The mysterious world of the “Pigeon Fancier (Hemeimati)”… “Strict” laws regulating the profession during war

The mysterious world of the “Pigeon Fancier (Hemeimati)”… “Strict” laws regulating the profession during war

Enab Baladi Enab Baladi
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Pigeons in "Hudayer" (coop) on a roof in eastern Ghouta (Enab Baladi)

Enab Baladi ‖ online ‖ In depth

If you have ever visited Damascus and its countryside, Homs, Aleppo or any other Syrian city, you should have noticed swarms of pigeons hovering over the city, swaying right and left, up and down responding to the signs of a person standing on a roof.

This person would be carrying a long stick in his hand with a black or white piece of cloth on its tip, waving it, as if telling the flying swarm to fly higher or fly down towards him, often with a “whistle” that violates the atmosphere, which is considered a reciprocal language between him and his birds, who obey him in everything he says or hints to; some expressions cannot be understood, like “kesh kesh”, “Ta Ta” and “Bar Bar Bar”.

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You might as well have passed by a street, a folk market or were on a roof, where you heard a fight between two people or two groups, caused by a “bird” (pigeon) that has fallen in the hands of someone, who has kidnapped it with his craftsmanship and professionalism, so voices rise up and sometimes things may escalate to hitting with sharp objects like knives and sticks in order to get the bird back, and things would end up with both parties in jail, since a crafty person does not lose any of his birds for another “Hemeimati (Pigeon fancier)” from the region.

There are no accurate official statistics regarding the number of pigeons in Syria, nor the numbers of workers in this profession, which makes it hard to count the whereabouts of these people, and distance them from any study or serious discussion.

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“Hudayer” (Coop) of pigeons on the roof top of a house in Douma in the countryside of Damascus – Enab Baladi

“Kashash” (Flyer) means “Liar”

In Syria, you have to differentiate between those who keep pigeons or birds as fanciers, from those who practice the profession of “Kash (flying)”, the latter person is known as “Kashash (Flyer)”, which means flying the pigeons in swarms locally called “Kashat/swarms”. Hemeimati (Pigeon fancier) is known as a “liar”, or as the one who “flies” the birds, according to the circulating local phrase, as he does not admit of taking over others’ birds, and is always willing to swear to that.

“Hemeimati (Pigeon fancier)”, or “Hamaimi”, is the profession of those who have none, as believed by the majority of people in the society. Most of the times, those who have a special kind of mood are the ones who work in it, since it needs leisure time, a clear mind and a specific “charisma”, and a person willing to bear consequences of what people say about him, since who would like to be called “Kashash” and therefore “liar” according to local traditional custom, or who is the one ready to be stigmatized as “Hemeimati”, regarding the indications of this characteristic “has no job nor profession”, “tramp”, “jobless”; terms that are often linked to those interested or working in this field, despite the fact that those working in the field that Enab Baladi has interviewed with, say “it is a hobby and not a career. War has affected it significantly, as there are no more birds nor Kashash.”

Would you marry a Hemeimati?

“Hemeimati” occupies the house’s roof a stage for his hobby and profession, which a large number of Syrians look at uncomfortably, who accepts to marry a “Hemeimati”, and who accepts her brother or father to be one?

Working in this field formed a criteria for societal discrimination, even though there is no legal text nor a real danger of working in pigeon flying, as workers in this field say.

The social custom says that a “Hemeimati’s” testimony is not accepted in courts since he lies a lot. But, upon reviewing legal texts and asking specialists about the matter, Enab Baladi found out that there is no law that criminalizes a “Hemeimati” nor rejects his testimony in a court of law, however, the law criminalizes his acts, according to Article 744 of Syrian Penal Code, and imposes a fine in case a “Kashash” makes noise, throws stones or hard objects at houses or in the air.

Strange rituals

The local society looks at the “Hemeimatis” as violent and into troubles, and that is because they fight a lot among themselves for the sake of a bird, or a “Kashe” “flying”, even though they deal with pigeons as it symbolizes peace and safety. Folk proverbs were fair to the pigeon and indicated its peaceful nature, the proverb says, this person “has the heart of a pigeon” in an indication to his kind heartedness. There are many folk proverbs that talk about different kinds of birds and link them to society and daily life.

However, Hemeimatis have strange rituals not everyone is aware of, as he who captured a bird that does not belong to him, has to be quiet and not tell anyone about it, until the owner asks about the bird in the neighborhood. He has no rights to do anything with it or sell it. Yet, if one loses a bird, he has to live sadly because another Hemeimati “got him badly”, and that would affect his career.

Anyways, this profession is strictly masculine, governed by rules. Kidnapping others’ birds has grounds that only a “pro” can master; when a Kasha (swarm) flies up, it gets mingled with someone else’s birds, so the bird joins the group and gets into the center of the swarm, here, the Hemeimati would strongly wave for the swarm to land on the roof, next to him, carrying along them the new catch. At this point, the Hemeimati holds his tongue, while the Hemeimati who lost his bird, cannot prove that his bird was with the swarm of his colleague, and he would be helpless, waiting for another round in order to regain his bird or kidnaps another one from that who got his bird.

A “threatened” Syrian heritage

Whether it is a hobby or a career, it does not make a difference, what matters is that it has occupied a good number of Syrians before war. During the past five years, it became one of the hobbies or careers that are about to extinct, thus, the Syrian society loses a social “heritage”, regardless of the varied opinions concerning it, whether they were negative or positive.

The voices of Hemeimatis, who used to fill the roofs especially in popular neighborhoods and slums, dropped off with the flaming battles, many of them looked for other sources of living after the hobby became history. Before war, many of them lived off this profession through selling birds after fattening and keeping them, exchanging birds among them or putting them out in special markets like; Ateek market in Sankjdar and Zablatani areas in Damascus, the Friday market in Douma and Hama, as well as other areas throughout the Syrian cities.

Feeding the birds… a new burden

Nowadays, “Flying pigeons” has become more of a hobby than a profession for many reasons, a ‘pigeon fancier’ of Daraa city tells Enab Baladi, adding “war, shelling, battles and displacement that affected Hemeimatis, in addition to high costs of feeding and caring for the birds, caused it to decline significantly.”

He points out that the famous birds’ market in the city of Daraa is no longer the same, “there are no more birds, the numbers of pigeons decreased tremendously, and therefore, those who are still in the field are only those who take it as a hobby.”

The young man of Daraa notes that birds are generally exposed to huge dangers during this period of time, such as “the spread of kinds of rodents attacking birds, which have spread due to battles, displacement and lack of rodents’ control. Rodents are often found in abandoned houses, where they breed in large numbers, which is the greatest danger threatening this kind of animals.”

Pigeons’ thief in Germany

A Syrian refugee, fleeing the atrocities of war, arrived to Germany, used to work as a “pigeon fancier” and flying them. Due to the strangeness of this profession to European societies, the young man thought he will lose it forever, however, he found what he missed in public squares. Activists tell the story of this young man of Hama, and how his passion of the profession, “Flying pigeons” put him under the German Police’s surveillance, which followed him to his house and discovered an unexpected thing.

The young man went to parks and public squares and spread wheat and grains for the pigeons. Once “birds” got closer to him, he would grab it and take it to his house. The young man did not realize the police was observing him and thinking that he is taking the birds to slaughter and eat.

After repeated cases of taking pigeons from public squares, police raided the house to be shocked to find a place designed by the young man for the pigeons “a fountain, accessories, cleaning, and a complete caring”. At this point, the police considered the young man a friend of the environment and was appointed a supervisor at one of Berlin’s parks.

“Addiction” of some famous

Abdullah Rajab, a farmer from eastern Ghouta and a pigeon fancier, asserts that his profession is not limited to the Hemeimatis, rather it is an “addiction” and a hobby practiced by high society people; a number of them came to him, prior to the revolution, to buy pigeons, including artist Hussam Tahseen Beik, Mohammad Ousu (Kassmo), Bassem Yakhour, in addition to doctors, engineers and others, according to what he told Enab Baladi.

Rajab believes that birds are now a method of recognition in eastern Ghouta, as pigeon fanciers recognize and meet through birds. He asserts that birds’ prices rose dramatically; a pair of birds’ price can now reach a million Syrian pound. There are types like “Alabla”, “Meswad”, “Moshmeshi”, “Bermili”, “Arjani” and “Nuhassi” with different prices according to the type.

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A type of pigeons sold at high prices (Enab Baladi)

Some of the important criteria of evaluating pigeons, according to Rajab, are the standing posture of the bird, its face, eyes, color of his feathers, length, shortness, pointing to the “bird’s standing posture” as the most important criterion.

Rajab explains some of the mysteries of this world, and how the existing war generally affected the profession of pigeon fanciers and “Flying pigeons”, since there is no more available food, like used to before, which resulted in the death of a lot of birds, not to mention the high prices of wheat, corn and feed; the price of one kilo of corn jumped up from 17 to 500 Syrian pound.

Rajab says “in the Hemeimatis’ community there are more strict rules than those of a State, even if two people were best friends, you will soon find them at war once one of their birds fall prey in the hands of his friends, at this point, the one who lost his bird should try to regain it at all costs available for the Hemeimatis’ customs, away from favoritism.”
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