The history of Lebanese emigration to Brazil is long. It is said that Lebanese Christians began to emigrate to Brazil in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while Lebanon was still part of the Ottoman Empire. However, even after the Ottomans were defeated in the First World War, the waves of Lebanese emigrants did not cease. On the contrary, the number rose due to the events that took place in the region such as the establishment of the French protectorate, the creation of the State of Israel, and the civil war which lasted from 1975 to 1990, and was responsible for a wave of migration of Lebanese Muslims.
In Brazil these Lebanese migrants – known as “Turkish” – worked as peddlers, trading manufactured goods like clothes and jewellery in big Brazilian cities. Later, many of them would open their stores in shopping centers such as the Vinte e Cinco de Março and Oriente Streets in the downtown area of Sao Paulo, changing forever the urban landscape of the capital city as well as the way of doing business.
As usual happens in these cases, initially the Lebanese remained apart of Brazilian society: they spoke their language (Arabic, but in many cases French), ate their own food, educated their children in their own way. However, it didn't take long for them to adapt their culture to the country which they had adopted, and soon they learned Portuguese, adapted their recipes to the ingredients found there, intermarried with Brazilians of older Lebanese origin, but also from other communities such as the Portuguese and Spanish. Anyway, everything went its natural way, with their their descendants fully integrated into the country where they were born.
The economic crisis that Brazil suffered in the 1980s and 1990s directly affected these families, dependent on the income from trade. Many chose to return to Lebanon and rebuild their lives in the old fatherland. Of course they were no longer the same, since their children were native Brazilians, who didn't speak languages other than Portuguese. This group is called “Brazilebanese”, as Roberto Khatlab says on the blog of the Council of Brazilian Citizens in the World:
[Trata-se de] um neologismo com o qual eu identifico os cidadãos binacionais líbano-brasileiros no Líbano – conta com cerca de 10 mil pessoas (sem incluir aqueles que retornaram ao Brasil sem ter obtido a nacionalidade). Em 1954, o banqueiro Jean Abou-Jaoudé funda, em Beirute, a Associação da Amizade Brasil-Líbano, que está em atividade até hoje. Os “brasilibaneses” estão presentes em todo o território libanês, do Norte (Dar Beechtar…) ao Sul (Kabrikha…), mas principalmente no Bekaa, onde existem aldeias inteiras – como Sultan Yaacoub, Kamed-Lawz e Ghazzé – com 90% de “brasilibaneses” que falam fluentemente o português e perpetuam os costumes brasileiros (gastronomia, música, arquitetura, agricultura…).
A very interesting phenomenon has occurred in Bekaa: in that area there are towns such as Sultan Yakub where the first language is neither Arabic nor French, but Portuguese. On his blog the journalist Gustavo Chakra addresses [pt] the subject with some surprise.
Quem viaja para Sultan Yakoub é alertado que, uma vez na cidade, pode pedir informações em português que qualquer pessoa responde na hora. Afinal, nesta pequena vila em uma colina isolada no meio do vale do Beqaa, quase todos os mil habitantes moraram ou ainda têm um parente próximo que vive no Brasil.
A reportagem fez o teste e, realmente, o primeiro pedestre abordado falava português. Era Hussein El Jaroush. Nascido no Líbano, ele foi há duas décadas para o Brasil, onde viveu por 13 anos. Passou por Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Maceió e, como muitos conterrâneos, terminou em Santo André. Na cidade do ABC paulista, existe até uma espécie de clube, chamado “Chácara Sultan Yakoub”, onde os originários desta vila do Líbano se reúnem nos fins de semana para jogar futebol e fazer churrasco.
This reporter took the test and, indeed, the first pedestrian who was approached did speak Portuguese. It was Hussein El Jaroush. Born in Lebanon, he went two decades ago to Brazil, where he lived for 13 years. He passed by Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Maceió and, as many of his countrymen, ended up in Santo André. In that town on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, there is even a sort of club called “Farmstead Sultan Yakoub,” where people from this village in Lebanon gather on weekends to play football and to barbecue.
Gustavo Chacra cites another “Brazilebanese”, Jamal, 39 years old, to which the new times impose new challenges, such as the maintenance of Portuguese among the younger generations, especially those now born in Lebanon:
O importante para Jamal é manter a ligação com o Brasil pela língua. Especialmente por causa do seu filho. Ele diz que sempre fala em português com o menino, apesar de muitas vezes receber a resposta em árabe.
In order to ensure the maintenance of Portuguese among “Brazilebanese” families, among other elements of Brazilian culture, the Brazilian government established [pt] the Brazil-Lebanon Cultural Center in Beirut in April 2011. On Wednesdays the center “shows free movies for the people of Beirut, most Brazilians and descendants”.
The blog “Excessivamente Humano” provides [pt] more details:
“É uma antiga reivindicação dos libaneses, de forma geral, e da comunidade de origem brasileira no Líbano, de modo especial”, explica Roberto Medeiros, ministro-conselheiro e chefe do setor cultural da embaixada brasileira, sobre a iniciativa de fundação do centro. “Em encontros sociais ou culturais com os membros da embaixada em Beirute, os libaneses sempre solicitavam que o governo brasileiro criasse uma instituição com a função específica de divulgar a língua portuguesa e a cultura brasileira”, completa.
The fact is that this request had been made for many years, and for decades it had been trapped in the bureaucratic network of Brasilia. Moreover, although the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil is laudable, it is still far from meeting the main public for whom the center was created, because Brazilians like Jamal can't attend it because they live in the Bekaa Valley, where most Brazilians are concentrated. The next step would be to take Portuguese teachers to that region as well as encouraging and supporting Brazilian cultural associations and other cultural centres dedicated, for example, to Latin America, such as the Latin American Studies and Culture Centre at the University of Kaslik and the Project Alecrim International in Lebanon, an institution committed to maintaining the cultural identity of Brazilian children who live abroad.
The time is opportune for Brazil to meet a longstanding demand of Brazilians in Lebanon, but also to involve them as intermediaries in the trade between the two countries.