Friday, August 24, 2007

Souk El Nabatiyyeh-1860

My friend Mustapha Mond sent me this piece. You can read more of MM's writings chez Ms Levantine. His latest piece on the Metn election is highly recommended.

Souk El Nabatiyyeh
I read with great interest your post on Souk El Tayeb "Public Space, Political Space". It is not surprising that organic farmers markets tend to be elitist, after all the most important organic farmer in the United Kingdom is prince Charles.
Furthermore, Verdun and Saifi do not exactly have a tradition of farmers market, and you will not have individuals from all walks of life mingling to purchase goods. Still, I was glad to read that Souk el Nabatiyyeh is being revived.
Nabatiyyeh has a long tradition as an important market town and I suspect that if its farmers market will eventually become highly successful.
Chaker el Khoury lived in Nabatiyyeh as a refugee in 1860, and this is how he describes the Souk in his book "Majmaa al Masarrat", my translation:
"Souk el Nabatiyyeh is one of the mightiest market places in our parts. People meet there every Monday. They come from all directions some of them from twelve hours away.
Most of the trading is in grains and livestock, and around five to six thousand individuals attend every week, both buyers and sellers. The amazing thing is that over fifty thousand trades take place between buyers and sellers and all is done orally by using a couple of words: I buy/I sell. And problems are extremely rare.
Stranger still, all sorts of people can be found at the Souk: Christians of all sects, Metwalis, Druze, Jews and Muslims. To this day, no one has heard of a problem occurring between any of them.
The whole Souk takes place every Monday from morning until late afternoon. By night fall, you will not see any of the many people who came to the Souk.
The Souk has taken place for hundred of years and it is still going strong despite the fact that other towns tried to organize their own Souks, but with less success. For example, there is a Souk in Hasbayya known as Souk el Khan, but it is not as important as the one in Nabatiyyeh".
Majmaa al Masarrat, page 40, Lahed Khater Publishing.
So there you have it, Nabatiyyeh as a cosmopolitan market place in the XIXth century, where individuals of all sects traded peacefully. Let us hope that the city can regain its old glory, and that it will act again as a magnet for people.
Come to think of it, it would be nice if Souks can thrive again in different Lebanese cities, without any snob appeal, just public spaces where people can interact and mingle without fear.
Let a thousand Souks bloom.
Mustapha Mond.

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