The Wise Words of the Village Fool

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The asphalt road ends with a beaten track. Although one is connected to the other, yet there is a clear line of division between the manmade road and the one that the trees and the passing of time have devised.

An obscure trail perhaps, a detour, the kind you encounter and imagine carved by men out of the thick tangle of branches, a story to be told and retold, lies silent carried only by the wind that caresses the hills above and beyond.

Off the beaten path, falling leaves conceal the tracks scurrying wildlife made once by men guided by a man known as “akhwat Chanay” (the crazy man of Chanay).

In the Middle Ages, Lebanon was divided up into fiefs governed by emirs or hereditary sheikhs. But in the early years of the 17th century, Emir Fakhr Ed Dine II Maan (d. 1635) succeeded in extending his power throughout these princedoms and eventually ruled an area corresponding to present-day Lebanon. The Emirate of Mount Lebanon was an autonomous subdivision in the Ottoman Empire. The Emirate is considered to be an historical precursor of the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate established in 1861, which was, in turn, the precursor of the Lebanese Republic of today..

Emir Fakhr Ed Dine II Maan’s first capital was at Baaqline but because of a chronic water shortage, he was forced to move to Deir El Qamar where there were copious springs.

When the Maan dynasty died out at the end of the 17th century, the emirs of the Chehab family inherited the land. It was Emir Bechir Chehab II (1788-1840) who decided to leave Deir El Qamar and to construct his own palace at Beiteddine (House of faith), a Druze hermitage which today is part of the palace. Supplying the palace with water from a source in the valley was a main concern at the time that even puzzled the Italian architects. The prince wanted to drag water from the mountain at immense cost.

As fate would have it that, Emir Bechir had to face the same problems with water shortage to his castle, as did Fakhr Ed Dine II back in Baaqline.

A tale is told on how eventually the castle was provided with water and how one man dubbed as crazy “akhwat Chanay” (the crazy man of Chanay, located in the Kaza of Aaley) came up with the solution.

One day, the Emir shared his concern with his ‘fool’, Akhwat Chanay, and the latter replied: what is the matter with you?

The prince: We can’t seem to supply the castle with water. I need to drag water to the palace and I don’t know how. We have built this beautiful palace and it has no water. (at that time people would go to fountains and rivers to bring water).

Akhwat Chanay left promising his prince that he would find the solution within seven days. After 6 days of wandering around the castle, he still couldn’t find a solution, until on the 7th day he heard the sound of water coming from deep hill from the river. He ran quickly back to his prince with a solution:

“Let everyone of your men stand in line from here till the fountain of Safa (a fountain in the region) and dig his own grave with his own hands in front of him to reach the river and that way they will create a canal which will get the water to the castle.”

And so it was done, and water reached the castle “naturally”. According to many people, akhwat Chanay was not mad at all and was famed for his wit. At the time, princes would instill spies in the form of the village’s fool, someone that seemed so harmless that no one would mind him and everything would be said in his presence. The crazy man of Chanay died without us knowing for sure whether he was a spy or indeed crazy.

In 1812, Emir Bechir obliged each of his able-bodied males subjects to provide two days of unpaid labor in order to ensure a plentiful supply of water at his new seat of government. Within two years the project was completed. The palace remained the emir’s residence until his forced exile in 1840.

That’s how running water came to the palace and the Channel of the Emir is still being used today.

Standing there surrounded by the beauty bestowed by nature on this region, as the sun lays its early warm rays on the horizon, I couldn’t help the thought that sometimes you just have to play the role of a fool to fool the fool who thinks you are a fool.

To get there: drive towards Mir Amin Palace, keep heading straight after Mir Amin, the road will end with a small stone road that you can only access by foot. park your car and enjoy this beautiful historic walk…

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