Lebanese, like the Jews who had come centuries before, arrived in Jamaica by their own free will towards the end of the nineteenth century.
They were mostly Christians fleeing persecution under the Ottoman Empire.
At the time, that region of the Middle East contained people from an area known as Mount Lebanon which was then part of Syria, hence the common confusion between the terms Syrian and Lebanese.
Earlier Lebanese/Syrian immigrants seemed to have been active in the banana industry but faced with its decline in the beginning of the 20th century, most turned to buying and selling and eventually to retail, following members of the Jamaican-Jewish community.
At first, very few had enough money to buy shops so they turned to peddling.
A potential pedlar would locate an area, ascertain the possibilities, borrow money from a more established member of the Lebanese/Syrian community, purchase a small amount of goods and sell them door to door.
As business improved, the pedlar might expand to add first a donkey to his set-up, and then as it expanded further, a horse and buggy and eventually a motor vehicle.
Once the pedlar amassed enough funds, he would open what is called a dry goods shop, many of which were and still are located in downtown Kingston on Orange, King, West Queen and Harbour streets: Issa’s, Joseph’s, Shoucair’s, Hanna’s, Bardowell’s and my family’s, G.E. Seaga and Sons.
Many of the second generation Lebanese-Jamaicans did not return to Lebanon to find wives and retain aspects of their culture as had been the custom of some of their parents.
Names like Hanna, Mahfood, Issa, Joseph, Ammar, Azan, Shoucair, Karam, Younis, Khouri, Fadil, Feanny, Dabdoub, Matalon and Ziadie are giants of retail, tourism, horse racing, industry and manufacturing.
Curated from Excerpts from Dr. Rebecca Tortello
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