Hamada Silkworks (Magnenerie Mourgue d’Algue)
Producer of the finest silks, sold around the world
The Hamada Silk works first opened its doors in 1851 when silk production became a staple industry affording great social and economic change in Lebanon. Teams of spinners were brought from France to train young women who, for the first time, were leaving their households to go out to work. This was a real social revolution in this rural and traditional part of the country.
It is important to mention that the transport of silk cocoons and silk from Beirut’s port to Marseille, laid the foundations for maritime transport agencies in Lebanon. Similarly, loan grants to intermediaries and traders wishing to buy silk cocoons from farmers, laid the groundwork for financial trading posts which in turn led to the establishment of the first Lebanese bank, and to the development of the port of Beirut.
“Increased weaving of silk textiles in France in the nineteenth century required more silk thread than could be supplied by European sericulture. This was especially the case after 1865, when blight decimated French and Italian sericulture; industrialists of Lyons and Marseilles needed to find alternative supplies for their factories. The presence of European silk-spinning factories in Mount Lebanon, regular and inexpensive steamboat service between Beirut and Marseilles, diminution of tariffs and customs on exported silk thread, and the rise of French political prominence in Lebanese internal affairs after 1861 convinced these industrialists to choose Mount Lebanon as one source of silk. For the peasantry, increasing production of silk and selling it to the French made economic sense. While in the 1840s the price of one Okka (1.228 kilograms) hovered around 12 piasters, by 1857 French merchants were paying 45 piasters per Okka, and those prices persisted with minor changes through the 1870s.
While French need for cocoons occasioned the proliferation of mulberry trees and sericulture, French demand for silk thread encouraged the industrialization of silk spinning in Mount Lebanon. Before 1838, silk spinning in the Mountain was carried out by Hilalis (itinerant spinners), who used a hand-powered spinning wheel which the French called Roue Arabe. However, French silk factories required a stronger and more evenly spun silk thread than could be obtained using these traditional methods. This convinced some European entrepreneurs, bent on profiting from satisfying the requirements of French industrialists, to establish silk factories in Mount Lebanon.
By 1851, the number of European filatures had increased by six. A French merchant, Andre de Figon, established two factories: one in Ghazir, Kisrawan, and another in Al-Qrayye in the Metn district. Another entrepreneur, with an inflated sense of self-importance that led him to change his name from Thomas Dalgue-Mourgue to Mourge d’Algue, established a sizable factory in “Ain Hamada”. Some Lyonnaise silk manufacturers followed suit and set up factories in Hammana.
This sudden rush by French capitalists and merchants resulted from the success of the Portalis experiment in manufacturing medium-to-high quality silk thread at low costs. Profits from such an enterprise were obviously higher in an area where wage labor was much cheaper than in Europe. In 1851 a male Lebanese worker was paid 4 to 5 piasters for a day’s work, while women were paid only 1 piaster for the same amount of work. In comparison, French men working in silk factories in the Midi received almost 8.8 piasters each work day and French women spinners received 4 piasters.”
Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870-1920, By Akram Fouad Khater
The Village of Arbanieh
The village of Arbanieh exists since the 6th century. The name is in the Syriac language (Language of the Maronites), AURBANAYE which means “A group of people who came together”. Before and after the fall of the crusader states in 1291 AD, two main Mamluk campaigns targeted the Keserwan Area which in those times included the Metn and a part of the Baabda region.
The first Mamluk campaign (1282 AD) failed in front of the Maronite-Druze coalition of defenders, but the second one (1307 AD) was a total disaster for the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon. The Maronites were almost exterminated, for only 12,000 out of 60,000 survived the onslaught.
Arbanieh had the biggest Silk factory of the Middle East which was built in 1846. The village flourished from the French Mourgue d’Algue factory which is located in the part of the village known as Ain Hamada. During World War I the factory closed down and hunger and disease stroke Lebanon.