Chasing Druze reincarnations on Mount Lebanon

Collection with 15 media items created by Benas Gerdziunas

Lebanon 05 Mar 2018 09:36

Nibal remembers, like many others do; he remembers his violent death in Lebanon’s 15 year long civil war. Just three years old, Nibal guided his family to the ‘previous’ home on Mount Lebanon. Inside, he knew the names and stories of each person in his ‘old family.’ “He remembers,” Nibal’s friends introduced him. The two ominous words echoe from mouth to mouth among the Druze, without the heavy weight of what to some others may seem as an antiquated spiritual hearsay. Belief in reincarnation, or ‘Taqamus’ in Arabic - loosely translated as ‘wearing another shirt’ - forms a big part of the Druze minority in Lebanon, who have historically escaped persecution in the fortress-like terrain on Mount Lebanon, and managed to coexist under succession of rulers since the faith’s split from Islam in the 11th century. Some historians even attribute Fakhr-Al-Din, the Druze leader in the 17th century, as the founder of modern Lebanon. The religion itself remains submerged in secrecy, with its teaching available only to those who embark on a life-long path of becoming a sheikh. In the wake of Lebanon’s 15 year old civil war, a generation of children grew up remembering their violent deaths. Far from sporadic instances, people like Nibal grew up studying their ‘previous’ lives, questioning how much of that knowledge influenced their present-life decisions. During my six month stay in Lebanon, I met various individuals among the Druze religious and cultural community, and explored the historic Mount Lebanon areas. After an initial meeting, I’m maintaining contact with the Druze Council Minister of Culture, whose 24 year old son is currently hospitalised with cancer. The philosophy of reincarnation has historically made the Druze into fearsome fighters, and in today’s world, has helped families confront death. For this photoessay / long-form story, I am focusing on one aspect of the Druze faith - the unwavering belief in reincarnation. To supplement the interviews and observations, I have studied Druze history, as well as the religious beliefs available to the public.

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Title photo for the collection
Druze Reincarnation-1
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Oct 2017

View towards Beirut from Mount Lebanon, the heart of Druze community in Lebanon. The now-defunct Damascus-Beirut railway operated until the civil war broke out in 1975, and opened these mountains to tourists from across the Levant escaping the summer heat. Prior to that, it made an ideal stronghold for its autonomous community, submerged in religious secrecy.

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Druze Reincarnation-2
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Oct 2017

A Druze man plays the flute in their friends hangout, perched on the hill overlooking the valley below. The tight knit community of friends all subscribe to the ideals of Druze faith - or at least, to the little of it that they do know.

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Druze Reincarnation-3
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
15 Oct 2017

Many children, including Nibal, guided their families to the houses of their previous-life families. Nibal remembered his death in clashes between the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, with whom the Druze allied during the civil war, and Islamists in the Sunni Muslim stronghold in Tripoli, northern Lebanon.

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Druze Reincarnation-4
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Jan 2018

Clouds over Chouf region, on Mount Lebanon, drifting over cedar trees, the symbol of Lebanon. Chouf was the home to Fakhr-Al-Din, the Druze leader in the early 17th century, who managed to carve out a kingdom in the Ottoman empire stretching as far as Palmyra in present-day Syria.

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Druze Reincarnation-5
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Jan 2018

Bridge connecting Mount Lebanon with the road to Beeka Valley, yet also forming the north-south dividing line between Druze and Christian strongholds, who fought a brief, but bitter civil war in 1860, and again in the late 20th century. Regardless, both areas retain a mix of religions today.

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Druze Reincarnation-6
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
15 Oct 2017

Faint outline of the Druze religious building hugs the outline of the rock face on Mount Lebanon. The religious buildings, the Khalwa, are nondescript, often displaying no more than the five-point star of the Druze faith.

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Druze Reincarnation-7
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
04 Nov 2017

Nibal Khalek stands in the backdrop of the Druze religious house in his village, Majdal Baana. Nibal accepted the influence of the past life in his current decisions, which in a way, guided his choices in the present life. “Maybe that's why my soul wanted to be reborn in this body, to finish what it started,” he said.

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Druze Reincarnation-8
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Jan 2018

Bridge on Beirut-Damascus railway, shrouded in the passing clouds. Those children who remember violent deaths in previous lives, usually involve sudden accidents, car crashes and most recently, the war.

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Druze Reincarnation-9
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Oct 2017

Young people from Nibal’s village dance Dabke - the traditional regional dance. All in their late 20s and 30s, no one has ever been shown the ways of Druze faith, without having undertaken the lifelong path of becoming a religious cleric, the sheikh.

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Druze Reincarnation-10
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
15 Oct 2017

A home in Majdal Baana village. As entire generations live side-by-side, noticing reincarnations in the early years following a child’s birth became a family tradition.

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Druze Reincarnation-11
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
04 Nov 2017

The Druze have continued tracing their multiple lives across Mount Lebanon, which helped the community become fearful fighters against their enemies. “In this life, I am a supporter of the same political party, same as my parents. Throughout my youth, I wanted to fight for the same ideals, and used to think about the joining the war in neighbouring Syria, but with age, this fighting spirit has decreased,” said Nibal.

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Druze Reincarnation-12
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
31 Jan 2018

Traditional Mashrabiya window coverings at the Druze Council in Beirut, home to its clerical authority. Many agree, that the firm belief in reincarnation - which also changed the opinions of sceptics such as Nibal himself - allowed them to fight without the fear of death, and gave closure to families after sudden loss of close ones.

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Druze Reincarnation-13
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
04 Nov 2017

Valleys in Mount Lebanon carry an air of beauty and mystique, akin to philosophical studies of the Druze faith, centered on monotheism and individual interpretation. Shadi Khalek, Nibal’s friend, recalls asking his Christian teacher at school: “If we were all sons of God, same as Jesus; I do not remember the answer.”

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Druze Reincarnation-14
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Jan 2018

Bridge on Beirut-Damascus highway. After a death of a Druze, the saying in the community goes - “May the person be reborn to good parents.”

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Druze Reincarnation-15
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Jan 2018

An elderly Druze man sells newspapers in Aley, Mount Lebanon. According to Gerald Russell, who wrote about the Druze, “Going into battle, the Druze would shout: ‘Who wants to sleep in the mother's womb tonight?’”