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Antonin Jaussen, sciences sociales occidentales et patrimoine arabe

Géraldine Chatelard
Mohammed Tarawneh

Première partie. Antonin Jaussen : de l'exégèse biblique à l'ethnographie arabe

Jaussen’s Contribution to the Study of Agricultural Development in Moab and Southern Palestine around 1900

La contribution de Jaussen à une étude des développements agricoles en Moab et en Palestine méridionale vers 1900

Raouf Abujaber


Il s’agit ici de présenter un récapitulatif des observations de Jaussen concernant le développement des activités agricoles sur le plateau transjordanien et dans certaines régions de Palestine. Les remarques faites par le dominicain permettent d’envisager sous un jour nouveau tant la réalité historique des liens entre les deux rives du Jourdain que les tentatives agricoles précoces des tribus transjordaniennes, l’expansion de la sédentarisation à l’époque, ou bien encore les aspects économiques et techniques de l’agriculture. Ce qu’écrit Jaussen à propos des activités agricoles au tournant du siècle représente un réel apport à l’histoire économique et sociale de régions pour lesquelles les sources écrites sont plutôt rares.

Texte intégral

  • 1 The first Mudir of Zizia (or Giza) as appearing in the Ottoman yearbook of the Wilayat known as Sa (...)

1The area around Madaba, at the time of Jaussen’s stay in Moab between 1894 and 1918, was an outlying district of the Ottoman Empire. Administratively, it was run by a Qaimaqam who was directly connected to the Sanjaq or Mutasarrif of al-Karak. Prior to that date, starting in 1880, it was a new agricultural settlement that was attached to the Mudir of Zizia, being itself part of the administrative domain of the Qaimaqam of as-Salt under the jurisdiction of the Sanjaq of Nablus. During these times, the whole area from Ramtha to Ma’an was part of Wilayat Suryia, with the Wali of ash-Sham residing in Damascus1.

2These administrative developments in the area were very important for the agricultural activity about which Jaussen wrote in detail in his work Coutumes des Arabes au pays de Moab on which the present account is based. The new administration brought in by the Ottomans provided a better standard of stability and security which in turn encouraged both nomads and fellahin to develop joint arrangements to till the land and produce crops on a much larger scale than before. Definitely this development required a much deeper change of attitude on the part of the nomads. Jaussen wrote that agriculture and nomadic life differed from each other in that the first is settled and attached to the seeds that are spread in the soil whilst the second desires freedom of movement and the choice to abandon an area in which an encampment was started for another that had better grazing facilities for herds and flocks alike (1908: 240). Nevertheless, he was convinced that this contradiction between the two ways of life did not prevent the discussion of agriculture whilst talking about the nomads. This discussion, however, was made after taking due consideration of the special nature of the sites that were the subject of the research. Agricultural lands in Moab were available but even the semi-settled people in them looked with disdain on manual labour. In Palestine, on the other hand, the fellahin did not have sufficient fields to plough because of the rugged nature of the mountainous countryside. Fellahin of the Qaisieh tribes of Jabal al-Khalil (Hebron mountains), fellahim of Jabal al-Quds (Jerusalem mountains) and of Jabal Nablus (Nablus mountains) came out in numbers to the plains of Moab offering their labour to the unprepared-to-work nomads who disdained manual labour but were willing to allow the fellah to till the land and raise crop under their protection in return for a share of the produce (Jaussen, 1908: 241).

  • 2 Sâba & al-‘Uzaizî, Mâdabâ wa dawâhîhâ. Sattam tried to exact a share of the crop from the cultivat (...)

3Since this seemed to be of real importance, Jaussen gave two examples of population movements that seem to have been common in those days. He cites the example of two brothers of the tribe of ‘Abbad who crossed the Jordan River and settled in Palestine. Their descendants acquired two villages, Saris and Beit Mahsir. The common lineage of these two clans joined them in their stand to repuise the attacks of the villagers of Abu Ghosh (Jaussen, 1908: 242). The second example is that of fifteen families who were originally from the villages of Deir Dibwan, Sor Bahir and Abu Dis in Jabal al-Quds. They crossed the Jordan River possibly to avoid blood feuds and at the same time seeking to change the drudgery of their lives into something better. They were received by Shaikh Sattam ibn Fayiz of the Bani Sakher, who settled them amongst the ruins and told them “Build your houses here and cultivate the land around you”. In the summer, he collected one fifth of the crop, but in the meantime he settled the government taxes and provided them the protection that they needed2.

4Jaussen mentions interesting happenings and incidents that took place during the earlier part of the nineteenth Century, but does not seem to have heard the popular story of how shaikh Sattam ibn Fayiz and the clans of the Bani Sakhr were able to acquire more than fifteen ruined sites that were being cultivated by the fellahin for the different clans around 1900. Sattam was outstanding in his belief of the possibilities and advantages of agriculture and through developing good relations with the Ottomans he managed to become the paramount Shaikh of the tribe around 1870, whilst his father Fandi was still alive (Jaussen, 1908: 128). At that time, he was married to ‘Alia, the sister of ‘Ali Dhiyab, paramount shaikh of the ‘Adwan or Balqa federation. Sattam visited him in Hesban and asked for the right to cultivate land in the area that was considered ‘Adwan territory. True to Arab generosity traditions, ‘Ali agreed and Sattam thus acquired these sites for his people (Shwayhat, 1996: 76). Jaussen, however, gives a good listing of the clans of Bani Sakhr that became owners at the time of his visit:

  • Ibn er-Redeiny acquired ad-Deleileh ash-Sharqieh
  • The Zabn acquired Netel, Umm Qeseir, Hawarah and Jaloul
  • The Qeneian acquired Manja
  • Talal, brother of Sattam, acquired Umm Rummaneh
  • Qaftan ibn Salem acquired az-Zebayr
  • Sons of Sattam acquired al-Qastal
  • Umm al-Ahmad and Barazein were already under cultivation by Fandi and his son Sattam before the settlement of Madaba in 1880
  • Rmaih Abu Junaib acquired Teneib and Lubban
  • The Fayiz clan acquired Qariat Salem
  • The Mahed acquired Satiha and Mereigmeh
  • The Dahawsheh acquired Soufah

5It must also b e mentioned that Madaba does not appear on this list as it was acquired by three Christian tribes who emigrated from al-Karak in 1880. Previous to that date, it was claimed by Ibn er-Redeiny of the Bani Sakhr but Sattam, it is said, agreed to its being taken over and allotted ed-Deleileh as compensation to Ibn er-Redeiny (Tristram, 1873) whilst he himself received 300 gold pounds from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem as a final settlement (Abujaber, 1989).

  • 3 The name Abujaber had been on record for at least 200 years before Jaussen’s time. As far as these (...)

6Jaussen also gives a revealing story about al-Yadoudeh which he confirms was settled by Saleh Abujaber in the early 1860’s, some thirty seven years earlier. Abu-Jaber started as a merchant among the Bedouins in the al-Balqa region and later established al-Yadoudeh where he bought land and went in partnership with Sattam ibn Fayez. The Almighty gave him, and he was generous and his house and seulement at the time of Jaussen’s writing (1905) received more that thirty guests daily and sometimes one hundred (Jaussen, 1908: 244)3.

  • 4 Mash’a was King of Moab around 890 B. C. and to commemorate his victory over the Israelites he rec (...)

7Jaussen further mentions two sites near Madaba that were being cultivated by the Bani Hamida tribe, Mereigmeh ash-Shahanbeh and Delieleh al-Garbieh, and follows with informations about agriculture in the Koura area of al-Hamaideh. He confirms that this human activity was considered respectable amongst the people who seemed to have never left the fields of Mash‘a, the Moabite king, without cultivation4. They had extended their activities in many villages and built stores in ‘Ar’er. On the eastern slopes of Jabal Shihan, at al-Qara’ah village, the government allotted the lands to a poor clan of twelve to fifteen families called al Masarweh who originally lived in the Egyptian town of al-Minya. They had followed the armies of Ibrahim Pasha when he took over Syria in 1831 and continued to live in the area after his withdrawal in 1841. They paid the government 150 Majidi as taxes annually and when Jaussen visited the village he saw a shop owned by a Christian from al-Karak and some fifteen of the Bani Sakhr buying a supply of wheat (Jaussen, 1908: 243).

8Further south, towards al-Karak, one meets with farmers, generally of the Majali tribe, who are building houses. Amongst the villages are Rabba and al-Qasr whereas a visit to Faqou showed few houses being built under the supervision of Matruk, shaikh of the al-Hamaydeh in Beseireh. The many ruined sites that were prosperous in the days of old were coming back to life as stores were being built and farmers settling down. Sarfa already had few farmers while Magedlein and Beit Lega were still in ruins. O n the other hand, Tedoun, Iarout and even Dimneh were regaining life. Arabs of the Ma’aytah tribe had already built six houses some of them on the old caves carved in the rocks. On the left of the road going south to al-Karak, Hamoud, Rakin and al-Garah were in ruins yet but soon Samakieh would be revived as the Christians desired to settle it. Also in the south of al-Karak, agriculture was flourishing in Moteh and Ga’far and the Sunna tribe of al-Karak had built stores in Dat Ras.

9With this simple account, Jaussen concludes, one was able to judge the current development that was happening in the land under study. It was not in any way a new birth or the basic transformation of a virgin land. The present circumstances of gloom prevailing as a result of war and raiding had been preceded by an old and strong civilisation, whose beautiful old ruins, in Rabba for example, were worthy of admiration. The nomadic tribes used to find in al-Karak whatever they were searching for, and at the same time they brought to it whatever their simple endeavours produced. The town was always the mother of the neighbouring Arab tribes (Peake, 1958: 153), irrespective of the limitations that civilisation was able to develop against the attacks of these raiders. It is definitely worthwhile, at this juncture, to mention that Jaussen was writing about this situation in 1905 with the developments that had taken place in Moab during the preceding ten years at the back of his mind. In 1893, the Ottoman Wali of Damascus entrusted to Husayn Hilmi Pasha the task of bringing stability and security to al Karak, its surroundings and the area to the south. This was accomplished without bloodshed and a regular administration with reasonable discipline was established, at long last. The prevalence of stability in the countryside and the improvement in security for people and their property was the main reason behind this development in the agricultural field of which Jaussen has written so well about.

10Jaussen’s interest in agricultural development at the turn of the century is indeed deep and useful. He gives attention to agricultural activity amongst the Tiaha and Azazmeh tribes of Southern Palestine and he is convinced that this area presents a similar scene to that which he witnessed in the East of Moab. He painstakingly mentions the differences between the two Systems and explains how the tribesmen kept agricultural land in high esteem and how they appreciated that their work was the source of their livelihood which they would firmly defend. Most of them, being poor, ploughed the fields themselves although some would seek ploughmen to help them. The landlord would always feed the ploughman and give him the seeds, plough and the camel, as in this area camels were used for ploughing. When harvest brought the crop, the ploughman who only provided his labour during the yearly agricultural cycle would be entitled to one quarter of the crop, an arrangement similar to the one in the east. If he provided the plough and the camel in addition to his labour, he became entitled to one half of the crop as the landlord provided only the land and the seeds.

11Like in the east, fights occurred for the sake of land ownership. Two years before Jaussen’s visit in 1904, the Qeisieh clansmen who originally came from the east and settled in Jabal al-Khalil tried to occupy and cultivate the fields which the beduin tribe az-Zullam considered their own. When ploughmen of the Qeisieh tried to start their work, the beduins resorted to force and many of the cultivators were killed. A second battle in which government troops supported the beduins ended in a defeat for the Qeisieh. As usual this resulted in a blood feud (Jaussen, 1908: 246).

  • 5 The day of harvest’s end was called gora’ah and was followed by a day rest and celebration.

12Transferring his attention to the technical aspects of agriculture, Jaussen rightly mentions that rarely did the beduins fertilise their fields although villages were generally surrounded by heaps of animal refuse. He was referring to al-mazabil that were most common in every village. The agricultural cycle is then described in details starting with the first ploughing in August and the sowing of the seeds between September and January. Draught was the gravest enemy of the farmer but then there were, in addition, locusts, pests of different sorts and the field rats which caused farmers a catastrophic loss in 1905. The winds were not always friendly and the northerly in spring called Gemad could be very harmful and was considered more dangerous than the easterlies. No work was done during the spring to weed the fields by removal of foreign plants that came with every season. But in the summer, harvest became the cause of continuous movement and its start as well as its end were considered occasions to celebrate. Threshing followed for the time of the Baydar at the completion of which a crop, that had been so long awaited by the farmers and landlords alike was brought to store (Jaussen, 1908: 252)5.

13The value of Jaussen’s contribution lies in the fact that he put on record his impressions about the agricultural life, as it was in his time, for three different areas: the Madaba plains, the area north and south of al-Karak and the plains of Southern Palestine. Although there were serious differences between each one of them, there was one basic element of prime importance. It was the fact that the fellahin and beduins alike had to work for producing enough food for their growing numbers irrespective of the grave difficulties that they had to surmount. Their endeavours to accomplish this aim became much better organised and more productive when the country was given the benefits of stability and security which was brought in by an administration that only a strong central government could provide. Jaussen witnessed the change that came about as a result of the presence of a governmental authority in the area and the disappearance of internal differences through his authority. He also could see how the new railway line between Damascus and al-Madina al-Mounawara would favourably influence life in the area by transferring people and goods at more ease and speed. This is quite interesting for the observer nowadays who notices the important change in the life and habits of people over a relatively short period of ninety years.

14Change touched all aspects of life and is very apparent in the agricultural field. Land ownership has been divided few times amongst the four generations that have lived since Jaussen’s days, rendering the agricultural operation uneconomic in many cases. Another major change has been in the field of education where so many Jordanians have, for the last thirty years, been studying at universities and acquired advanced degrees and different technical abilities. This has led to a much smaller number of people in Moab and Southern Palestine being engaged in agriculture while high school as well as university graduates nowadays prefer to work in administrative jobs with the government or in the private sector. Production of cereals therefore has become much less and the Jordanians have become more dependent on imports for their daily bread. Both the Jordanians and the Palestinians have in the past and will continue to develop in the future the means to provide, in varying degrees, the requirements and need of their societies, as change is an indispensable part of history.



Abujaber R. (1989), Pioneers over Jordan: The Frontiers of Settlement in Transjordan, 1850-1914, London, I.B. Tauris.

Jaussen A. (1908), Coutumes des Arabes au pays de Moab, Paris, Gabalda.

Peake F. (1958), History and Tribes of Jordan, Coral Gables, Florida, University of Miami Press.

Saba J. & al-’Uzaizi R. (1961), Safhât min al-târîkh al-’urdunî wa min hayât al-bâdiya: Mâdabâ wa dawâhîhâ, Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing Press.

Shwayhat Y. (1966), al-’Uzayzât fî Mâdabâ, Amman, matba’at al-jaysh al-‘arabi.

Tristram H.B. (1873), The Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and the Jordan, London, John Murray.


1 The first Mudir of Zizia (or Giza) as appearing in the Ottoman yearbook of the Wilayat known as Salnama, was Sattam ibn Fayiz who was followed in 1891 by his brother Talal who died in 1909. Jaussen often visited Talal’s encampment and mentions him especially when he writes about tribal law (p. 184).

2 Sâba & al-‘Uzaizî, Mâdabâ wa dawâhîhâ. Sattam tried to exact a share of the crop from the cultivators in Madaba but they declined his request. This led to a disturbed relationship between them and the Bani Sakhr for many years.

3 The name Abujaber had been on record for at least 200 years before Jaussen’s time. As far as these records reveal, Jaber was not a first name in the Jordanian branch of the family for at least 300 years and therefore history that Abou Jaber was the father of Gaber must have been told as a story following the local custom.

4 Mash’a was King of Moab around 890 B. C. and to commemorate his victory over the Israelites he recorded it on the Mesh’a stone which was acquired in pieces and is now at the Louvres Museum in Paris. The story of its acquisition can be found in W. Pakenham Walsh The Moabite Stone, Dublin, 1873.

5 The day of harvest’s end was called gora’ah and was followed by a day rest and celebration.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 1999

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