Adonis Diaries

Rainbow over the Levant (continue 6)

Posted on: September 25, 2008

The mountain outlaws

The majority of the outlaws in the mountains were not just civil criminals by the modern standards but simple village people who did not conform to the norms of society or were reduced to be incensed by the behavior of the many branches of authority such as the clergy, the town chiefs or the noblemen of the district.  The outspoken character of many of the outlawed villagers could irk the influential persons and, usually, their families very often suffered maltreatment or retribution if the person was not chased away.  

Individuals who were declared by the priest or local clergy as crazy and inhabited by Satan were incarcerated in caves adjacent to monasteries, chained by the legs all the time and treated like dogs.  If these testified satanic crazies imprisoned in caves did not behave properly in front of the cross or dirtied the place they were whipped harshly to exorcise their souls. The mildly crazies who could survive on their own were released to the mountains of the outlaws. In early spring many prisons were emptied and the incarcerated were driven in convoys of caravans to be released at the outskirts of the designated outlaws’ domains. Many who were forced out of their towns opted for the mountains because the coastal shores were inhabited mostly by Moslems’ communities with different customs and beliefs and had many mythical taboos attached to them.

 Generally, communications of families with their outlawed relatives were not interrupted or officially forbidden as they could meet them on designated areas; produce and gifts were interchanged through the convoys of caravans laden on the backs of donkeys and mules. The authorities did not make much fuss over these fleeting rendezvous as long as the unwanted persons kept their distances from the town masses.  In fact, many towns and villages relied on the trading with the outlaws who reverted to contraband activities and supplied the essential ingredients at the beginning of each season because of the closer vicinity of the outlaws with the Bekaa Valley than most other caravan traders and merchants.

Elias Hataab was an example of the common sort of outlaws.  His trade in the village was to cut wood and produce charcoal before he was excommunicated by the Bishop and forced by the village to flee.  There were a couple charcoal makers in the vicinity who were popular and gathered villagers around their fires during the long nights drinking locally distilled arak, barbecuing meat, roasting chestnuts and singing the night away but Elias kept aloof ruminating his loneliness.  Elias was twenty six when he traveled to one of the outlawed villages called Baskenta at the base of the Sannine Mountain.  Elias had lost his mother at the age of four and he was twelve years of age when his grandmother who had raised him died. His father turned to be a reckless, uncaring and alcoholic man and Elias was glad to live the independent life and spend his days and most of the nights in the woods.  The name Hattab was a nickname that his great grandfather acquired from the town’s people when he became famous for a timely and dubiously effective advice; a rather large tortoise was spreading havoc to everything that looked green and fresh in the town’s gardens and nobody dared take an individual action to terminate this pet animal until Elias’ great grandfather recommended fencing in the tortoise with heaps of firewood and grilling the oversized herbivore alive.

This isolated life imbued Elias’ mind with the spirit of righteousness and he somehow became a pariah among the villagers.  One Good Friday the Bishop paid a visit to town and delivered his sermon.  He was telling the atoned worshipers that Jesus was their shepherd as he was himself the designated shepherd for this community.  The silent church was suddenly disturbed by a loud voice claiming: “Our shepherd? Look around the sheep in this church and tell us how many are wearing gold, dressed as warmly as you are and in such a good health?  What connection do you have with our Savior who associated himself with the poor and downtrodden instead of eating and gallivanting with the noblemen?”  Two days later Elias was excommunicated and nobody would dare talk to him or buy his charcoal.  In the mountains of the outlaws Elias was seen murmuring to himself and carrying on hard conversations with his scarred soul. He kept an incandescent hatred for the Bishop which eventually spanned to include the clergy as a general rule. Elias barely smiled or fraternized with anyone and was given the nickname of Hardan.

Mariam Al Najjar, a 20 year old orphan when Antoun met her, was one of the early members of the mountain group. She was medium sized for a female, robust, a lightly freckled face and her hair had a reddish shade.  Mariam was six years old when she fled famine with her parents in a small caravan toward Zahle in the Bekaa Valley.  Her parents died from a mysterious disease and she was discovered by a couple of outlaws and adopted as their daughter. Her adoptive father went by the name of Hanna Al Najjar and was a carpenter by trade who had sold all his properties to follow his young banned son to the outlawed areas. Unfortunately, Hanna’s son was too wild and unstable to outlive his twenties. 

Hanna was a born leader and an excellent administrator who allowed Mariam at the age of fifteen to share responsibilities in managing a section of the outlawed areas.  Mariam enjoyed the love, support and dedication of her adoptive parents and eventually convinced the community of outlaws to construct a few facilities for sheltering and raising the found children and thus took the responsibility of educating and caring for the disinherited little kids and assembling them in facilities.  Daily programs of educational lectures to read and write as well as survival training skills for scouring the mountains for edible food provided by nature were instituted. Life in outlawed areas was being regulated and normal patterns for governance taking shape slowly but steadily.  

The little kids were very fond of Mariam and did not mind her tough manners, sensing instinctively that her heart was all dedicated to teaching them how to survive in joy and friendship amidst the loneliness and wilderness of the area.  Little Samar was a skinny and beautiful girl and was especially jealous of the love that the other kids proffered and extended Mariam and would never miss an occasion to raise hell when Mariam shared in the play with the kids, laughed and cajoled a few of them. Samar would stop eating, shout, ruin games, raise tantrums, claiming that she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown; and after spreading havoc she then would start crying loudly in heart wrenching fashion.  It was her tactics to keep Mariam’s attention riveted to her and she was smart to frequently show Mariam her particular affections in gestures and words so that Mariam was ready to consider her as her adoptive kid.  

Mariam was one of the very few who patiently listened to the lucubration of Elias.  She respected his courage and non conforming opinions and trusted him; she recognized his pleasure when meeting toddlers when his face would shine with benevolence and became very meek like a baby.  Mariam decided to allow him to take care of the kids during winter and early spring and allocated a room for him and his beloved donkey, nicknamed Hardani by the outlaws.  During winter, Mariam had plenty of opportunity to encourage Elias to release his anger in endless discussions and hopefully exorcise his troubled soul.

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September 2008

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