Um Saleh Shaker (al-Kabri)



Q: So what’s your name?

A. Put Um Saleh Shaker. It’s really al-Jisheh but we removed al-Jisheh, so put Shaker. At the time when they made the statistics, they asked my mother-in-law, what is your husband’s name? She told them Abu Saleh Shaker. She gave this as his father’s name as well, though we are from the Jisheh family, she didn’t give the family name. Khelas! we stayed Shaker.

Q: And you are from al-Kabri?

A: Yes.

Q: How old were you when you left Palestine?

A: 16 years old.

Q: So you were mature?

A: I left with a child called Saleh in my arms.

Q: Really! So you were married. Well, the subject of our talk is customs and traditions, I mean what you used to do.

A: You mean clothes, work, or…..?

Q: Yes, everything.

A: First of all, in Palestine we had land, houses, horses, camels, cows, and what can I tell you? That is basically what we owned. I mean we would sow and harvest on our lands. We had figs, and we had olives, and we had grapes, and we had apples, and we had… Palestine was paradise. Many Lebanese would go there.

Q: Did they buy from you?

A: They would take from here, and carry hawthorn and cotton, and exchange them for wheat. Palestine wasn’t like now, it was a flower, it was…

Q: So you in al-Kabri, what did you grow?

A: First of all we grew figs, olives, grapes, apples, walnuts, what can I tell you? Oranges, citrus – I mean citrus that is grown in gardens. We had land and the land had water [called] the ‘spring of honey’.

Q: You mean it had a spring in it?

A: It had two springs not one, and its water was called ‘Anaaya [healing] from ancient history, as well as the water of the ‘spring of honey’. Now they sell the water of the ‘spring of honey’ in France as ‘pure water’ — the water of our land!

Q: Really?

A: Without exaggeration you can say thatpools and springs came from this spring. We worked on it and built it, and the water went down from it to water the gardens and to water the farmlands. We had plenty of treasures, hamdillah, hamdillah! Vineyards and figs and grapes…What can I tell you? what can I tell you? I won’t speak. Every time I speak I start to cry. I don’t want to speak anymore.

Q: No hajji, don’t cry.

A: Let’s go slowly slowly.

Q: Alright.

A: They deprived us of all the land my daughter! May God destroy them.

Q: May God restore it to us, hajji.

A: Another thing, it was our custom to wear long clothes.

Q: You mean ‘abayas?

A: What do you mean?

Q: ‘Abayat.

A: No, dresses.

Q: Dresses! So you were unveiled?

A: No.

Q: Weren’t you all veiled?

A: Wait! I’m going to show you the mandeel of Palestine.

Q: Do you have one?

A: Let me get up and bring it to you, stay seated. That is what we used to make with the makouk [crochet hook].[1] Maybe you don’t know that term, even if we say it to you, you aren’t going to know it.

Q: Makouk?

A: Makouk — it comes like this and like this.

Q: It’s like a long needle?

A: It’s called makook. Anyway we would use it to work with wool for mandeels, and we made mandeels here in the same manner as this one was made.

Q: Ah.

A: This was our way of dressing, and that’s how we dressed afterwards. But not during the present time. This dress I am wearing now, this is how we dressed in Palestine.

Q: Did you use to sew your clothes?

A: Who ever had seamstresses and machines, I mean whoever had a sewing machine, she would sew for people. It wasn’t just one, not just one person, and not just one machine. Ah! There were many machines to sew for us.

Q: Hajji, at the time of weddings, what would you do?

A  At the time of a wedding — first a girl would get engaged — if you want to fix your phone, you can fix it.

Q: No, this records the voice so that we can write it down later.

A: Peace be on the Prophet.[2] At the time of weddings, the first thing is the ta’leeli. [3]

Q: What is the ta’leeli?

A: It is the sahra,[4] just like they make the sahra here now. Evening celebrations would last a week in Palestine.

Q: Really?

A: The whole village would gather in the village square, and make the sahra. We called this the ta’leeli. The important thing was the day of the wedding. What can I tell you? I mean [it was as if] we wanted to celebrate all the heritage that we were following on the day of the wedding. The day before the wedding, they would pass by all the houses. If you had a load of firewood, you would carry it and bring it to the house of the bridegroom.They would invite the guests.[5] All the guests who came would bring with them slaughtered sheep, or sacks of rice, or bags of coffee.

Q: Yes.

A: Or a sack of sugar. On the day of the wedding they would do everything they could for the wedding. What can I tell you? We in our village would first go out to the wide threshing floors, you go out there to do the dabkeh, and the sahja [6] and dancing, and everything. From there they would go down below the olive groves to an open space — the same thing, the same programme. Then they would go up to the house of ‘Atef’, they were the neighbors of the zu’ama [leaders], then to the neighbors Sarhan. From the house of Sarhan they would go down from alley to alley, and from there to the village square. They would be carrying this rope and these lamps. They would keep the rope and the lamps throughout the sahra, for the whole evening. They would bring the singer Abu Sa’oud, and he would sing,[7] and people would clap behind them.

Q: Do you remember, hajji, what they used to say?

A: Yes. What can I tell you? Someone would sing.

Q: What would they say?

A: Wallahi, this is what can I remember, they would sing to the official leader. Weren’t there leaders? Shall I count them? They would sing for the groom’s family, and the people and the women behind the groom were clapping. The young men would stand in front and the women in the back. This is all I know.

Q: Okay, what happened when they came to take the bride?

A: Wallahi, where would they take her? To the house of the groom. The people followed her. They would place her on a horse.

Q: A horse?

A: On a horse, yes. And the groom’s mother would have a dress kept from her wedding, and it would be placed on the horse, and the groom would ride the horse around the borders of the village/, and after he had ridden around the village, they would put his mother’s dress on the horse. When they brought the bride to the house of her in-laws, the same thing would be done.

Q: The same thing?

A: Yes, the same thing. And they would chant for her “This is the great one, the daughter of great ones. I want to do the sahja at the door of the great, and the glorious one does not enter except with two big dinars”.

Q: Wonderful!

A: The family of the groom would take her, and give her money, and bring her down from the horse.

Q: Alright, so at the time of the henna, did they make her a henna party?

A:  My dear how wonderful are the things I’m telling you! The henna had its own evening of celebration, for the young women and the young men. The young men were on one side and the young women on another side.

Q: The young men used put on henna as well?

A: Yes. Those who wanted to put henna on their hand and those who didn’t want to didn’t. Young men were different in those days. They wore the shamleh and the sharwal.[8] I mean the young men then were not like the young men today — we call them ‘nylon’, wallahi ‘nylon’. Did we have young men who would tie their hair up like nowadays. The young man meant a man then.

Q: A real man?

A: Yes, a man who goes to work, a man who “if you throw him in the saha he stays upright on his feel”[9], whatever he does he’s a man. This generation is all ‘nylon’, young men and girls, I mean isn’t it a shame to lie?

Q: Certainly. Those who didn’t wish to put henna on their hands, what did they do?

A: Everyone would put henna. The young men and the best man would put on henna during the henna night. The groom was invited to someone’s house, I mean to put on the henna, him and the other young men.  His two best friends were strong; they wouldn’t let the groom be kidnapped from among them. If other young men were stronger than them, they would kidnap the groom and go.

Q: Kidnap?

A: They would not let the groom go unless his best friends pay. But it was a joke among the youth. This is how weddings were with us in Palestine, very beautiful. When the bride had put henna on her hands they would mount her on a horse, they would make her hands like this, and tie the mandeel around her; a mandeel that had oyya on it.[10]

Q: What is an oyya?

A: It’s wool. We would buy wool and place it on her head, and sequins like this, I mean we would put two bits of wool with sequins on her head, so that she would shine all shiny. Like she carries roses now.

Q: During the ‘Eid, hajji, the two feasts, al-Fitr and al-Adha?

A: The two feasts remain the same with us, people make ka’k.

Q: The yellow ka’ak?

A: Ka’k with halloum, walnuts, sesame, you make them also with dates as well, in every house, but only on the day of the feast. Whether for the small or the great feast one had to make at least forty cakes. During the Thursday of the Dead the women also cooked everything, and they would carry the food on their heads and distribute it in the cemetery, and distribute it amongst the poor. Some would slaughter animals and distribute the meat, and some would cook food, hamdillah! The earth’s riches in Palestine were very beautiful, and Palestine was very beautiful.

Q: Good. During the feasts, where would you go out to enjoy yourselves?

A: We would celebrate the feast with one another. As the saying goes, pray the prayer for the ‘Eid, and it guides those who have a woman relative to visit her. It’s a duty for every man, him and his children, to celebrate with his sister, and his aunts from both sides of the family, and to celebrate with his friends. This was the ‘Eid for us. We girls would make kibbeh binat, even when we were young girls.

Q: What does kibbeh binat mean?

A: Kibbeh binat means you take a little meat and a little burghul.

Q: Ah, the usual kibbeh?

A: Yes, but they called it kibbeh binat. And the girls would go out on the swings and swing on them.

Q: The girls were like that? For example you were sixteen years old, like the young ones girls would go on the swings too. They didn’t go on the swings with the boys. There was a zanzalakhti tree,[11] you don’t know it. Here there was a tree and there there was a tree. They would tie a rope between the two trees and hang the swing on it.

Q: Zanzalakhti?

A: Zanzalakhti, you don’t know it? “’An zanzalakhti, ‘an zanzalakhti, she met him at the zanzlakhty tree, and my sister married him”. Our heritage in Palestine was beautiful. And the bride they bring her from outside would ride on a howdaj.  

Q: You mean on a horse?

A: On a camel. They would ride her on a camel, when she came from outside, a stranger, they would put her on a camel, and it was called howdaj. Ah! our weddings were very beautiful. The slaughter of sheep and the food! The whole world was beautiful on the day of the wedding.

Q: They slaughtered animals like that?

A: Yes! They slaughtered and slaughtered as they do now! They would make plenty of food. At least for a wedding they would slaughter ten to 15 sheep. In our village, al-Kabri, we would invite Tarsheeha, al-Kwaykat, Ghabsiya, al-Nahar, al-Bassa, and al-Zeeb. And it wasn’t just us, al-Kabri, everyone who wanted to make a wedding invited all the villages around. You should see all the guests arriving!

Q: Yes of course.

A: You see the wedding had its value, the sahja had its value, everything had its value. Now here we don’t have this.

Q: What is the sahja?

A: The sahja is when the singer chants and the young men clap and the poet continues praising, and the young men begin to jump around. The groom’s mother would come with his aunts and relatives and they would put a wooden serving spoon, moghrafa as they call it now, and the groom’s mother would dance in the sahja holding the moghrafa.

Q: So did you have anyone who went on the pilgrimage ?

A: They would go on the pilgrimage on camels. The pilgrimage had many very difficult things. They would go on camels and would sometimes be very late returning from the hajj.

Q: Really? How long did they take?

A: Wallahi, I don’t know exactly.

Q: I mean did they take a long time on camels?

A: I know they took a long time, and the hajj as well. They would make a sahra for three days:  “A joyful hajj, a spiritual hajj, may the going and the returning be joyful. When the pilgrim came back from the pilgrimage, there was something called “a child of the hajj”. Those people would have the tool — you don’t know what the ‘iddeh is. It is a banner, like plates, and people would do the work of it, and they would put the banner — how can I explain it?  They would say, “Look! Abu al-Hayjja has arrived/and on his shoulder the flag flies/ I dedicate your place oh sacred city/ Abu al-Hayja has arrived/ and upon his shoulder the flag flies”. And the children of Abu al-Hayja, one of his children would raise the flag, and they would go and clap for the pilgrims and welcome them, and praise God. It was something beautiful.

Q: Do you have anyone, your father, or your uncles, who made the hajj?

A: They made the hajj hamdillah! but they passed away a long time ago — after all I am 80 years old.

Q: I want to ask you, when you used to prepare their clothes, did you sing for them?

A: Wallahi, I don’t know that either, I didn’t learn them [the songs].

Q: You would put henna on them, correct?

A: Yes, yes. Those who came would put henna, the elderly women who as the proverb says: “Joyful health in going and coming”. They are still marked [with henna].

Q: During the time of mourning and condolences, when someone has passed away, didn’t you say that when someone dies, the neighbors would cook for them?

A: For three days the dead person’s family didn’t taste a thing — three days!

Q: When you went to visit the sick, what would you take him?

A: What we would take them? Coffee and such, like they do today. Coffee, sugar, rice – In those days rice had its value, for example we would take two rotls of rice.[12]  We took by rotl. Yes two, three, four rotls for those that took rice or even coffee. And those who took coffee, it wasn’t like now – they carry it like this by hand. No, they would take a sack of coffee, raw coffee, when they wanted to visit the sick. And whoever wanted to go to a wedding would take sacks of coffee too.

Q: Alright. So you had land?

A: Thank God, we had land, and vineyards, and olives. Yes, us! I who you see here would go out to the vineyard, a girl of 12 years old, to gather [things] from the vineyard, and I’d put them on my head, and a basket of grapes in my hand. In Palestine a girl of eight or nine years old wouldn’t sit at home. We didn’t have girls who sat at home.

Q: Okay. Weren’t there schools?

A: There were schools but not for us. I mean not for us girls. Only the boys were taught, not the girls, not all of them. Those who had wealth would teach their children. There was someone in the village who taught the children, and someone from Sidon, so there were two teachers. And in the school, my grandfather, Sheikh Shaker taught, but what? the Quran. He taught at al-Kabri, as well as the people of Ghabsiyeh. And Ghabsiya built a school and children from al-Nahr, Kwaykat, and al-Kabri, all of them came here and were taught by Sheikh Shaker. How did he teach them? To memorize the Quran. Cooking and slaughter, as well singing for him.

Q: What did they sing for him?

A: When they had finished [learning] the Quran, they would sing for him as if at a wedding.

Q: When the harvest season came, would you go with your brother and your father, or did just the men go?

A: Men and women went for the chickpeas, lentils, beans and kursana, which is not known now.

Q: What is kursana?

A: It was fed to the camels.

Q: Ah!

A: Men and women would go out for the cotton as well. And in harvesting, women and men. The men would pick the cotton. There was a large area where it would be piled up, The women would pack the piles. The young men would also pick the cotton and make the piles, and the women would carry them, and put them in large stacks. I who am talking to you, we had camels, and my father used to go and carry loads on the camel. It wasn’t just one person that had camels. It was like now, everyone has a pickup truck to carry loads.

Q: Did you own camels?

A: Not just us, many people in our village had camels. During the harvest season you needed camels, and in the firewood season, and in the time of cutting wood, whenever they cut things. Some people carried on their head, and some put things on camels. For example, if we wanted to pick oranges and send some to Safed and send some to Tarshiha, or to send a load to Kwaykat market – wherever there’s a market, you know what I mean?

Q: In al-Kabri didn’t you have a market to distribute, to buy and sell things?

A: In al-Kabri we had the custom that anyone who had land with figs, grapes, and cardamom would feed the neighbors. My father (God rest his soul) when I was young used to tell me, “Yaba, when you pick figs and carrry the pan on your head, to whomever you pass say ‘faddilu’” [“Please take some”]. “I offer you, and what you eat from it is blessed by God ”. This I still remember, these old words. Now, today, you go and buy a kilo of grapes, you put them in a bag, and go home. In the old days we put them in a basket or in a pan on our heads, and another basket in our hands. Now today these things are no more. That type of basket in our hands no longer exists. Now whenever we sit we say may God deprive you, oh Israel, as you deprived us of our property.

Q: Of course it isn’t as good now as it was back then, growing things with your own hands.

A: I don’t know how to tell you about our land when we were young. We had darmayhima that you don’t know, qassassiya and ‘deenariyee’ and khurfaysh, herbs grown in the wild, all of which you’ve never heard of, that were used as medicine.[13] We would dig up all these things and take them as medicine. Look at the colour of the skin of the elderly who left Palestine, their eyesight! I am an elderly woman and I work more than younger relatives, why? Because back then was different from now with all these chemicals. Go and buy a bunch of parsley now, it smells. There is no more of  picking from the trees and simply eating. As the saying goes “You have figs, wait for the young girls to go out to pick from the vineyard”, really to pick whatever you desired. Pick grapes and eat them, whatever kind of fig you desired. We had white figs, green figs — what can I tell you? We had many types of grapes, al-qassoufi, al-maqsaas, al-helwani,  because I tell you we had every thing called grape. Our olives were tasty, our figs were good. Here there’s a saying that olives from the south are good when they grow in the wild, meaning that olives that don’t get water are different [better than] from olives that do.

Q: What would you call olives that receive water?

A: They are called irrigated olives. The other ones are ba’l olives.[14]

Q: When someone wanted to build a house, would he build it by himself or his family help him?

A: No, no, he wouldn’t build. A builder would come to us. Most of them were from Safed. In the time of our grandparents, houses were built from rock and stone, and in the time of our grandparents’ grandparents. And every year they would put clay on the house, and the yard and everything. In our time the builder would come from Safed and cut stones from empty land. The workers would work on them for the building, and build the house, and mix cement [for the roof]. Every young woman and young man would help carry cement for the roof. Like now they bring people from Hawran to help put the cement, with us it was the young women and men who put the cement. The young men worked and the women carried [materials] on their heads, and cooked food for the people who were helping the building. Like you go to help during the harvesting season and  and gain food supplies.  And those who don’t have olives go to help, and get supplies. This was how people were in Palestine; the neighbors knew each other by smell,[15] brothers. Is there this today? No, it is lost. Hamdillah.

Q: From your words it seems you in the village used to love each other?

A: The whole village loved each other. If you had a wedding many people from outside came. If there was any problem they would solve it.

Q: I wanted to ask you, when there was a problem, did the mukhtar come?

A: Yes, the mukhtar and the elders would come, and they were honoured. God rest his soul, my uncle from the Jisheh family, many young men would come to him from the house of Jisheh and from al-Kabri, because they saw each other as one big family. If a notable stood up in the village square, and there was a problem among the men, the notable would say “Yallah! Yallah! Yallah! to the house!”  Would anyone dare oppose him?  The young people would talk, but the notable man’s word was obeyed.  As the women who were older than us – if they didn’t permit us, we didn’t go out. If we wanted to go to a wedding we could go if they allowed us, but if they didn’t allow us, no. Does any of this exist today?

Q: No.

A: We lost all the heritage of Palestine.

Q: Was there revenge? I mean if someone killed someone would they take vengeance?

A: Yes there was, there was. There were people who killed one another. But not with us, not in our village, not once, not that I was aware of. I only know of the battles with the Jews where many (Arabs) were killed. But I don’t remember their names.

Q: Why was there a battle with the Jews?

A: The battle was between the Jews of Nahariya near ‘Akka and an area close to Tarshiha.

Q: Jews?

A: Yes the Jews, they built settlements, may God destroy those who sold  their land to them. They bought land in Tarshiha and built a quarter called Jedeen. They bought land in al-Bassa and built a quarter called Hanuna. Near ‘Akka they called it Nahariya. We had doctors who would go to Tarshiha on horseback, as well as to al-Ghabsiya and al-Kabri.

Q: Oh so there were doctors?

A: Yes, there were. Unlike today, when every body has a car, they would ride on horseback. But we also used to go to Jewish doctors for treatment. There was a doctor named Mariam… She was a women’s doctor, I mean [she treated] the health of men as well as women. When the Jews wanted to take the entire village, the people of the village got ahead of them by going to Jedeen and making barricades of stones on the streets. They burned the  first armored car as it went through the first barricade, they overtook it, the shabab killed them all. We in al-Kabri had a big battle, I mean people came from Tarshiha [to fight].

Q: Which battle was that? What was it called?

A: It was called the battle of al-Kabri. The battle was in our village. Ahmad Hassan, may God have mercy on him, was killed in it. Muhammad al-Nahfawi, Rashid al-Nasser, and al-Haj Darwish were killed too. I’m remembering them, they were killed. The Jews shot them. When the Sarhan family came, the Jews placed a explosive, and where did it explode?Not in the building but on a side where the bathrooms were. Rashid al-Nasser and his wife were killed there. That is how the battle of al-Kabri began.

Q: Did they sing for them, something to encourage them, during the battle?

A: For the shabab? No, wallahi, they didn’t. During the battle, the situation was impossible, and later the American army[16] came and collected the dead. They lost about 95 Jews.

Q: Alright. Did you sell the olives and the figs that you picked outside [the village]? Or did you go to Kwaykat market, or what?

A: In Kwaykat, anyone who wanted to sell a camel, lambs, or anything, would go to Safed market, walking. For example, if we wanted to grind the wheat, where would we go? We went to Ra’i. If we wanted to make semolina, where did we go? to ‘Amqa. I mean the ‘Akka tram belonged to someone from ‘Akka, we would load the goods on it, and we would go there and grind it — for example, anyone who wanted to sell wheat — and people bought from one another.

Q: Where did you buy your lambs and cows and such from?

A: We knew where to buy them. For example, lets suppose you have ten female goats and a male goat. The ten give birth to twenty, and the twenty also give birth. There are people who have 500 or 600 heads. A herd would equal a shala’ of goats as we would call it.

Q: What is a shala?

A: It means a large amount. If someone possesses 500 heads, what would he call it? He would call it a herd of goats. All animals give birth. The camel gives birth, the beast of burden gives birth – all of them.

Q: In your village did they sell gold and jewelry?

A: No, in our village there wasn’t any. We would go buy from ‘Akka, from Elias al-Toubi. We would buy everything for the bride. We would buy from Hankaz in the old market. All the bride’s trousseau was from ‘Akka. Within the province of Galilee, such as in al-Ghabsiya, gold would be sold.From al-Kabri, al-Zeeb, al-Bassa, all would go to ‘Akka [for jewelry and gold].

Q: The circumcision of the child, hajji?

A: That also had its own celebration.

Q: What would they sing for them?

A: They would celebrate. I don’t remember exactly [what they would sing]. I was only 16 years old. We have forgotten most of those things.

Q: What would they do for a boy’s circumcision? Would they invite people, or what?

A: Yes, they would invite relatives. And when the relatives sang, the people would hear. When the bride was getting married, al-barbaky would come, the person who was specialized in this work. People come and clap for the bride and groom, and money also would be given.

Q: What about your guests, hajji? When a stranger came to your house, how did you treat him?

A: You invite, you cook.

Q: What was it customary to do? To slaughter an animal, or what?

A: Yes, they would slaughter an animal if the guest was dear to them, not for any guest.

Q: Was there a house for guests in villages in Palestine, or mosques with a special room for guests, or a guest saloon?

A: What we knew was that the mosque was a place to pray in, a place for prayer. The land was large, and anyone with means could build a guest house. This place was called a mudiyafi –  it had a room for women and a room for men.

Q: What about Ramadan?

A: Ramadan was magnificent. When Ramadan came, what did we do? Everything in the end was for Ramadan. Lebneh and cheese, and all of God’s riches. You see, my daughter, it was all made from the land. During Ramadan, we kneaded and mixed the dough, just as now we buy this vermicelli. Ten or fifteen people would be invited from the neighborhood, here in the square of the Jisheh family. All would come, young or old that day, the day of mixing. And the following day we would visit a different household, each day a different one until the month was finished suhoor. Rice and vermicelli with cows’ leban.

Q: What were you eating for the suhoor?

A: How beautiful was the suhoor! The food wasn’t too sweet. We would make ka’k. There was a day for cakes with you, the next day with your sister, the next with your maternal aunts, the day after with your paternal aunts, and with your neighbors. Every day with a different person. Not like today when they serve a small bit like this! It would be on a large copper tray and people stayed eating the ka’k all month. Where do you find this today, where?

Q: Was there someone who woke up the people for suhoor?

A: There was someone, and the call to prayer, and everything.

Q: Did you decorate the neighborhood and the area?

A: No, Ramadan would come and would be welcomed, Ramadan was like a celebration at night. But decorating the neighborhood, no.

Q: Did you have a hospital in the village?

A: No, those who were ill were taken to ‘Akka or Haifa. The major hospital for the ill was in Haifa. ‘Akka didn’t have a hospital, it had doctors, and the doctors would move between ‘Akka and Haifa. In all our area there were no hospitals, they were all in Haifa.

Q: When you were visiting the sick, what would you say to them?

A: May your health be good. We would greet him, and ask what he needs, may God heal you, and have compassion on you, and bless you. We don’t say things like that today.

Q: Did you take something with you?

A: Yes of course. Visiting the sick is halal. [17]

Q: Did you have younger siblings?

A: I had a younger brother and an older brother and sister.

Q: Would you read stories to your younger brother?

A: Ha, he would tell me more stories than I did to him. We were all siblings at the end. God have mercy upon his soul – he was in Wadi Zeine.[18] We would sit together and remember the days when he was six years old, and when we got older. Yes, we would recall our memories…

Q: Did your brother read you stories before sleeping?

A: We would talk a lot. Our elders would come and tell us stories as well, if we wanted to stay up late. An old woman would sit with us and tell us stories. Some stories were scary. Our older brother Abu Kamel, God have mercy on his soul, would lie on the ground and play Kharj al-Malaaha.

Q: What is Kharj Al-Malaaha?

A: He would lie on the ground and you two otherswould make a web with your hands, and we would twirl around him.

Q: Was there sea?

A: Yes there was sea next to al-Zeeb and Nahariya.

Q: Did you go down to the sea?

A: Yes, they would take the camels to wash them in the sea. There was also sea at ‘Akka. My aunt, God have mercy on her soul, lived near the sea near ‘Akka.

Q: What did your father, God have mercy on him, do for a living, hajji, farming?

A: We had lands, figs, olives, grapes, camels, and towards the end we owned an oven. Women used to bake things in it, they would come from ‘Akka and al-Kabri.

Q: Did you have anyone who worked with the army?

A: Yes, there were young men who were employees of the army. But not many.

Q: Did they talk about what happened to them in the army?

A: No I didn’t hear anything from the young men.

Q: Was the mukhtar influential in the neighborhood?

A: The mukhtar? The Americans (may God destroy them)[19] would come riding horses, and tie their horses to the mukhtar’s gate and enter his home. They would from come from ‘Akka to vaccinate children. You would take your brothers and sisters or your children to be vaccinated at the mukhtar’s house. There weren’t vaccination centres like now.

Q: Did they take taxes?

A: Yes, tahsil dar .[20]

Q: What does that mean?

A: Yes, if you owned goats, they would take for them. If you had a piece of land, they would take for it. Every year.

Q: Every year they’d come to take [taxes]? Okay, when it didn’t rain, did they have something called ‘al-Ghayth’?[21]

A: They would say: “Yalla al-ghayth, oh eternal one, rain on your sleeping plants”. They would carry [musical] pipes and ask God for rain.

Q: Were there people who would go to the mosque and pray and ask God for rain?

A: Yes, they would ask.

Q: And when there was a lunar eclipse?

A: All this was part of what we had in Palestine, religion and faith. I mean when someone went on the hajj, people would say that so-and-so has performed the hajj , and when he swears on his right hand — because he made the hajj, they say he is more honest [ie. believe him]. Now people don’t know how to call on God, or say thank God. The phrase “glorified is God” used to be said by everyone –“glory to God the most high, glorified is God the most high”, and then it would start to rain. Now when it rains, where do you hear people thanking God and saying “there is no god but Allah”? Back then people believed in everything. Say these things now to the youth!

Q: Did you study religion like us? Did you gather together, and someone came to give you lessons in religion?

A: I’ll tell you about it. For example, a girl’s family would educate her about religious matters, sometimes four or five teachers would teach her. The young men I told you about you, they would complete the Quran, And anyone who wanted to learn a lot would go to ‘Akka. The cleverest would go to ‘Akka, if he wanted to be an engineer or something that we didn’t have in Kabri. No, they couldn’t finish their education in al-Kabri and in the villages.

Q: Did you commemorate Thursday of the Dead?

A: Yes of course we had Thursday of the Dead. We would boil red and yellow eggs.

Q: Red eggs?

A: What shall I tell you? You will laugh at me. You take an onion with red skin, you boil it, and put it with the eggs, and the eggs come out red, red! Nowadays, during the Thursday of the Dead, they boil yellow flowers with the eggs, and they come out yellow, yellow! How much fun we had! The eggs stay in the baskets. You would enjoy yourself cracking the eggs.

Q: Hatching? [22]

A: This was a tradition of ours, to come and crack eggs to see who had the stronger egg.

Q: Were there Jews and Christians in the village?

A: No, there weren’t any Jews or Christians. We were all Muslims. In Tarshiha there were Christians and in al-Bassa there were Christians.

Q: Did they [Muslims and Christians] get along with each other, or did they have problems?

A: No, nothing.

Q: Did women sit together?

A: Every household had a story. The women of the quarter would sit together in the afternoon when they had finished work and laugh together.[23]

Q: Didn’t they finish their work in the morning?

A: In the morning there was no sitting down. It was just work.

Q: Was there fishing in your village?

A: Of course. There was fishing and hunting for birds. There were hunting guns and it was permitted. [24] It was forbidden without a permit. We all used to sing, “The shabab have gone to out to fish, and the name of the hunter is written on the rifle”.  

Q: If someone wanted to migrate and go to a different area? Or did this never happen?

A: In our days no one left the village. When I was newly born, an uncle of mine went to America and he never returned. It was the same with my husband’s uncle, God have mercy on him.

Q: How did they leave?

A: On a ship. Besides my husband’s uncle, my husband’s aunt Um Aziz and four or five others also traveled to America and didn’t return.

Q: When you left Palestine, did you come straight here to Bourj al-Barajneh, or where did you go?

A: We left at the time of the Nakba. My husband was the only boy among nine girls, and I was newly married at the age of thirteen and a half, and I left with a child in my arms when the battle took place in our village.[25] They faced them with rifles. Our weapons were very, very light. When the battle happened, they expelled us to Yareen [South Lebanon].

Q: Where is that?

A: Yareen is on the border where al-Naqura is, near by. That time we went to Yareen and Fatima’s Gate.[26] We took a few cows with us — we took the cows that walked with us. And my husband remained in al-Kabri, even though he was the only boy among girls, resisting with the young men until the Jews entered the village. What could the rifle do against those who came? They went from al-Kabri to al-Ghabisiya, and from al-Ghabsiya to Yarka, and from Yarka to Tarshiha.

Q: And you, after Yareen, where did you go?

A: From Yareen we came to Madfineh.

Q: Where is that?

A: Madfineh was where Sayyed Abdallah had property, near Rashidiya camp. We arrived and took [ie. rented] land, and began to plant cucumbers at Jal al-Bahar.

Q: Did anyone help you? UNRWA, for example, didn’t it give you aid?

A: No, there wasn’t any aid when we first left.

Q: Not the Arabs?

A: Later UNRWA went around looking for wherever there were refugees to register them, and gave us rations. We left Madfineh for an area called Abu al-Aswad, on the road to Tyre, the place where the Lebanese army and Amal movement are now. We took [ie rented] a house from Beit Muhammad and 120 dunams of land, already planted with wheat. We started to grow eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, cusa, and whatever you could grow of vegetables. Thank God, we finally reached Beirut because in the end we got tired of it. We grew bananas too, and the land was for Muhammad Tamer. We grew and picked. Everything we grew was for us and for him. Finally we came to Beirut. And it was running and running, and supper was khobayzeh.[27]

Q: Hajji, did you use to put on makeup?

A: Only at weddings.

Q: What would you put?

A: We put that powder that has a sweet smell, yes, a little like this. Not every girl would dare to put on makeup, and not every family would allow it. But now girls go out to weddings and pluck their eyebrows. For us then if a girl plucked her eyebrows it was considered shameful. Once she was married she was free to do as she chose, whether her husband allowed her or not. Only while she was with her family, it was forbidden. Now women in the neighborhood are always smoking cigarettes or the argileh. I seek refuge in God. We didn’t have that in the village, no!

Q: Is there anything else, hajji, that you would like to tell me?

A: I told you everything we had, and God bless you.

Remember to tell Maryam that we have cut the last lines, ask her to do it with the Arabic.















[1] The mandeel was edged with small coloured bundles of crochet work called oyya.

[2] A conventional way of starting to talk about something.

[3] Ta’leeli means preparation, but is only used for wedding preparations.

[4]  The sahra is the evening celebration of a marriage.

[5]  Elders and notables would receive formal invitations to weddings, but young people and fellow villagers would come uninvited. 

[6]  The sahja was a special dance for weddings that included clapping and drumming.

[7]  Yu’atab/’ataba is a special kind of singing that can be sad or happy depending on the occasion. It is common to the Mashreq area.

[8]  The shamleh was a long shirt without buttons, the shawal were baggy trousers.

[9]  A Palestinian and Lebanese saying.

[10]  For oyya see fn 21.

[11]  The translation we found for zanzalakht, chinaberry, is unfamiliar, We are still looking.

[12] Ratl, artal: a measure of eight, not used today.

[13]  We couldn’t find English equivalents for any of these herbs except khurfaysh, milk thistle.

[14]  Anything grown ba’l, ie. through rain alone, is prized for its better taste. The word is related to the Canaanite god, Baal.

[15]  Arihat al-riha, a saying to express extreme closeness of relationship.

[16]  An example of confusing the oppressors.

[17]  Halal actions are good, the Qu’ran encourages them.

[18]  Wadi Zeini: an area north of Sidon where displaced Palestinians have built and rented homes.

[19]  This is a phrase conventionally used with the name of an oppressor. As before Um Saleh confuses British and Americans.

[20]  An old term for taxes.

[21]  Al-ghayth, the provider, a term for God, though the correct term is al-mughayth.

[22]  The word yufaqsu, cracking, is also used for hatching eggs in Arabic.

[23]  This pleasant habit continued in camps. Women who moved out to multi-story housing missed these relaxing sessions.

[24]  Jifit was the word for a hunting gun.

[25]  At the beginning of the interview Um Saleh says she left Palestine at the age of 16, with an infant in her arms. It seems unlikely that she could have had a baby at the age of 13, even if she had married at that age. The detail of her memories also suggest that she must have been more than 13 when she left.

[26]  Fatima’s Gate is one of the crossing points between Palestine and Lebanon. It still exists today.

[27]  Khubayzeh is a wild green, Jews mallow. Probably Um Saleh is referring here back to the life in Madfineh that they got tired of.

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