Adonis Diaries

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“The Little Schools” of Mount Lebanon. And Joseph Delore (1873-1944)

In the first half of 1900, The Jesuit missionaries in Mount Lebanon instituted “little Schools” in the poor villages of Mount Lebanon, particularly in the current districts of Batroun and Kesrouwan.

Joseph Delore (1873-1944) consecrated his life in running, organizing and supplying 42 primary schools, serving about 1,800 kids and taken care of by 47 teachers, recruited in the remote towns.

The Jesuit priest Delore was born in Limonest (Lyon district in France) and joined the Jesuit congregation at Ghazir (Lebanon) in 1891.

He spent 4 years in Cairo (1895-99) and was consecrated priest in 1907.

Back to Ghazir until WWI broke and Delore enlisted as military nurse in the French army.

Delore didn’t witness the famine calamity that harvested a third of the population in the two aforementioned districts, but he already sensed the miseries of the people before the war broke up and tried hard to warn the missionaries to sending more fund and more supplies to the remote villages in Mount Lebanon.

For the remaining of his life, Delore dedicated his time, energy and sleepless nights to running the little schools. Actually, many of these schools were funded by benefactors that Delore was in contact with them, and kept their names and addresses secret from the Jesuit congregation.

Delore visited all these schools on foot, and when a mule was used, it was to carry supplies like books, notebooks, cloths, shoes… and stuff for religious ceremonies. He carried two bags over his shoulders, one bag in leather and the other one in cloth.

He ceaselessly walked treacherous paths and in high altitudes, in warm and cold weather, were he could encounter wolves, hyenas… Luckily, he was never seriously injured or broke a bone.

His visits were to surprise the teachers and the students and check if the schools are meticulously run and controlled.

Delore had no secretary, and used no typewriters or copiers.

All his missives and letters  were handwritten and classified (Read, reviewed, responded to, seen, finished with…). Any researcher would need the patience of Job to untie the parcels and unfold letters within larger envelops…He did all the wrapping of parcels by himself and all the accounting…

In order to recruit teachers, Delore submitted them to a series of exams.

With all his dedication to learn the Arabic language and the local dialects, he failed to communicate in the local languages.

An artist who drew his portrait 4 years before Delore’s death, described him as someone with a “central idea’ that no one could deter him from pursuing.  Delore was still svelte, alert, an ascetic face, the forehead ravaged by deep rides.

Delore never slept on a bed and used public phones instead of the one that the congregation installed in his room.

It was a habit for Delore to confess everyone he met on his path, and he confessed 5 times a day to the clergy in the villages so that to encourage them to confess to him.

This is a passage from Delore diary after he returned from WWI to Lebanon:

“I climbed for 3 hours to the village of Hommairah overlooking river Ibrahim. All the people attended the evening mass and confessed.

I witnessed the same religious zeal at Sannoun. In these two villages, only 100 of the 270 inhabitants survived the Great Famine (1915-1918) and the houses were in a crumbling condition. My third station was at Michene whose poor church is dedicated to St. George. I resumed my trip to Machnaka and found 3 sculpted steles: One to Adonis, one to Astarte and the third representing the King, Queen and Son.

I descended to Farhet where only 70 of the original 300 survived the famine. Even the Metwalis (Moslem Shia) of about 200 homes demanded a school for girls. A school for girls will serve 10 other villages, including Hosoun…”

Note 1:  This is a quick review of “The Little Schools” of Mount Lebanon, edited and arranged by Levon Nordiguian. All the black and white photos were taken by Joseph Delore, including aerial pictures of cities such as Beirut, Jounieh, Homs, Hama…

It is striking to see all these photos of student kids of the period (1910-1944) in their homemade garment, the kinds of photos that grand moms looked like. Many came to the school, an annex to the church, barefooted and threadbare tunics.

It would be an excellent project or thesis to revisit these villages, strong with the photos, and investigate how many graduated and how their offspring fared in the second half of the century.

Note 2: In the district of Batroun you had the schools in Kfar Abida, Smar Jbeil, Zane, Abdilleh, Toula, Bejjeh, Ghalboun, Abaydate, Lehfed, Jaj, Tartej, Bchaaleh, Douma, Kartaba, Akoura…

In the district of Kesrouwan you have the schools in Halat, Jezayer, Aqaibeh, Bouwar, Safra, Tabarja, Ghazir, Jounieh, Haret Sakhr, Ghosta, Chananiir,, Dlepta, Jdaidet Ghazir, Fatka, Ghodress, Nammoura, Ghbaleh, Bez3el, Bir el Hait, Ya7choush, Chouwan,  Mcheteh, Nahr Dahab, Chahtoul, Hiyata, Kfar Debyene, Meyrouba, Hrajel, Faraya…

Note 3: Father Maurice de Frenon described the villages in his book “Visit of the schools in Lebanon 1937)

” Smar Jbeil with its citadel and old church… Abdilleh with its crumbling houses and falling in ruin after the Great Famine (1915-1918), Jaj, both well-off and miserable, Tartej with poor houses and dirt roofs and savage kids in tatered cloth running after their goats, Bchaaleh where young girls work the “broderies and dantelles”… Douma, a Greek orthodox town, comfortably settled amid a green amphitheater and feeric red tiled homes…

The kids in the Metwali towns (meaning the Moslem Shiaa in Kesrouwan) throw stones at passing cars… And way up, two towns: Kartaba welcoming visitors in modern European hotels and Akoura that remained intact from civilization at the feet of mountains…”

Famine Hecatomb in Lebanon (1915-18)

Lebanon had a calamitous decade (1909-1918).

In 1909, waves of deadly diseases such as typhus, cholera, diphtheria… swept the cities and towns in current coastal Lebanon and in Mount Lebanon.

Many Lebanese, particularly Christians, immigrated. Their preferred destination was the USA and Egypt, but the ship captains would on many occasion drop the people in Africa and Latin America and telling them: “This is America

Linda Schatkowski Schilcher dissected the German and Austrian sources and achieves for her book “The Famine of 1915-18 in Greater Syria” and advanced the number of 500,000 victims of famine and related to famine in Syria and Lebanon, 200,000 of them died in Mount Lebanon, particularly in the districts of Byblos and Betroun and Tripoli.

For example, the village of Abdilleh lost 35% of its people and the town of Chabtine 63%.

How people die of Starvation?

“Due to absolute lack and bad quality of food, people experienced terrible feet swelling, and many fell exhausted on the roads, vomiting blood… The dead toddlers and kids were thrown with the garbage in the corners of the villages. Chariots collected them and dumped them in public ditches. These horror spectacles were observed in the villages of Bilad Jubeil and Bilad Batroun and the city of Tripoli…”

The Turkish feminist author Halide Edib wrote in her Memoirs: “The nights in Beirut were atrocious: You heard the whining and screaming of starved people “Ju3an, Ju3an” (I’m hungry, I’m famished)

Jubran Khalil Jubran wrote to Mary Haskell:

“The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation, and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon…”

What were the main causes for this endemic famine?

1. Turkey had joined Germany in WWI on November of 1914, and France landed in a few Islands on the coast such as Arwad, and established a maritime blockade that secured that no foodstuff reach Lebanon and Syria.

2. General Jamal Pasha instituted an internal blockade of cereals to enter Mount Lebanon, particularly the Christian Maronite Canton (Kaemmakam) that included the current districts of Kesrowan and Betroun. Consequently, the Lebanese could not receive wheat and cereals from the district of Akkar and the Bekaa Valley.

Mind you that the people in Mount Lebanon relied on the grains from Akkar and the Bekaa for immediate need, but relied on the grain arriving from Syria for the winter reserves.

3. In April of 1915, the locusts ate the green and the dry (akhdar wa yabess) of the harvests and plants for 3 months.

4. The Turkish troops had already emptied the grain reserves of the Lebanese homes at the start of the war, and there were no ways to replenish any foodstuff.

5. The war lasted 4 years, but the Lebanese suffered an extra year of famine: 10,000 kids were roaming the roads at the end of 1918, begging for crumbs of bread

Famished people from the coastal towns thought that they might get some relief in the higher altitude regions (Jroud of Bilad Jubail and Bilad Betroun) and they died there. In a single town, over 3,800 of them were buried in a communal ditch because the town refused to bury them close to the churches of the town.

Najib Murad-Diyarbakri mentioned in his book “Sinine al Ghala” (Years of expensive prices) a Lebanese epitaph that read as a poem:

“They died from famine along the roads,

No father or mother or anyone to pity on them

We witnessed couples perishing from the cold

In this rough climate…

And not receiving absolution from a priest or anybody

The Drums of war are beating their sad rhythm

And the living people, wrapped in their shroud

Believing the war will not last a year…

Dear God, may this fifth year be the end of it”

Even in 1933, Charles Corm noted: “In a single afternoon, I counted 823 houses without roofs, doors and windows between Kesrowan and Betroun…”

Note 1: Even in August 7, 1914, the Jesuit priest Joseph Delore urged the Catholic Missions in “Immense material and morale distress in Lebanon” to quickly come to the rescue.

Note 2: Stories are still being circulated in my hometown of Beit-Chabab (Metn district) that a few amassed wealth during the war by hoarding properties in exchange of a loaf of bread. The contraband from Syria was in full swing, and those with connections reaped wealth from the miseries of the little hapless people…

Note 3: Official Lebanon is doping its hardest to bury this famine calamity, on the ground that it is a shame to mention people dying of hunger.  Instead, Official Lebanon celebrate the hanging of 6 Lebanese by Jamal Pasha as martyrs.

Note 4: A decade ago, I knew a wonderful elderly couple in Montgomery County, originally from Adbelli, and they were in fine physical health. Jean was recounting how the people in the town were expecting to see the bed sheet displayed in the morning, as they got married in the town. Elizabeth would have nothing of that nonsense, and the sheet was never displayed from the window to show any red blotches.

Note 5: The locust came on whatever was still edible after the Turkish army grabbed the harvest for its war front on the Suez Canal




February 2023

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