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The Rahbani Brothers Biography

Part 1: Early Childhood and Education:
In 1923, Assy was born to Hanna Rahbani in Antelias, a small town north of Beirut. Two years later Mansour was born. At that time the town was still surrounded by forests in one of which there was a small cafe called
'Fawar Antelias'. Hanna Rahbani transformed an old abandoned building into this cafe. He was very conservative to the extent that he won't even let a husband sit facing his wife. That was one of the main reasons why his work flourished, as other conservative people used to send their families knowing that no harm will get them. In some occasions French officers, who at that time were still in Lebanon, would come with the company of women and break the laws Hanna set, he would show them his gun and kick out whoever he pleased no matter how high the officer's rank was. When Hanna was 40 years old, he married Sa'edy Sa'eb, a young woman from Antelias and lived at her mother's house. Ghita, Hanna's mother in law, was even as conservative and harsh on the customers as he was. After Assy and Mansour's younger sister Salwa was born, the family moved to another house in Bekfia and then yet to another house. As Mansour recounts this part of their childhood, he

Hanna Rahbani
says that their childhood was constantly on the move. Hanna originally escaped the Ottoman forces in Beirut after he was sentenced to death a number of times. He was an 'abaday', a kind of a bully who adapted violence as a means of expressing himself, but was still highly moral and mannered. After sometime he settled in Antelias. The cafe became the place for other 'abadayat' to meet, abadayat like Elias Elhalby, Abdelsalam Forgoul and Ahmed Eljack. It was also the meeting place of some musicians including the then famous Bizq player Mouhieddeen Be'ouyon. Hanna was into music and he was himself a good Bizq player. When the cafe's customers leave, he used to play music to his friends and his family. Famous tunes then were mostly Egyptian which became famous because of the radios and the spread of the then new technology, the phonograph discs. Popular musicians and singers included Sayd Darwish, Mohamed Abdelwahab, Oum Kalthoum, Abou El'ela Mohamed and Shiek Ahmed Hasanin. Hanna also liked to recite poetry and one of his favorites was the poetry book of 'antara. Hanna didn't like when his sons would try to play on the Bizq, but when they made a nice tune he would be happy. He also wasn't big on education and sometimes during the spring, he would prevent them from going to school. His main concern for his children was their health. In winter, the sounds of wild beasts, water streams, dark nights had all a somehow great impact on Assy and Mansour. Nature had a great role in their upbringing also because of the beauty of Antelias and its forests. Their grandmother too used to recount to them stories of invisible beings, magic and adventure. She was a good poet and tried to teach the children her poems and how to improvise others.
In those times, artistic signs were becoming evident in Assy. People used to say he's growing up to become a poet. Mansour on the other hand was extremely obese, and wasn't doing any good in school. Other kids feared and avoided him. But for Assy's sake, some befriended him. He was thought to become a bully of some sort

Assy, Salwa and Mansour back in 1930.

The old house where the Rahbani brothers were born.
when he grew up. Some kids used to give him candy to hit other kids. He'd get a down payment of twenty five pieces and the remaining pieces later after the job is done. Sometimes, when Assy and Mansour finished class late, they'd go where some kids start to light an arena with their torches and Mansour fight older kids. And late at nigh Assy would start telling Mansour ghost stories and others about fantasy worlds where people never grow.
The Rahbani Brothers went to a lot of schools. Abreen Nuns School, Antelias School which was run by Farid Abou Fadel, and then a school run by Kamal Mekrzel as well as Elmadrasa Elyasou'eia in Bekfia. Mansour used to escape school and spend the day in the forests and at the end of the school day, he would walk home with the other kids. His mother found about his absences and sometimes she personally walked him to school, but he found ways to escape. If he was to remain inside the school, he would cry for whatever reason to be let out. One time, the teacher asked Assy and Mansour what they wanted to be when they grow up. Assy said that he wanted to become a jeweler like what his father once was, Mansour said he wanted to be a crocodile.
In 1932 Hanna sold the cafe to who later would become Mansour's father in law. He was planning to buy some trucks and start a delivery business, when a friend of his told him about a nice summer cafe near Dohour Elshouayer in Elyanabieh region in Shoya where Hanna's family originally came from. He liked the idea, rented the place and called it Elmenaybeh Cafe. And after a while, he rented a place in Antelias and made it into a small restaurant which he worked in during the winter while keeping Elmenaybeh Cafe as a summer business. At that time Assy and Mansour were old enough to help in the work in the summer cafe. There was were they learned to fish, explore the surroundings and mingle with the mountain nature of Elmenaybeh. All this later reflected on their artistic approaches in their stories. They also starting reading classic poetry, learning what they understood, and developing their own. Assy wrote a number of poems in both classic and colloquial Arabic which he used to recite on Mansour who remembers were very funny. In school, Mansour wasn't good at subjects like mathematics, but he liked literature far more than any other. And when he was twelve years old, he subscribed in a magazine called 'Elmakshoof' which was maintained by Fouad Hebayesh. He also, along with Assy, subscribed in many other magazines including 'Elreyad' which was edited by Farid Abou Fadel, the Antelias school headmaster. He encouraged the brothers to read more and they did start to read more into literature, philosophy and international theater by the likes of Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare.
All the early literature nurturing paid off in 1937 when Assy published his own magazine and called it 'Elhershaya'. He wrote it all in his handwriting and it contained many sections from poetry to stories and articles. He used to read its contents to his family members and friends as well as provide some issues . He also used to tease Mansour, one time he wrote 'The locust planes attacked Mansour who was stationed in the bed port and rained him with Malaria bombs.' Not long Mansour started his own magazine which he called 'Alaghani'.

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