very important and high posts that confirmed how distinguished they are.
The unique location of Lebanon, as mentioned in geography and history books and as it is in the reality and imagination of each person who knew this country and lived in it, made it worthy of being called the bridge between East and West. Its geological structure might have imposed its openness to the world. The latter contributed to form the unique lebanese characteristic represented by the love of freedom, openness, adventurousness, trade and of course the ease to make the decision in some circumstances to pack the bags and take the boat to depart to a substitute country that can provide a decent life for those who search for it.
Agriculture has always been considered as the first resource of the lebanese population. It depended on it to survive and fight poverty but unfortunately, agriculture couldn't provide the required production for different reasons such as:
Apart from the peasants' sufferings, you undoubtedly ask the following question: What kind of cultures grew in the lebanese fields?
Most of the plantations the lebanese people took care of, consisted of olives, grapes and blackberries. Olive that was planted in most of the coastal and mountainous areas was an important and essential resource in the lebanese life. However, many factors such as the fall of the prices due to the invasion of the european oil extracted from sesame or other substances weakened the production of olive and the purpose of its cultivation.
As for the grape that was the second most important agricultural produce in Lebanon after the breeding of the silkworm, it was also subject to deterioration and decline. There were no specialized factories to extract wine and arak (Arak is a lebanese alcoholic drink extracted from raisins). What added fuel to the fire is the emergence of diseases that affected the grapes and that the farmer couldn't face because of his primitive techniques.
Concerning the cultivation of blackberries that were considered one of the most important agricultural produce in Lebanon since they brought revenue, helped to survive and feed the silkworm to produce silk, the lebanese chose to cultivate them because it was impossible to plant grains in the mountain... but this sector faced many problems as the years passed leading to the extermination of the silk production.
The industries in the old ages were restricted to family small and simple projects and primitive artisanal and handmade works such as silk spinning, wool and cotton knitting, tanning, soap industry, shoemaking, tailoring, goldsmithing, alcohol distillation and oil extraction...
As for the silk industry, it was very important in the national economy. The lebanese peasant took great care of the silkworm breeding. The silk season constituted 60% of the mountain revenues and most of the production was exported to France. Before long, the silk boom collapsed and the silkworm breeding slowed down obviously carrying with it the silk industry due to many factors such as the following:
All these factors contributed to the loss of a group of tradesmen. Hence, a big number of the loom factories that were famous for manufacturing silk were closed such as in Baabdat, were there were twelve silk factories before World War I. Unemployment spread among the farmers and small industrials, and drove many to decide to emigrate in search of a new source of living in a different place.
Some lebanese worked in the trade sector but before long it became difficult to count on that sector especially in the mountain due to its natural inaccessibility to the sea and shortage of sufficient commercial merchandise, not to mention the lack of opportunities. Thus, a lot of people left their country to have a better life.
Furthermore, the communications were bad and scarce and the means of transportation was the donkey or the mule... there was also great fear when moving from one place to the other of being attacked by thieves, bandits and authorities.
The ottoman policy in Lebanon pushed the lebanese to hastily decide to migrate outside the country. Moreover, the sectarian and religious differences controlled many major decisions weakening Mount Lebanon. The Ottomans were the biggest beneficiaries from these conflicts since they applied the arab saying: "divide to preside."
In 1860, massacres occurred between the Maronite (an eastern catholic christian branch subject to the authority of the Vatican and attributed to Saint Maron) and the Druze (a religious group belonging to islam). They reached almost all the areas of Lebanon and ended up by killing thousands of christians, stealing and destroying hundreds of houses, schools, convents, churches and villages.
After these massacres, some european countries interfered and arranged a settlement in June 1861 according to which the system known as Protocol was issued. It separated the Northern, Southern, Bekaa and Beirut areas, rich with their agricultural valleys, from the rocky and mountainous area of Mount Lebanon, and subjected them to the direct control of the Ottoman Empire. There was also an agreement to assign a non-lebanese christian governor over Mount Lebanon. (we mention here that the Turkish Ottoman Empire was ruling the Arab and Balkans area till 1918. As for the actual Turkey, it became a republic in 1923 after its defeat during World War I).
Sectarianism became the basis of everything in the ruling system. The population had only two choices: starvation or emigration. All this coincided with the imposition of new taxes on the mountain as well as the obligatory military service in the areas subject to the Ottoman Empire. They were attempts to "turkicize" the lebanese people by imposing ottoman IDs on them leading to the emigration of lots of lebanese escaping from a sad reality that was difficult to change. (That's why the emigrants were called "Turcos" i.e. Turks, in the countries of central and south america and those who have a lebanese or syrian origin are unfortunately still designated this way).
To explain in a clearer way the situation from which the country people suffered, we mention what was quoted from one of the immigrants to Brazil in 1891 in a letter he sent to his family:
"We consider ourselves free now in the country of freedom. We express ourselves and act freely with no fear of being persecuted. We travel from one country to the other and safely carry our money with us as if we were in our mother's lap. We don't worry about encountering neither thieves at the Qarn Valley (between Syria and Lebanon) nor Kurdish horsemen at the Mouallaqah (near Zahle, the capital of the Bekaa province) nor the gangs of Beirut who attacked us or stole our money and belongings at the port... those memories break my heart."
The tyranny of the Turkish government was one of the main reasons that made a lot of people disbelieve in their country and decide to emmigrate all over the world. In this context, some immigrants were asked what lay behind their decision to emigrate and they answered that the political reason was one of the most important factors. A writer noted an expression written on a patch in the house of an immigrant: "Here, we and the children are happily free."
The religious factor is one of the most important reasons that drove or can drive people to emigrate. It is worth mentioning that the lebanese stayed for generations away from anything that could harm the good relations between the different confessions and religions until the egyptian ruling in 1831 awakened sectarianism between Muslims and Christians and a conflict rose between the latter and the Druze. It wasn't their fault as much as it was the outcome of international plots and colonial interests.
The lebanese society was divided into two classes before: the peasant's class and the feudal lords. The lords lived a life of ease and comfort, whereas the peasants lived in misery and poverty. The houses of the poor people that were made of bricks were constituted of one large room without furniture that the members of the family shared with the cattle. The floor of the room was made of evened soil.
Furthermore, the number of the population increased and the resources diminished causing a mess. This was one of the main reasons if not the first and foremost reason that led to the economic crisis and caused emigration. The rate of unemployment rose and a large number of people lived in poverty. The only solution for the lebanese to fight hunger was emigration. The medical technologies that arrived from Europe such as vaccination, also contributed in improving health and decreasing the death rate. Hence, there was an unbalanced increase in the number of the population in the mountain areas.
In that context, the political sociologist of Baabdati origin, Naoum Kesrouan Labaki considered that social imbalance was one of the most important factors that pushed two hundred thousand lebanese to leave their country. That's why imbalance was considered the main cause of emigration.
On the other hand, education improved thanks to the foreign missionaries and monastic institutions. Presses spread in the country. Schools and universities opened, especially the American School in Beirut in 1834 followed by the American University in 1866 then the Jesuit Saint Joseph University in 1875. The Jesuit and American Universities are considered among the most important universities of Lebanon and the East in our times. Statistics in 1914 showed that the education level reached 50% in Lebanon and it's the highest in any country in the world outside Europe and Northern America. This high rate was another cause that influenced emigration, in addition to the absence of freedom during the Ottoman Empire especially the freedom of speech, expression and writing.
The efforts of preachers and missionaries
The preaching institutions, Catholic and Protestant missionaries in Lebanon in the XIXth century were active in different fields such as education and hospitalization leading to mental, cultural, social, economic and constructional evolution. An educated but unemployed class emerged. They wanted to improve their financial and social situation. Emigration was the way to achieve those financial and social goals.
A great number of tourists visited Lebanon and the East for their many archeological sites and sacred christian lands. It was normal that the tourists attracted attention because of their looks and high living standards. A lot of lebanese had a good impression of them, their countries and goods. They desired to leave and emigrate to earn money and have luxury and goods.
The efforts of the creditors, the role of the mediators and the incitement of the brokers
The original lebanese people wanted to try their luck in a different country break free from their current situation. To get the travelling ticket and the expenses of the trip, they borrowed money in exchange of the mortgage of their house or a small piece of land and promised on a written paper or orally to pay the money and interest after making some profits abroad.
Moreover, the traveller had to go through many procedures, reviews and get the licenses... he needed a mediator specifically to get an Ottoman ID that allowed him to travel in exchange of a certain amount of money. This role wasn't restricted to mediators. It also included advisors and brokers that went to the villages and encouraged the young people to emigrate.
The letters of the immigrants to their families
The immigrant left his family and village and everyone expected the letters that brought his news. The arrival of the letter became a historic event in the village that gathered close and distant people. It was read many times to the public, then during meetings and had interpretations that rose in some of the listeners curiosity, jealousy and amazement for the wealth of the new world and the job opportunities. Some went even further by comparing what the immigrant earned in one day to what the survivor in the country earned in a month or a year! The majority of the letters carried direct invitations and calls for the parents and siblings inciting them to leave the country and join their relatives abroad.
The money sent from abroad
The money transfers sent by the immigrants to their families were a precious help. They concretely showed how wealthy was the immigration country and were at the same time a means to follow the immigrants to the different countries.
Disappointments and personal fears
There are other motives whether personal or related to the family that also led to the emigration of the lebanese including conflicts that rose between two families or members of the same family or even between a couple or because of the nullification of an engagement, a conflict between neighbours, a crime, the burning of the crop or the loss of the transportation or agriculture animals. People also left to escape from the justice and law in addition to the terror and fear from some political events and attacks that threatened the security... the causes were numerous but the effect was one: emigration!
Lebanese emigration didn't stop as the years passed. It increased sometimes and diminished at others. It started again in the 1920s among young people who looked for job opportunities and wealth. They desired to earn a lot of money and assist their families who suffered during the war from the tyranny and persecution of the Ottomans. They went through sickness, fear, poverty and famine... the modern emigration period extended since the proclamation of the State of Great Lebanon in 1920 followed by the proclamation of the Lebanese Republic in 1926, the independence of Lebanon in 1943 and the end of the French mandate.
In 1975, the war of the others started in Lebanon which killed around 100 thousand lebanese, injured more than a quarter of a million and displaced more than 800 thousand.
Emigration still goes on for various economic, social, security and political reasons and unfortunately continues increasing till now.