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THE DRUSES OF THE LEBANON.
The Druses of the Lebanon: their Manners, Customs, and History, with a Translation of their Religious Code. By GEORGE WASHINGTON CHASSEAUD, late of Beyrout, Syria. London: Bentley.
AMONG the nations left in Canaan "to prove" the children of Israel were the Hivites, a hardy and free race of mountaineers inhabiting the Lebanon. Though it is not possible to prove that the present race of Druses are the lineal descendants of this ancient people, yet we have reason to believe that their antiquity is very great, and, judging from the many venerable customs which they still retain, that they are closely connected with the early inhabitants of the hills. The quaint traveller Sandys, and, indeed some of the more learned Druses themselves, date their origin from the time of the Crusades. They imagine that some scattered parties of Franks took refuge in the mountains, and finding homes among the people of the Lebanon, left a race behind them which in process of time developed the curious conglomeration of customs and creeds, which forms the characteristic of the society of Druses. In strange confirmation of this theory, recent years have witnessed the discovery among some of the Druse families of records and papers bearing the names and arms of some of the ancient nobility of France, (p. 99.) But however these memorials of western families may have come into the possession of their present owners, there is little doubt that though in the lapse of years they have become mixed with other peoples, the Druses are really in a great measure the representatives of the old dwellers in the Lebanon, whose antiquity reaches far beyond the date of the Crusades. What their true origin was, and whether their early history possesses any remarkable facts, of which the memory is still preserved, are subjects involved in a mystery which has never yet been cleared up. Possibly there may be some records of the past to be found in the pictorial representations on the walls of their khaloues or temples; but unfortunately these are so jealously guarded from alien intrusion that no traveller has had an opportunity of copying or studying the drawings contained in them. The mouths of the natives also are sealed on this topic, and it is vain to attempt to make them describe what they may have seen in their rare visits to the sacred places. It will probably be found that they really do not understand their own mysteries, and merely have the sense to hold their tongues when speaking out would expose their ignorance.
VOL. XVII.-MAY, 1855.
With regard to their manners and customs, we seem to see in them a combination of patriarchal and medieval times, sufficiently curious and interesting. There is the Grand Emir, who exercises supreme authority over all; and under him are a number of secondary emirs or sheiks, the constituted rulers of the villages, who decide cases and have the power of life and death without reference to their chief. Yet independent as the sheiks are in very many respects, they honour and reverence their feudal superior with that spirit of clanship which takes such firm and lasting hold of the inhabitants of mountainous countries, and makes their subjugation almost an impossibility; and when their freedom is threatened by hostile invasion, the chieftain, who in time of peace was their ruler and judge, becomes in the hour of danger their captain, and leads his family and dependants to the support of the Grand Emir's forces. As in these respects they recal the memory of feudal times, so the picture, everywhere to be met with in the Lebanon, of the head of a family, or knot of families, sitting under his own figtree, dispensing justice to his clients, and living amid his dependants, on the produce of his own flocks and his own woods, carries us back to the days of Abraham, and lands us at once in a simple and unsophisticated age. Here and there also are to be found traces of the neighbourhood of the Jews, with their purer system. When a man has once come down from his olive tree, having skaken off all the fruit he can, he will on no account go over the tree again, what is left upon it being considered the portion of his poorer brethren. (Deut. xxiv. 20.) The same care for the destitute is exhibited in the harvest of grain, and the vintage; the ox that treads the corn is rarely muzzled, and beasts of unequal strength yoked together are never met with.
Viewing for the first time the quiet bearing and peaceful daily occupations of these people, employed in the cultivation of their narrow fields, the rearing of silkworms, or tending their flocks, a stranger would hardly believe what storms of war have passed, and this even lately, over these happy regions. And yet few spots in the world have been more often made the battle field of contending tribes. Glorious scenery,-snow-capped mountains, rushing streams, noble forests, boundless fertility, these are features on which the hand of man has wrought no change; but towns, and villages, and remarkable edifices have been destroyed and rebuilt, their situations changed, their groves uprooted many times, so that after a short absence it is often impossible for the traveller to recognize localities once well known, such is the ruin that constant feuds and petty rivalries bring on this beautiful country. The author of the work at the head of this article, who has had more opportunities of studying the Druses than any previous
1 Though the cedar, the ancient glory of Lebanon, is yearly disappearing, there are still forests of fir, mulberry, and other fine trees to be found on the hills.
writer, thinks that there are hopes of a better state of things prevailing ere long.
"The term of such childish fooleries must now be nearly exhausted; it will remain only that these people should be put into direct and frequent communion with the more civilized people of Europe to convince them of one astounding fact to which they have been now long blinded. The fact is, that during centuries of petty and insignificant warfare, they have gained no substantial advantage-reaped none but artificial benefits; whilst on the other hand, they have slowly but surely been depriving themselves of the only prop which could effectually support freedom and independence. They have been only too effectually undermining their own position, besides in every way contributing to increase the suffering and poverty of their descendants. But now that one wing of the eagle of Russia has been palsied by British and French artillery, a permanent peace may be speedily looked for upon the mountains."-Pp. 314, 315.
Signs are not wanting to show that the inhabitants of the Lebanon are well affected to Europeans. In Burkhardt's time the greatest curse which one Druse could imprecate upon another, was the wish that "GOD would put a hat on him," but this is now never heard. Their intercourse with the Europeans who inhabit Beyrout has softened many prejudices, and opened the way for a vast improvement both in their social and physical condition. At present, we believe, they have not been visited by self-appointed and schismatical missionaries, and with their high though unexercised intelligence and pure morality they offer a noble field, which we may earnestly hope the Eastern Church will no longer neglect. The form of Christianity which meets them in their own mountains has ever been most repugnant to them, and the quarrels of Druse and Maronite frequently lead to the most sanguinary engagements. It is yet to be seen whether a purer faith might not win what heresy has attempted in vain.
Though, as we have said, the Druses are unlearned, and an old picture from the Illustrated London News is treasured up as a wonder of art, worthy of adorning the walls even of the Emir's palace, while the time-honoured willow-pattern plates are looked upon as models of rare perfection in fictile productions, yet their intelligence is great when cultivated, and they are quite capable of appreciating intellectual efforts. The following impromptu complimentary address was heard by Mr. Chasseaud at a marriage feast, to which he was invited while travelling in the country.
"An old man planted two vine slips
Close by his garden wall;
They were healthy and young from a vigorous stem,
So when winter had passed, and spring time came,
As in the congenial heat they grew,
"So the lord of the feast has this day brought,
Two brave young hearts as man and wife,,
And it's oh! may the sun of prosperity shine,
And like the two slips of the old man's vine,
"And when summer was come, the hotter sun
And the old man's eyes were gladdened with joy
For he knew full well that a harvest was nigh,
"So the lord of the house has this day brought,
Two brave young hearts as man and wife,
And it's oh! in the sunshine of bliss and love,
May affection and fondness sprout,
Till the heart of each other is wound about
With the strongest links of esteem,
And with joy the old man's eyes gleam bright."-Pp. 161, 162.
There perhaps never was a people whose natural excellencies are greater, nor who, if only possessed of true religion, would set a higher example of many virtues in which civilized and Christian communities are so commonly wanting. Not to dwell on their undaunted bravery and unfailing industry in anything to which they apply themselves, their honesty, good faith, and chivalrous honour, are very remarkable. With no public schools, no teachers of any intelligible doctrines, their very virtues seem rather a natural gift, than the result of advice and principle. At the same time it must be remembered that they are thoroughly conscientious, and are taught by their religion to obey the secret voice within-a better guide even in its unenlightened state than the vicious and degraded rules of ignorant Imauns or Sheiks. Rare indeed is it. to hear of any offence against decency or morality. Their conduct to their women is kind and confiding. The Druse has but one wife; and although the female portion of the community work hard, prepare the meals, feed the animals, milk the goats, and keep the house in order, yet they are not slaves, but helpmates, pos
sessed of a natural modesty and refinement of manner which would grace any station.
The Druses are divided into two great classes, the Akals, or religious, and the D'ghahils, or laity. The Akals are of either sex, and comprise all who have the smallest pretence to learning. They superintend the offices of religion, and instruct children in the elements of their faith, living a most strict and simple life. What their worship actually is, has yet to be discovered, for although strangers have been admitted to the inside of their Khaloues, yet this is never allowed to be done while any act of prayer is going on. These Khaloues, as we learn from the narrative of Mr. Chasseaud, himself a native of the country, and on intimate terms with many Druse families,
"are simple whitewashed buildings, situated usually apart from the villages upon some commanding position, whence by the means of sentries they are secure from sudden interruption, or the prying propensities of the inquisitive, when in the discharge of the secret duties of their religion."-Pp. 185, 186.
The inside of the temples is covered, like the Mahometan mosques, with a mat, and contains invariably a basin filled by a running stream, which is doubtless used in their religious ceremonies, though in what manner is unknown.
With regard to their religion much mystery has been made both by themselves and by authors who have written about them. Mr. Chasseaud gives a translation of their religious code, whence obtained he says not, which plainly proves that their faith is a heterogeneous mixture of differing tenets unskilfully strung together, and in a great measure unintelligible. It is from the fact that their religion thus contains portions of many existing systems, combined with this other fact that, under the pressure of tyranny, the Druses have often assumed the appearance of being of the religion of their oppressors, that they have been at one time considered to be Christians, at another Mahometans; the real fact being that they are very far removed from either. They are not circumcised like the Moslems, and believe in many revelations since Mahomet. They consider our Blessed LORD to have been one in the series of Prophets, equal, but not superior, to Adam, Noah, Moses, Isaiah, and the rest, among whom they enumerate as spectable doctors," "Pithagoros, Plato, and Aristotle."-p. 408. Part of their system is very similar to Bhuddism, in that they believe the CREATOR to manifest Himself bodily in different persons at successive times, and their "code" traces these incarnations for many ages. They are uncompromising believers in the Unity of the Godhead. The following is an extract from "The Book of the Law:"