Mariam al-Baytam (Sheikh Daoud)



Q: What’s your name?


A: My name is Mariam Yousef al-Baytam, from Sheikh Daoud.


Q: Your age?


A: I was born in 1932, I’m 78 years old.


Q: Tell us about Palestine


A: I was very naughty when I was young


Q: What did you wear when you were young?


A: I wore dresses with frills, and scarves embroidered with sequins.


Q: What did girls wear back then?


A: They wore Arab clothes, the abay, and they folded it around themselves.


Q: You mean the sharwal?


A: Yes, the sharwal and then they put the abay over it.


Q: Were there differences in clothes?


A: Yes each according to his age, young and old people dressed differently.


Q: No one wore short dresses?


A: No, no.


Q: Did you buy clothes from the city?


A: No, no, we used to buy fabric, and sew the clothes at home.


Q: You used to pay for the sewing?


A: Yes we did.


Q: Where did you get the fabric from?


A: From shops and the fabric seller.


Q: How did you spend your days?


A: At home and at work. Those who had land would plant and work on it.


Q: What did you do in the morning?


A: We would milk the cows and sweep under them, then men and women would go to the fields to sow and harvest the okra.


Q: Were there any poor people?


A: No, no, no, everyone had land.


Q: Were there Jews and Christians?


A: No, the Jews were in Nahariya, Nahariya was all ‘national’ Jews.[1] When the army came to expel us, someone called Mlikha told them to let the women leave, and we went to south Lebanon. They [ie. those who had stayed in the village] harvested the wheat and barley crop, and stored it.  They sent after my father and uncle to come back and said we will protect you. But they didn’t want to go back.


Q: You used to go to ‘Akka?


A: Yes we used to go to sell vegetables, leban, milk in ‘Akka.


Q: Do you know the word al-awneh? [2]


A: Yes, but there we used to say ‘brotherhood’, cooperation from brother to brother. When someone wanted to marry, each one in the village would volunteer something for him. I would get mattresses, and you would bring sweets, and so on. On the wedding day, we would bring a sack of rice, a sack of sugar. We’d bring coffee and tea.


Q:  When a man went to get engaged to a girl, did they love each other?


A: No, he can’t even see her until they make the marriage contract.


Q: He wouldn’t see her or go out with her?


A: No. At the feasts he would go greet her parents and leave. They couldn’t see each other until the wedding day.


Q: What were the wedding preparations?


A: For the wedding, they would sit all the evening preparing the dough for the vermicelli, they would dry it and brown it. They would work on it for seven days and seven nights — “halali ya mali wa ya a’zzi wa ya mali  [halali, oh my money, oh my honour, and my money][3]


Q: What would they chant for them?


A: “Ya shabab jar al-Baytam, Ya nemr al-shajar, ya na’lin al-mal men taht al-hajjar. Ah, ya tastaqbilu al-basha low hadar”. [“Oh men, neighbors of the Baytam family, oh Nimer al-Shajjar, you who get money from beneath the rocks, welcome the Pasha when he comes”] And to the elder of the family, for example if his name was Abu Abdallah they would say: “Ah, yaba Abdallah, ya shasha a’la rasi la biaak wala baatik lal nas. Ah men haybtak amit al salatin ‘an al-karasi” [Oh Abu Abdallah you are very valuable to me, I wouldn’t sell you or give you to anyone. Because of your prestige the Sultans would leave their chairs] “Al-baher kabir kabir, fiyu al-marakeb bsrir, wa biwajoud Abu Abdallah njawez al-kabir lil sgheir. A’rees, a’rees, ya mshanshal khatmak bi idek ya karm inab wa mdali a’n e’idek rab al-sama yaatik wa yazidak wa takhtum wa kul al-nas taht idak [The sea is very big and in it are small boats. And in the presence of Abu Abdallah we marry the big to the small. Groom oh groom with your ring on your hand, I hope the God of the skies will make you richer till you end with everyone under your hand.]


Q: And for your bride?


A: “Ah erfa’i rasik ya marfu’a al-ras/ah la fiki a’ybi wala al-nas qal ah!  Erfa’i rasik la bayik wa la khayik/wa quli ehna sharihet dahab wal nas labasi [Ah raise your head you bride, oh girl with her head raised/You don’t have any flaw and people don’t say ah!/Raise your head for your father and brother/And say we are pieces of gold that people are ready to wear]


Arous ya wardeh, a’la khaljaan/ ah ya a’qed loulou jebtik men aradi al-sham/ah lazayin teqlik dahab/wa lazayin te’lik maas wa etla’m/ ya qamar tadwi a’la al-khaljan.” [Oh bride, oh flower of the Gulf/ You are a pearl necklace from the land of Sham/ Oh I will grace you with gold/ I will grace you with diamonds so that you may shine/ Oh moon shine on the Gulf.]


Q: Did she use to kiss her father’s hand before going out of his house?


A: Yes she kissed her father’s hand before going out, and she would go out with her hand raised.


Q: Did widowers and divorcees have weddings when they remarried?


A: No, they didn’t, but the bride’s parents would make a small party for her.


Q: What was in the bride’s trousseau?


A: There weren’t cupboards in those days so she would have a chest: “ya sanduq abu al-mara/’ qata’un qloub lil sabaya” [“Oh chest of the father of the woman, it breaks the hearts of the young women”] There would be gold and money from her mahr. [4] I got three rings and three pairs of bracelets, about twenty dresses, they sewed sofa covers and covers for the cupboards, and embroidered slips, and a piece of soap for the face, and another of olive oil. These were for beautification.


Q: Did the bride put dough [on the door] when she reached her house?


A: Yes she would put dough that had basil in it.


Q: Basil? Not a rose?


A: No basil, that was a tradition.


Q: And if the dough fell off [it meant] the woman would be divorced?


A: Yes.


Q: How were the preparations for the feast?


A: For the feast we would prepare sweets and ka’k, and we slaughtered animals.


Q: How was Ramadan?


A: Like today, the usual thing. They would go to harvest while fasting.


Q: How was the hajj?


A: At the time of the hajj they would go by camel or by sea.


Q: What sea?


A: They would go to ‘Akka and sail from there.


Q: They used to make decorations like now?


A: Yes, they decorated.


Q: When the pilgrims came back what did you do?


A: They welcomed them back with tahleel,[5] and food, and made sweets for them.


Q: How was your social life?


A: Normal. It couldn’t have been better.


Q: Did people get sick?


A: No, there was no sickness. When someone died the whole village would mourn for forty days. No one would turn on the radio, or take a bath. In those days a dead person was valued, not like now.


Q: When someone gave birth, would you go to congratulate her?


A: Yes, they would make fatayeh[6]with oil and sugar, and gifts, gold, clothes.


Q: How was a boy’s circumcision?


A: The circumciser would come and circumcise the boy, and they would start singing:“Mtaher ya mtaher wa msah bikemo wa stanna ya mtahir la tiji immo, ya mtaher ballah a’layk ma twaje’lu flen bezaal a’leh, ya mtaher taher wa msah bikemo wa stana ya mtaher la tiji ammo”. [Oh circumciser, do the circumcision, and wait for the boy’s mother, oh circumciser don’t hurt him I would be sad for him, oh circumciser do the circumcision and wait for the boy’s uncle] And when they wanted to tell the father that his wife delivered a boy, they would sing to him “Ya nas sallu‘ala al-nabi wa marto jabit sobi, ya min ybashir abu al-sobi [Oh people pray to the prophet, his wife delivered a boy. Who will give the good news to the boy’s father?]


Q: How did you deal with sicknesses?


A: With doctors. We would bring them to our village.


Q: If a person breaks something, what would you do?


A: An ‘Arab’ doctor would set his bones.


Q: Did women smoke?


A: No, only bedouin women smoked.


Q: If a woman smoked what would happen?


A: If a woman smoked they’d say she wasn’t good.


Q: Do you remember anything about the revolution?


A: I remember the revolution of ‘36, they use to fight secretly. They caught my father and imprisoned him. So I went crying to the general’s wife saying we want our baba. He was released two days later.


Q: How did you leave Palestine?


A: At the beginning we didn’t leave. We went on camels to Tarshiha, and then we went to a town called Yarqa which was for the Druze. Then we stayed four or five months in Majdel Kroom. Then king Abdullah’s army came and took my father. So I went to them crying and pleading, and in ten days they released him. We went to Sohmata, we wanted water, but the people of Sohmata didn’t want to give us any. So we went back to Deir al-Qasi. We baked bread there under the trees, ate, and then left, and went to Rmeish.


Q: Rmeish here in Lebanon?


A: Yes here. After that we went to Bint Jbeil, after that to Jwaya. In the houses there, there wasn’t any water. So we searched for a well to fill up with water. When I wanted to get water from the village well, a mute woman followed me and was about to hit me, so I left the well, and escaped and hid in a coffee house. After that, we followed the Salvation Army [further] into Lebanon. We stayed in Jwaya for a year and a half, then we went to Mrayjeh. From there to Bourj, and we stayed here.     


[1] Palestinians used the term ‘national Jews’ to distinguish indigenous Jewish communities from European Jewish colonizers.

[2] Villagers used awneh with an ‘al-’ to signify a tradition of cooperation.

[3] A nonsense rhyme.

[4] The mahr was the sum of money paid by the groom to the parents of the bride – evidence here that parents often passed the mahr on to the bride.

[5] Tahleel (from yuhalalu) is a special kind of ululation, done for special occasions.

[6] Pastry triangles usually stuffed with spinach and pine nuts, but here clearly sweet.


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