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The Lebanese people ( , el shaab el libnene) are an ethnic group or nation of Levantine people originating in what is today the country of Lebanonmarker, including those who had inhabited Mount Lebanonmarker prior to the creation of the modern Lebanese state. The cultural and linguistic heritage of the Lebanese people is a rich blend of both indigenous elements and the foreign cultures that have come to rule the land and its people over the course of thousands of years.

The Lebanese have traditionally spoken only languages of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family throughout their history, starting with Phoenician, a Canaanite language most closely related to Hebrew and spoken by the earliest known inhabitants of what is today Lebanon, the Phoeniciansmarker. Phoeniciamarker would see its land and people pass through several waves of foreign rulers, at least two of which would radically transform the cultural, linguistic and religious landscape of the country, as well as the identity of the people; Aramization, and centuries later, Arabization.

One curious fact about the Lebanese people is that most of them do not live in Lebanon. As with their predecessors, the Lebanese have always travelled the world, many of them settling permanently, most notably in the last two centuries. Today, there are approximately 4 million people in Lebanon and an estimated 15 million people of Lebanese descent elsewhere in the world, the majority of them in Brazilmarker.

Religiously, Lebanese Christians comprise the overwhelming majority [221409] of Lebanese people worldwide, according to some estimates, outnumbering Lebanese Muslims (both Sunni and Shi'a) at a 3:1 ratio , and concentrated principally in the diaspora. [221410] Reduced in numbers and estimated to have lost their status as a majority in Lebanon itself, largely as a result of their emigration, [221411] Christians still remain one of the principal religious groups in the country.


Cultural and Linguistic Shifts

As with the rest of the Levant, and most of the rest of the Middle East, Aramization transformed Lebanon into an Aramaic-speaking and identifying region, abandoning their indigenous Phoenician language and cultural norms. Most of the population would also abandon the polytheistic Canaanite religion of the Phoenicians in favour of Christianity.

Aramaic cultural norms would remain dominant until the commencement of the era of Arabization (often, but not always, in conjunction with Islamization) which transformed not only Lebanon, but the rest of the Levant (Syria, Israel/Palestine, and Jordan) and most of the Middle East and North Africa during the Arabian Muslim conquest. Thus, it is from the Arabization of Lebanon that the people receive the strongest cultural and linguistic imprint to date, although most would remain Christian. As a result of this, in modern discourse, the Lebanese people (as is also the case with Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Moroccans, etc) are now often referred to as Arabs, or as forming part of the Arab world, albeit all with their own separate and distinct ancestral origins and ancient histories.

Immediately prior to Arabization, the people residing in Lebanon — both those who would become Muslim and the vast majority which would remain Christian, along with the tiny Jewish minority — still spoke Aramaic, or more precisely, a Western Aramaic language. However, since at least the 15th century, the majority of Lebanese of all faiths have been Arabic-speaking, or more specifically, speakers of Lebanese Arabic, although up until the 17th century, travellers in the Lebanon still reported on several Aramaic-speaking villages.

Among the Lebanese Maronites, Aramaic still remains the liturgical language of the Maronite Church, although in an Eastern Aramaic form (the Syriac language, in which early Christianity was disseminated throughout the Middle East), distinct from the spoken Aramaic of Lebanon which was a Western Aramaic language. As the second of two liturgical languages of Judaism, Aramaic was also retained as a language in the sphere of religion (in the Talmud) among Lebanese Jews, although here too in an Eastern Aramaic form (the Talmud was composed in Babylonia in Babylonian Aramaic). Among Lebanese Muslims, however, Aramaic was lost twice, once in the shift to Arabic in the vernacular (Lebanese Arabic) and again in the religious sphere, since Arabic (Qur'anic Arabic) is the liturgical language of Islam.

Identity Shifts

Some Lebanese, mainly Christians, identify themselves as Phoenician rather than Arab, seeking to draw "on the Phoenician past to try to forge an identity separate from the prevailing Arab culture". [221412] They argue that Arabization merely represented a shift to the Arabic language as the vernacular of the Lebanese people, and that, according to them, no actual shift of ethnic identity, much less ancestral origins, occurred. Their argument, based on the premise of ancestry, has recently been vindicated by some emerging genetic studies as discussed below. Thus, Phoenicianists emphasize that the Arabs of Lebanon, Syriamarker, Palestine, Egyptmarker, Sudanmarker, Tunisiamarker, Iraqmarker, and all other "Arabs", are different peoples, each descended from the indigenous pre-Arab populations of their respective regions, with their own histories and lore, and that therefore they do not belong to the one pan-Arab ethnicity, and thus such categorisation is erred or inapplicable. Lehe nationals in particular tend to stress on aspects of Lebanon's non-Arab history as a mark of respect to encompass all of Lebanon's historical stages, instead of only that which began during the Arab conquests, which is an attitude that prevails in the rest of the Arab world.

Among the Arabists, most don't dispute the differing ancestral origins of not only the Lebanese, but every other "Arab" group, nor do they disagree with acknowledging those roots. However, they do contest the Phoenicianists' assertion that a shift to an Arab identity did not occur, whether from a Phoenician or later pre-Arab identity. Arabists argue such a shift did in fact occur, if not for the population as a whole and for generations up until the rise of modern Phoenicianism, then at the very least for the larger part of the population, up to and including today. Further, they contend that this was the case for the Lebanese even in light of the differing Lebanese religious communities, especially pointing to the fact that most of the leading Arabists in recent Lebanese history were in fact Christians. The Arabists' point of contention is that Phoenicianists and Phoenicianism disregards and often altogether seems to relegate the reality of the Arab cultural and linguistic heritage of Lebanon and the Lebanese, given the extent to which the culture and customs of today's Lebanese people are indebted to that period of Lebanon's history. This is argued especially when the Arab cultural elements are quantified against the elements that can be attributed to have originated prior to, and survived, the Arab period into the modern time and culture. Therefore, they see the notion of deriving a Lebanese identity based on Arabism as valid, and thus many Lebanese, whether Muslim, Christian or other, do identify as Arabs.

In light of this "old controversy about identity" [221413], some Lebanese prefer to see Lebanon, Lebanese culture and themselves as part of a "Mediterranean" or "Levantine" civilization, in a concession to Lebanon's various layers of heritage, both indigenous, foreign non-Arab, and Arab. Arab influence, nevertheless, applies to virtually all aspects of the modern Lebanese culture.

Population numbers

The total population of Lebanese people is estimated at 18 million. Of these, the vast majority, or 15 million, are in the diaspora (outside of Lebanon), and less than 4 million resident citizens of Lebanon itself.


There are approximately 4 million Lebanese in Lebanon. In addition to this figure, there are an additional 1 million foreign workers and about 400,000 Palestinian refugees in the nation.


The Lebanese diaspora consists of approximately 14 million, both Lebanese-born living abroad and those born-abroad of Lebanese decent. The majority of the Lebanese in the diaspora are Christians [221414], disproportionately so in the Americas where the vast majority reside. An estimate figure show that they represent about 75% of the Lebanese in total.

The largest number of Lebanese is to be found in Brazilmarker, where there is an estimated 6 million people of Lebanese descent. Large numbers also reside elsewhere in the Americas, most notably in the United Statesmarker and Mexicomarker with close to half a million in both countries. In the rest of the Americas, significant communities are found in Argentinamarker, Colombiamarker, Ecuadormarker and Venezuelamarker, with almost every other Latin American country having at least a small presence.

In Africa, the Ivory Coastmarker is home to over 100,000 Lebanese. There are significant Lebanese populations in other countries throughout Western and Central Africa. Australia hosts over 180,000. In the Arab world, the Gulf States harbour around 400,000 Lebanese. Lebanese also reside in Canadamarker and the countries of the European Union. At the present time more than 2,500 ex-SLA members remain in Israel.

Currently, Lebanon provides no automatic right to Lebanese citizenship for emigrants who lost their citizenship upon acquiring the citizenship of their host country, nor for the descendants of emigrants born abroad. This situation disproportionately affects Christians. Recently, the Maronite Institution of Emigrants called for the establishment of an avenue by which emigrants who lost their citizenship may regain it, or their overseas-born descendants (if they so wish) may acquire it. [221415]


Lebanese Christians represent a majority [221416] of Lebanese people worldwide, outnumbering Muslims (both Sunni and Shi'a) at an estimated 3:1 ratio . Although reduced in numbers and having lost their status as a majority in Lebanon itself, mostly as a result of emigration and recently due to higher Muslim birth rates, Christians remain one of the principal religious groups in the country.

Lebanese Muslims represent the majority of people in Lebanon, and they are principally Shi'a and Sunni. Approximately 30% of Lebanon's population, and representing the country's plurality, are Shi'a Muslims, approximately another 20% are Sunni Muslims, and another approximate 20% are Maronite Christians. The remainder is composed of other Christian(19%) and Muslim denominations (9%)and other religious and ethnic groups.


In recent years efforts have been made by various genetic researchers, both based in Lebanon and abroad, to identify the ancestral origins of the Lebanese people, their relationship to each other, and to other neighbouring and distant human populations. Like most DNA studies attempting to identify the origins of a given human population, and any migration patterns in or out of the region which may have influenced their genetic make-up, these studies have focused on two segments of the human genome, the Y chromosome (inherited only by males and passed only by fathers) and mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA, which passes only from mother to child). Both segments are unaffected by recombination, thus they provide an indicator of paternal and maternal origins, respectively.

Results of research yielded so far appear to coincide with the history of Lebanon, corroborating that, naturally, the Lebanese trace descent from the region's earliest known inhabitants, the Phoenicians, regardless of their membership to any of Lebanon's different religious communities today. "The genetic marker which identifies descendants of the ancient Levantines is found among members of all of Lebanon's religious communities"[221417] as well as some Syrians and Palestinians. By identifying the ancient type of DNA attributed to the Phoenicians, geneticist Pierre Zalloua was also able to chart their spread out of the eastern Mediterraneanmarker. These markers were found in unusually high proportions in non-Lebanese samples from other parts of the "Mediterranean coast where the Phoenicians are known to have established colonies, such as Carthagemarker in today's Tunisiamarker." [221418] The markers were also found among samples of Maltese and Spaniards, where the Phoenicians were also known to have established colonies.

Beyond this, more recent finds have also been of interest to geneticists and Lebanese anthropologists alike — which indicate foreign non-Levantine admixture from some unexpected but not surprising sources, even if only in a small proportion of the samples. Like a story written in DNA, it recounts some of the major historical events seen in the land today known as Lebanon.

Among the more interesting genetic markers to be found are those which seem to indicate that a small proportion of Lebanese Christians (2%) and a small proportion of Lebanese Muslims are descended, in part, from European Crusader Christians and Arabian Muslims respectively. The author states that the "study tells us that some [European Crusaders] did not just conquer and leave behind castles. They left a subtle genetic connection as well."[221419] In much the same manner, some of the Arabian Muslims did not just conquer and leave behind mosques.

It was during a broader survey of Middle Eastern populations conducted for the Genographic Project of the National Geographic Societymarker that the findings were stumbled upon. "We noticed some interesting lineages in the dataset. Among Lebanese Christians, in particular, we found higher frequency [2%] of a genetic marker — R1b — that we typically see only in Western Europe." [221420] The lineage was seen at that "higher" frequency only in the Christian populations in Lebanon, even though among the Muslims it was not altogether absent. "The study matched the western European Y-chromosome lineage against thousands of people in Francemarker, Germanymarker, Italymarker, and the United Kingdommarker."[221421] On the other hand, in the Lebanese Muslim population a similar pattern, this time associated with genetic markers from Arabia, was also observed in "higher" preferential frequencies, although they too were not altogether absent in the Christian population. "We found that a lineage that is very common in the Arabian Peninsula — Hg J*— is found in slightly higher frequencies preferentially in the Muslim population."[221422] The author of the study added that the findings "certainly doesn't undermine the similarities among the various Lebanese communities, but it does agree with oral tradition."[221423]

Other unrelated studies have sought to establish relationships between the Lebanese people and other groups. At least one study by the International Institute of Anthropology in Parismarker, Francemarker, confirmed similarities in the Y-haplotype frequencies in Lebanese, Palestinian, and Sephardic Jewish men, identifying them as "three Near-Eastern populations sharing a common geographic origin."[221424] The study surveyed one Y-specific DNA polymorphism (p49/Taq I) in 54 Lebanese and 69 Palestinian males, and compared with the results found in 693 Jews from three distinct Jewish ethnic divisions; Mizrahi Jews, Sephardi Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews.

See also

External links


  1. Brazil - Brazzil Mag - Brazil Has More Lebanese than Lebanon
  2. Review of Phares Book
  3. The Precarious Republic: Political Modernization in Lebanon By Michael C. Hudson, 1968
  4. Lebanon: Its Stand in History Among the Near East Countries By Salim Wakim, 1996.
  5. St. George Maronite Church
  6. Business Portal to Lebanon
  7. Lebanon - Migration
  8. Ivory Coast - The Levantine Community
  9. Lebanese man shot dead in Nigeria, BBC News
  10. Lebanese nightmare in Congo, Al-Ahram Weekly
  11. One in three Lebanese want to leave, Reuters
  12. Lebanon's refugees in Israel, Elias Bejjani - 10/28/2008

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