The Hijazine, one of the two tribes whose descendants inhabit Smakieh, originate from the Hijaz, a region in present-day western Saudi Arabia. According to Ayman Hijazine, a teacher in Smakieh who has written a book on the history of the local tribes, the Hijazine first settled in Petra, where they lived harmoniously with another tribe, the Akasheh.
Around the 17th century, the two tribes migrated north to the Kerak plateau. Some say they moved to find better farmland, others argue they abandoned their villages in the south as a result of frequent raids by nomadic tribes from Saudi Arabia. Still others maintain that word about other Christians living in the region attracted the newcomers.
The Kerak plateau remained a wild frontier up until the beginning of the 20th century; the Ottoman Empire did not even incorporate it until 1893. Settled tribes contended with nomadic ones, who raided their farms or extorted tribute from them. Disputes and conflicts among tribes were commonplace, and tribes often counted the number of their ranks in guns.
In the early 19th century, the Christian tribes created an alliance with the settled Muslim tribes on the plateau. Together, they defended the region from invading nomads.
The quality of life on the plateau, however, left much to be desired. Inhabitants had little,
if any, access to education. The reach of the church was also limited.
Conditions began to improve in the 1870s, when the Latin patriarchate established a mission in Kerak. At the time, one of the local tribes, the ‘Azizat, entered the Latin church after refusing to follow an Orthodox priest from the Halaseh tribe.
In 1889, the Hijazine and the Akasheh settled in present-day Smakieh. By 1905, residents started building houses. According to church records, construction of the villages first church began in 1909 and was completed in 1912. The transformation of the tribal frontier had begun.
On the east side of the village, Smakiehs original houses still stand on a parched hillside. Abandoned and mostly in ruins, they remain easily recognizable, even beautiful. Made of patterned blocks of limestone and basalt, they are tiny, one-room affairs. At one time, whole families shared the cramped quarters with their livestock.
New multi-story residences, however, far outnumber the original houses. Families built the buildings in the 1970s and 1980s, when they gained greater access to bank loans. Most residents now live in one of these structures.
In contrast, the abandoned part of Hmoud appears larger than the new, inhabited area. Similar to many rural villages in Jordan, Hmoud has experienced slow but steady depopulation in recent decades. Younger generations leave to pursue higher education or careers as professionals. Many have moved to Amman and its Christian suburb, Fuheis, or gone abroad. The village is now only home to between 30 and 50 households, most of which are composed of elderly people.
It is evacuated, says Mjalle Bawlsah, a resident of Smakieh. Mr. Bawlsah, whose family belongs to the Akasheh tribe, believes that in time Smakieh will have come to terms with a similar fate. According to him, only a handful of the 20 or 30 Bawlsah families still live in Smakieh. Most have moved to Fuheis.
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Tags: Christianity Jordan Village life Christian-Muslim relations Farming/Agriculture