Mariam ‘Awad, Um Muhammad (Kwaykat)

Mariam ‘Awad, Um Muhammad (Kwaykat)


I am from Kwaykat. I was 14 years old when I left Palestine. My husband was with the British army and until now he has the documents and certificates.


Entertaining guests: Tea. There was very little coffee because people were poor.


A wedding would take place on a Sunday or a Friday. They would invite neighbors and relatives. They used sugar for removing hair. The bride’s family would clean her, and at sunset people would come and sing:

“Mother, oh my mother! If you cry you will make me cry/Your tears falling down your cheek burnt me/ Friends of my daughter, come so we can say goodbye to her/As we bid farewell she sheds many tears”.


During the gathering at the house of the groom, they would sing:

“We traveled from village to village/Until we took the daughter of the prince of the Arabs/We took the bride from her father/Oh her father! Oh her bracelets of gold”

We stayed celebrating from the morning, and after the evening celebration, the girls came and mixed the henna on her hands and hair, and feet and fingers, and she would sleep. She would wake up and bathe the next day for the celebration of the removing of the hair.


And when the groom came to take her, they would put her wedding chest on a large tray, and the young girls would carry her chest and go behind her. And they would sing:

“The carrier has lifted up her chest/Your wedding chest, oh my daughter, needed four camels/Under them is your wedding chest/ayyal al hajj wa shaal.[1]


At the time of the ‘Eid, the bride’s family would bring meat and sweets for the bride.


My husband would return every Friday from the British army for a three-day holiday. I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone, I had to stay with my family.


When we left Palestine, we moved to many places. We stayed with the Druze but we couldn’t get on with them because the Druze were with the Jews.


The ‘Eid: We would make yellow ka’k, dates and walnuts, and bake them on an iron oven. We’d slaughter a lamb and go and congratulate the people. Married daughters would take with them meat and sweets.


Ramadan: The sheikh would get up in the morning banging a drum: “Oh sleeper, say there is no God but God”. When the sheikh’s drum stopped, it meant the sheikh had made the call to prayer. The same thing at the breaking of the fast, when the sheikh drummed it meant that it was the time of iftar. During the ‘Eid we would go to the cemetery and distribute bread.


The pilgrimage: People going on the hajj were few. They would say the praises for the hajj, and travel by land. They would prepare his clothes in boxes. They would go walking from Kwaykat to ‘Akka. They would sing:


“Oh visitors of the Prophet, visit at the proper time/We visited the Prophet and completed the pilgrimage/Oh visitors of the Prophet, visit with flags/ We visited the Prophet and peace be upon him/Oh visitors of the prophet, visit with two flags/We visited the Prophet and we visited the two sacred sites.”


The pilgrimage would take three months. At the time of return, too, the reception would be in ‘Akka.


Mourning: During the mourning, the neighbors would cook the food –lunch, supper and breakfast.


Maquillage was forbidden. There was only a lipstick and dry powder, just for the bride.


Gold: I went with my mother-in-law and I bought two thick bracelets with a necklace that contained an almond-shaped piece of gold. We also bought earrings and a thick wrist band. And a gold coin.  


Visiting the sick: There wasn’t a doctor. Someone who was seriously ill would be taken to ‘Akka. If a child was sick with measles or chickenpox, they would wrap him up and make him lie in bed all day, and give him maramiyya and zoufa. [2]


Bread was baked in ovens at the end [ie. just before the Nakba], also in the clay oven [taboon] and on the iron dome [sajj].


Customs of circumcising the boy: [It was done] when he was still young. A circumciser from ‘Akka would come to the mukhtar every week or every month, for whoever needed him. They would sing:


“Oh circumciser, oh circumciser, give him something bright/ You don’t have permission until his uncle arrives/ Oh circumciser, oh circumciser wipe with his sleeve/ You don’t have permission until his mother comes.”


Sometimes families would quarrel with each other. If the problem was very big, they would go and bring the police from ‘Akka to separate the two, and to imprison them.


Revenge: If you killed my son, even if after a long time, I would want to revenge him. The diyya wasn’t acceptable, it had to be revenge.[3] “Diyya, we won’t accept the diyya, nor the Ottoman lira”.


If the parties wanted to reconcile, the committee or the mukhtar would come to make peace between them. But not everybody would accept reconciliation. There were people who insisted on revenge. The mukhtar was the main person responsible.


We would grow wheat, corn, barley, chickpeas, sesame, cusa, eggplant, cucumbers, okra, figs, and olives. We would grow [things] and eat, sell, trade, at times exchange, and give gifts.  The men would go and plant, and the women would dig, and help, and water Everyone would harvest his own land alone. There were poor people, and anyone who had land would give them produce.


The women would knit, they would make a shawl or clothes for the child when it was newly born, and at times sell them. They would knit with a crochet needle.[4]  


Every woman was veiled. In the morning the women would go to between seven and ten diwans, and after that all would go to work or bake.


Times of drought: Kwaykat received a lot of rain. But when rain was scarce, the men would go to the mosque to pray and appeal [to God]. The women would go to the spring or well, put the jar [of water] on their heads and go home. Sheikh Daoud didn’t have much water, they would go and bring water from the river on donkeys.


We would make leban, and make butter from it.


The Thursday of the dead: Every Thursday, people would visit the dead [ie. the cemetery]. During the feasts, they would distribute ma’moul, ka’k, and sweets. And after leaving they would buy meat and distribute it.


The story of the oil jar:[5] This was a story [told] before sleeping, formed from their daily work, and what they did, and in their farm work:

“I told you what I told you/We want to sleep, we want to sleep/We wandered with the turkeys/The jackal came and ate the turkeys.


When we left Palestine, we left Kwaykat, and then we went to Nablus, and then to Jenin, and then to Jordan, and from Jordan to Syria, and then to Lebanon in a Druze area. And we spent one day in Marj ibn ‘Amr.[6] Then we went to Jordan for a week by car, and then back to Syria for a year, and then here. 


Food for the newborn: They would be suckled until the teeth came out, and then the family would make a snooniya.[7]


They didn’t fish, they would go and buy fish from outside the village.


Songs of the revolutionaries:

“I am the fida’i who is known/My mission in this world is open/                         My property and money is rejected/Palestine must remain/I am Palestinian oh my dear/Throw me to death/Delete the word Zionism/We must remain in Palestine”


Song for the times of misfortune: “Your eyes are asleep/But God’s eyes do not sleep/ How short is a lifetime for its creatures/And when Job was tested, what was his sin?/Oh the promise of Job erases destiny?/And I write the book and the days erase it/

I stand at the crossroads and don’t find anyone to take it/ He who wrote this book/If only I could have seen him/I would break the pen/And drink the ink”.[8]


Songs for children: “Oh Muslims! Testify that I am oppressed/

Oppressed , I tell you, by God I am oppressed/ The Christians persecute us in the land of the Romans/Oh eye when it cries, oh eye that oppresses me/

Oh eye! I am your slave, yet I wasn’t bought/ Oh birds take this letter from me and take it/To where the loved ones are, and kiss their hands before giving it to them.” [9]



[1] Rhyme words without meaning.

[2]  Maramiyya is sage and zoufa is hyssop.

[3]  The diyyeh was compensation that had to be two negotiated between the two families involved in conflict.

[4]  Palestinians use the same word for ‘knit’ as ‘crochet’.

[5]  The ‘story of the oil jar’ as Myriam ‘Awad tells it turns out to be a children’s lullaby.

[6]  Marj ibn Amer is in Palestine. It’s not clear whether Myriam ‘Awad’s family tried to return, or she is recalling a place they stayed in after leaving Kwaykat.

[7] Snooniyya comes from snan, tooth. It is a dish somewhat like moghleh, made by boiling white wheat and sugar for several hours, and then decorating the surface with coconut, nuts and raisins.

[8] This seems a strangely literate poem for an elderly village woman to know by heart. Perhaps learnt to help her children in school?

[9]  Again this poem raises questions: was it sung to children in Palestine?  Or was it created and sung by refugees in the camps of Lebanon? Birds carrying letters to loved ones is a frequent motif of refugee poetry.


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