|Pigeon-lovers still battle each other
in skies of Beirut
Hobby lives on in gardens, rooftops, and coffee shops
despite hard times and dwindling numbers
Special to The Daily Star
Abu Mohammed paced the street for a quarter of an hour
before storming the coffee house demanding the purchase of his pigeons back from Abu
Khalil who, an hour ago, had managed to lure them to his rooftop in a war between the two.
The whole coffee house was grinning as Abu Khalil handed the pair back to their owner.
Abu Mohammed, the narrator, went on to say he drew his pocket knife and slit their throats
right there in the middle of the coffee house in an attempt to restore his
pride and fame as one of the citys best keepers of pigeons.
Though this story is about the characters of old Beirut, it also captures the passion
involved in the pigeon wars that we still witness daily from the privacy of our balconies.
The pigeon war, better known as kash al-hamam, involves having opponents keep their flocks
up circling in the sky as they try to lure each others pigeons into their flocks. To
score a victory and lure as many pigeons as possible, a kashash trains his pigeons to fly
in tight formation and to crash the flight of the opponents flock. When
a kashash becomes aware of having lured any, he calls his flock back to his rooftop and
seizes the pigeon(s) of his opponent.
Wafiq Daouq is the last dedicated pigeon vendor in Ras Beirut. He said there
are a total of six stores left in Beirut, one at Dora, two at Msharrafieh, two in the
capitals southern suburbs, and his store near Manara.
Sitting at his shop, the first noticeable thing was not the pigeons but that the place was
for all practical reasons a coffee shop. A list stating the beverages he served and their
prices dominated the handwritten sign that said all pigeons have to be bought by the
purchasers expertise and pigeons can only be returned within the first week of their
Yes, he said, people come in, sit down, order their drinks and sometimes
take up to two hours to purchase a pigeon.
The sight was all but unbelievable here in a Beirut coffee shop grown men were watching
pigeons with a fervor that rivals the citys passion for people watching.
They sat there quietly eying the pigeons and sipping away. There was no small talk, it was
all pigeon talk. Occasionally someone would get up and walk into the cage to grab a pigeon
for closer inspection and then return to his seat.
I started raising pigeons in the late 50s, Daouq said. I was 15 years
old when I got my first pair and started breeding them.
Back then more people participated in the pigeon wars. Some have died, others have
simply dropped out because of time restraints and their need to secure money for their
families or because of their inability to cope with the financial requirements. Raising
pigeons costs money, you have to buy feed, medications, pigeons
so those who no
longer can afford the hobby sell their pigeons and quit, he said.
Wafiq could not say where the hobby originated from, all he could say was it was our
grandfathers, I asked my father and he said our grandfathers, it goes a long way
back, he said.
Then he added, any area you go to here you will find more pigeons than people. In
Beirut there is a lot, in the southern suburbs there is more, you go to Tripoli there is
more and more, in the South, Baalbek
wherever you go, people raise pigeons. But
Syria is the spring of pigeons. We bring all of our pigeons from Syria and if we want
pretty pigeons for breeding we get them from Egypt.
A passerby sticks his head in the shop and asks Wafiq: Did you get me the pair of
Tomorrow they should be in, pass tomorrow, he replies.
One couldnt help but ask whats with the Jews?
He laughed: In Lebanon we call a certain type of pigeon yahudi. In Syria, Jordan and
Egypt they call them Israelis. Since I was a kid weve always called them that and
they are held in high esteem among the pigeon fanciers. A real authentic pair can fetch as
much as $500, the regular just by name yahudis go as low as LL30,000.
In fact I wish you were here yesterday, I sold a msawad for $200. Glory belongs to
God, it was beautiful, all black, nine white feathers on each wing, big red eyes to the
point that its eyelids nearly touched on the top of its head, a splash of white on the
forehead, beak the
length of a finger, tall legs it could eat off this table standing on the ground; face,
head formed like that of a parrot. Glory belongs to God, it was something to
Some people raise them not for war but to appreciate their beauty, Wafiq went
on. If you visit
their gardens or roofs they will not allow you in if you are
(sick) for fear you might contaminate the pigeons. They build nice big cages for them and
use them for breeding only.
Every afternoon, their owners prepare their narguilehs, coffee, tea, cigarettes
whatever they like, and sit to watch them. That is their joy. They appreciate
pigeons and they understand their beauty, colors, stripes and body structure.
But the majority of people in Lebanon raise them for their ability to fly and lure other
pigeons, in addition to their beauty. Fanciers in this region are also unique because they
like to dress their pigeons with beads and bells, as their beauty is also a point of
pride for them. The beads also serve to mark the pigeons, so everyone knows
whose bird has landed on whose roof. Some people will go to great lengths in
providing their pigeons with the nicest colored beads.
The bells, oh its just nice to have them on and have them strut around the roof
tinkling. Its just like dressing a soccer team, the colored beads and bells just add
to their presence, Wafiq said.
The competition is very strong, but it is all done in a sporting spirit. After the hunt of
the day they all meet here at the coffee shop and there are no bad feelings, he said.
The negativity starts when someone catches a bird of someone he is not involved in
war with and doesnt report the bird to its owner. Thats what we call theft in
this hobby, and these are the people behind the myth that our testimony is not accepted in
Otherwise, people catch from each other and everyone has pigeons belonging to
others. Some return them and some dont but as I said, they come here in the evening
and talk about it, its all really a verbal competition, such as I caught your bird
that you said cannot be caught, I lured your hungry pigeon with a couple of kernels
its all done over tea, coffee, soda pop
no negative feelings, although of
course you always have some sore losers but I guess thats what makes it more