One of three winning poems entered into Rhyme Competition by Anne Frandi-Coory and published in the The Australian Writer December 2012. >< © To Anne Frandi-Coory 10 October 2012 - All Rights Reserved (Image courtesy P Brooks)
If Jason’s father Ateo (Arthur) Frandi had been reported and convicted for sexually abusing his sister and his step children, (and possibly others) would Dagmar Pytlickova have been murdered?
Source for article below: The Christchurch Press 31 May 2012 & Herald Sun 30 May 2012
Waimate police were looking for Jason Frandi the day before his body and that of a Czech hitchhiker tourist were found. Frandi had earlier been informed by a member of the public that a sexual allegation had been made against him and police were worried about what action he might take.
The bodies of Frandi, 43, and Dagmar Pytlickova, a 31-year-old woman from the Czech Republic, were found in a rugged forest area near Waimate, on New Zealand’s South Island last Sunday. It’s alleged that Frandi raped Pylickova before cutting her throat.
It’s also alleged that Frandi had admitted 12 years earlier that he planned to rape a young woman and then kill himself. This is a pretty chilling scenario considering what happened at the weekend.
Frandi was jailed for three and a half years in 2000 for abducting a 19-year-old Oamaru woman, with the intent of having sex with her. Media reports at the time said the woman was pushing her bicycle down the street when Frandi forced her into his vehicle. Police praised a bystander who heard her screams and tried to intervene, grabbing the door handle then taking the registration number of the car as it sped off. Despite his previous convictions, police weren’t keeping a specific eye on Frandi.
Pytlickova, also known as Dasha, arrived in New Zealand in January and had been working at a Cromwell-area vineyard until recently, police said yesterday. They said she left Cromwell on Saturday and was hitchhiking to the Timaru area when she was picked up by Frandi somewhere between Omarama and Kurow. His car was found parked among some trees near Waimate yesterday, and the hitchhiker’s back pack was found inside the car.
Police believe the pair walked from the car to the spot where their bodies were found by charity event riders, about 3km away. Empty alcoholic drink bottles were scattered around the scene. Pytlickova’s mobile was turned off at 6.40pm. Autopsies were conducted yesterday in Christchurch.
Frandi was known around the community as a man with a troubled past. “I know he could be violent when he was drinking,” resident Annette Dungey, who had known him for many years, said. “I know that because he told me himself.”
See my essay My Right To Write My Memoir – is it right to expose inter-family abuse?
I found the above news item particularly disturbing in view of that fact that Jason Frandi was a member of my maternal extended family. I wrote a book ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers’ (published 2010) after interviewing descendents from the Lebanese and Italian branches of my family tree, and perusing myriad documents. In this post about Jason Frandi’s background, I am concentrating on the Italian branch. During research for ‘Ishtar?’ I discovered an Italian family history of abandonment, and sexual and physical abuse.
There were many reasons why I wrote ‘Ishtar?’ and although I started writing to exorcise past demons, among them to understand why my own mother, Doreen Frandi, abandoned me when I was an infant, it quickly developed into a far-reaching saga. See Letters to Anne Frandi-Coory
Jason Frandi (43) was the son of Ateo (Arthur) Frandi, b. Wellington, 8 April 1934. When I interviewed Arthur’s immediate family for my book, they told me that Arthur sexually assaulted his younger sister in their family home when he was a teenager. The only reason the abuse stopped was because Arthur was caught abusing his sister by another brother. Consequently, no other family members knew of the abuse, and it was never reported to police. Following the failure of Arthur’s first marriage to Jason’s mother, Arthur married a woman who had four children from a previous relationship. The marriage broke up when his wife discovered he was a paedophile who had been molesting her children. I have carefully contemplated this section of the Frandi family history and I wonder whether the rape and murder of an innocent tourist, Dagmar Pytlickova, by Jason Frandi in May 2012 could have been prevented if his father had been brought to justice many years ago. It appears that Arthur was an abuser from a young age, and there is the possibility that there are many more of his victims out there who are yet to come forward. It is also possible that Arthur sexually abused his own children, including Jason.
The Frandi family history seems to have taken a wrong turn when Jason’s ancestors, my great grandparents, Annunziata and Aristodemo Frandi fled Italy in 1875 and settled in the barren and wind-swept Okuru Settlement on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. I can’t know for absolute certainty, but according to the Frandi family, their life in Italy was privileged until the aftermath of the Garibaldi uprising and Risorgimento (Unification). The environment at Okuru was harsh with no medical facilities, no schools and a lack of food supplies. After persevering at a subsistence level for almost four years the family was moved to Wellington in the North Island, at the cost of the NZ government. The three children Annunziata and Aristodemo brought with them from Italy were the stalwarts of the family, but later born siblings seemed to have been hewn from a different mould. During my research, I uncovered another paedophile within the family’s ranks, and I write about that extensively in my book.
My grandfather Alfredo Frandi was the youngest son of Annunziata and Aristodemo, and Arthur’s grandfather Francesco was their oldest son. Francesco had three sons including William who was Arthur’s father. I interviewed William’s middle son extensively, (Arthur was his oldest son) as well as his wife who told me that her husband had a violent ‘Frandi’ temper which terrified her and her children at times. He also had a severe speech impediment which he himself put down to very poor communication and his deep fear of speaking when he was a child.
This is a small window into the extended family my mother was born into; she witnessed horrendous violence toward her own mother at the hands of her father, Alfredo. The question is, how much family violence is due to environment and how much is genetic? William Frandi was abandoned by his mother when he was a toddler and he never really overcame his deprived childhood . She ran off with another man and later moved to Tasmania, and he never saw her again. He had a large extended family who did what they could for William, his two brothers and sister, but the damage was done. All four adult siblings were considered either ‘strange’ or ‘intellectually slow’. All had very troubled and unsettled early lives. According to William’s family, he was a man of very few words and barely spoke to his sons at all. He moved to Waimate soon after his marriage to escape the gossip about his mother. William was too timid to approach a girl in person so he put an advertisement in the local paper, and eventually married a woman from England.
After writing ‘Ishtar?’ I came to the conclusion that perhaps one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I was placed in an orphanage at ten months old, as traumatic as that turned out to be. In my case, I hope it is nurture over nature.
The following two letters were written by Anne Albert to her niece, Anne Frandi-Coory, following the death of her mother, Doreen Marie Frandi. Anne Albert died shortly after writing the second of the letters to her niece, but if she had not met her niece at Doreen’s funeral. the two would not have known each other and there is so much about Doreen’s life that her daughter would never have discovered.
To my niece, Anne Frandi-Coory [1995 & 1996]
I just wanted to tell you how much it has meant to me to meet you at this time. It has taken some of the bitterness out of your mother’s death, for me.
Knowing you, I now realise that her life was not all tragedy, for if she was responsible for giving life to someone as warm & caring, & beautiful as you are, it was instead, a triumph.
I intend to type the story of her life as I know it, and will send it to you.
Your mother was a gentle woman. The mental illness took away the potential she had, to be all that she was capable of being. That was the tragedy of her life.
Try to think of her each day for a minute or two; of her life, and your love for her. That way I am sure her spirit will begin to live with you.
Many loving thoughts, Auntie Anne.
As promised, Anne, here is your mother’s story:
Doreen was such a beautiful child that on the ship which brought her, her brother and parents to New Zealand, a genuine childless couple offered her parents money to allow them to adopt her. Doreen had a cloud of bright red curls that framed her pretty face. How different Doreen’s life would have been had the adoption gone ahead. Life within the Alfredo Frandi family was an uneasy one, so inclined was he to uncontrollable bouts of violent rage, during which he would throw furniture around the room and punch holes in doors. Often it was his wife, Maria, a pale and nervous woman, who felt the force of his fists. Maria was in a perpetual state of acute anxiety and her concern about their lack of money exacerbated this state. Alfredo was a labourer and work was hard to come by. They had four children they could barely feed and clothe so any subsequent pregnancies were aborted with a knitting needle. Unfortunately, as the oldest daughter, Doreen was needed to assist with the cleaning up after these procedures. Maria had no conception of the trauma this was causing her daughter, and which was to haunt Doreen for the rest of her life.
When Doreen was sixteen years old, I was born, but I have never quite known why I was not aborted. I can only suppose that my mother may have been experiencing symptoms of the menopause and may have been unaware of the pregnancy in time. So unexpected was my birth, that an apple crate was all that my parents had to lay me in. Doreen was thrilled about the new baby and set about lining the crate with material and making it look pretty for me. This was the beginning of Doreen’s devotion to me which was to last all her life.
Doreen was a very gentle girl and she was a help to her mother in caring for the younger children, but she loathed house work of any kind. She was adept at shopping for bargains and was a very good sewer. Catholicism began to influence her life early on, as it brought her a peace and beauty so missing from her home environment. Significantly, the nuns at the convent school she attended, recognized her potential for a vocation and one nun, Sister Anne, encouraged Doreen all she could to think about entering the convent. As Doreen approached womanhood she exhibited no interest in boys or other worldly things, so firmly were her sights set of becoming a Catholic nun. Alfredo was dead against his eldest daughter becoming a nun and turned the house upside down to show how much he detested the very idea. This turmoil only made her more determined, and after a short time working in a department store and following her debut at the annual charity ball, for which she made her own stunning gown, Doreen entered the convent.
Initially Doreen loved her life as a nun, but after almost a year of doing nothing but housework, she asked if she could train as a nurse. Her wish was to care for severely handicapped children. However, her request was greeted with profound disapproval because to actually ask to be able to do what one wanted, was against the very strict rules of the convent as well as a denial of the vow of absolute obedience. Doreen was severely reprimanded and as a result sunk into a deep depression. The nuns could not understand Doreen’s depression; they believed that if you had a true vocation faith was enough to protect you from such things. They then put pressure on Doreen constantly questioning her commitment to her vocation. Doreen became hysterical which appalled the nuns, and they subsequently demanded that her mother remove her from the convent. They could not know that bi polar disorder was manifesting itself in Doreen and would consequently ruin her life.
Doreen recovered very slowly from her first breakdown but she was devastated that her vocation was at an end and that she had broken her vow to God. Doreen did finally find acceptance and there followed a succession of jobs, which began a pattern set for the rest of her life; employment interspersed with breakdowns. In the 1940’s not much was known about bi polar disorder nor were there any satisfactory drugs available at the time. Doreen was then subjected to countless ECT treatments without anaesthetic which really amounted to torture. Around this time Doreen’s Aunt Italia, Alfredo’s only sister who was then 70 years of age, decided to take more of an interest in her niece. Italia regaled Doreen with stories of the privileged life the Frandi family lived in Italy before they arrived in New Zealand [Italia was born in Pisa, Italy in 1869]. Aristodemo, Italia’s father, had to flee Italy because he was a political agitator alongside Garibaldi, and Italia showed Doreen the fine silver and linen they had brought over with them. Italia also dazzled Doreen with stories about the family riding in a grand carriage and people bowed with respect for them. Whenever Doreen was in the manic phase of her illness, she had illusions of grandeur, and would repeat all that her aunt had told her about their previous life in Italy. In these early stages of her illness, Doreen would spend money she did not have and would charge up accounts to her Aunt Italia and sometimes even stay in expensive hotels, all charged against her aunt’s name. Following these episodes Doreen would then sink into the depths of depression.
Shortly before the end of the war Doreen joined the Air Force. It was while she was in the Force that Doreen met the father of her first child, Kevin. Phillip Coory neglected to mention that he was already married with a young son, Vas, until Doreen informed him that she was pregnant. Phillip Coory believed at the time that that was the end of the matter and he had rid himself of her, but then his brother Joseph came on the scene. Joseph was a kind and simple man, who did his best to make Doreen happy. Sadly, his family conspired against Doreen from the outset; perhaps they did not approve of her good looks or the way the marriage came about. The marriage ended in disaster; Joseph was not her intellectual equal and her illness would have been extremely difficult to live with. About three years after their marriage Anne was born and eighteen months later, came Anthony. Following a severe bout of bi polar disorder, the children were taken from her and placed in an Orphanage for the Poor in South Dunedin.
The permanent loss of her children caused Doreen great anguish from which she never really recovered. In later years she had contact with her daughter Anne, but Doreen was never able to accept that the child did not blame her mother for her abandonment. Years later, her youngest son, Anthony moved to Wellington to live, but that feeling of guilt never left her and obviously prevented her from having an emotional relationship with her son, although he did make a futile attempt at it. Doreen and Kevin lived a life of great hardship and near poverty, with Doreen frequently suffering nervous breakdowns, which culminated in her being admitted to Porirua Psychiatric Hospital. Kevin had to learn to deal with his mother’s extreme mood swings from a very early age which made his young life intolerable at times. I have no idea how she coped during those years but I am sure that sometimes she must have prayed for death, yet through it all her faith in God never wavered and carried her through until the day she died.
At the peak of her loneliness, Doreen met a man, Edward Stringer, and spent a night with him. Of course, given her luck, or lack thereof, it ended in pregnancy. During the weeks after the birth of her daughter, Florence, and suffering from depression, Doreen signed adoption papers for her daughter. Sometime later, Edward and Doreen met up again, and with the sole intention of getting her daughter back, she married Edward. Heartbreakingly for Doreen, it was much too late; the adoption was quite legal and binding. Once again life had defeated Doreen and during a severe bout of mania, Edward left, unable to cope with his new wife’s disorder. From this, there followed a period of dreariness, when Doreen and Kevin lived in a state house at 56 Hewer Crescent Naenae, Lower Hutt in Wellington, and she obtained a reasonably stable job in a factory close by. At least the disorder left Doreen in peace for an extended period, in which Doreen developed a love of cats, and she had up to six at one time or another.
Kevin started up a very successful restaurant, Bacchus, in Courtney Place in Wellington. Doreen was employed by Kevin in the kitchen of the restaurant, and she appeared to enjoy her time there. Sadly her mother died on 10 March 1980, which caused Doreen to have another nervous breakdown. Following her recovery, Doreen retired from work and moved into a council flat in Daniell Street, Newtown in Wellington. During this time, she appeared to me to be doing no more than going through the motions of living. My heart ached to see her like that, with no apparent interest in anything. Kevin’s bankruptcy and his consequent permanent move to Sydney, took the utmost toll on her spiritual well being. Doreen then lapsed into a serious bout of her disorder, suffering yet another complete nervous breakdown, and she was admitted once again to Porirua Hospital for a considerable time.
I have no doubt whatsoever, that it was not only Doreen’s manic depressive illness that had such a destructive effect on her life. I sincerely believe that she carried guilt feelings from her experiences as a young girl, witnessing her mother’s self inflicted abortions, made worse by Doreen’s Catholic beliefs. I realized this to be true, with great clarity, when I visited her at the hospital during her final stay there in 1995. She led me out into the hospital gardens, and pointed to a bed of purple pansies in bloom. “There you see” she told me with infinite sadness, “there are all the little babies”
See ‘Pansies’ [for my mother]
Since I wrote ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ in 2010, a tell-all book about life within immigrant Lebanese and Italian families, I have received thousands of hits on my blog, frandi,wordpress.com. Some relatives’ views are critical of my baring family ‘secrets’ for all to read. Some refuse to read the book. Most descendents of the people, places, I write about, along with the photos that have come to light, are appreciative. The majority of readers say they empathise with what I have to say in the book; that it has influenced them to be more tolerant of mental illness, and to understand more deeply, the emotional harm that can be caused to children, when they and their mothers are constantly abused, vilified and demonised.
The very personal memoirs I write about, including my own, are told with heartbreaking honesty because sometimes you have to shock readers into the realities of life for those women and children who are abused, neglected, and who have no safe haven.
There are times in life, in every culture, when marriages fail, parents die or become ill, families fall on difficult times. Everyone understands this, and we have to make the best of it. However, when physical and emotional abuse is meted out to innocent children by their own family, then that is entirely another matter. The same is true when children witness that same level of abuse toward their mothers. The post traumatic stress that grips these vulnerable children, can be every bit as devastating as that suffered by children who have lived in the midst of a violent war.
This is the premise of my book. Motherhood and childhood can be difficult enough, but when you are alone, with no family support, life is precarious. I researched my paternal Lebanese and maternal Italian family histories extensively for the book, but nothing could have prepared me for the soul destroying stories I uncovered; the brutality of husbands and fathers, the sexual abuse, the hypocrisy and heartlessness of the Catholic Church. Not to mention the fateful abandonment of children by their mothers. But the most fundamental insight I gained from all the research, is that, like ripples in a pond, the ongoing psychological effects are transmitted down through succeeding generations. As one of the reviewers of my book wrote:
What is ironic is that she [Anne] uncovers the rich cultural history of these families and the fact that such wonderful traits and traditions were all but lost to modern generations as her family tree fractures again and again.
Someone has to be brave enough to tell the truth. Powerful families can leave children they do not favour, on the scrapheap of life, with no prospect of being accepted into other good families within their community, either through marriage or friendships. They are ‘tainted’ goods, and have to break all family ties just to survive. Few people who have not experienced this life event can comprehend the courage it takes to wipe all your extended family from your life, even an abusive family. It can take years for the emotional scars inflicted on such children, to heal. An adult deprived of a loving childhood has to learn how to play, to make lasting friendships, in effect, to be ‘socialised’ at the same time as healing is taking place. It takes enormous amounts of energy and soul searching. This is vital if they are to become a contributing member of the community they eventually choose to live in. Some of us make it, many of us don’t.
The answer isn’t just in education, although of course this is important. The answer lies in the memoirs left behind, the minutiae of everyday lives within abusive families, because if we don’t read our negative history, whether it’s family, country, or world history, how are we going to know what changes to make so that what happened in the past, isn’t perpetuated into the future. Very often, personal stories can be the motivation to change behaviours and even laws. Because when we read these ‘survivors’’ biographies, we are in a way, walking in their shoes, reliving with them all the abuse and trauma. I know that it can take decades to change entrenched cultures. But even one person can make a difference, in one lifetime.
Published in The Australian Writer issue #377 December 2012
For my father, who was, but shouldn’t have been
Photograph © To Anne Frandi-Coory – 7 February 2012 – All Rights Reserved
Whatever Happened To Ishtar? (Excerpt 8)
Several times I had offered my mother the airfare to come and visit for Christmas, or at some other time, but she always refused. She was always in my thoughts, as I knew she would be missing Kevin dreadfully; this son who’d been everything to her for most of her adult life.
I visited her a couple of times, as I longed to talk to her and ask her about her life, but she barely spoke. By then, her bipolar disorder, the drugs and the electro-convulsive treatment (ECT), had taken their toll on her mental faculties. For, as any person with experience or knowledge of this disorder will tell you, the cure can be worse than the disease; vitality and creativity are sucked dry and emotions are flattened – their whole personality, the person they are, is suppressed.
Once when my daughter Gina and I visited my mother in her little council flat in Newtown, we just sat quietly with her. In an attempt to extract some response, I asked her mundane things like what she was eating, what pills she was taking, anything to make conversation with her, but it was very difficult. She did explain, however, that the pills she was taking ‘stop me feeling anxious all the time’. Her emotionless voice filled me with sadness; her response was to please me, a rehearsed phrase. My heart ached to just take her in my arms and cuddle her, but whenever I had tried to do so, it was like cuddling a piece of wood. Gina and I had planned to spend the day with her, but Gina left for about two hours to visit a friend nearby. My mother and I were left sitting in her pint-sized sitting/dining room, she chain-smoking all the while. I tried again.
‘Do you have any photographs we could look at?’
‘No’ was the soft reply, ‘I sent them all to my sister Betty in America’.
Whenever I think back to that day and her answer, I feel like weeping. She answered my question as though I was a stranger of whom she felt apprehensive. I always got the impression she was anxious I would suddenly confront her about her abandonment of me, so I tread very gently. As we sat on her couch, waiting for Gina’s return, she suddenly turned to me in a cloud of smoke and said in an unusually confident tone, ‘You have a lovely daughter, Anne’. That was it. She turned away again and reverted to her state of narcosis; her fallback position, puffing away while gazing fixedly at nothing in particular.
The years of ECT and powerful mood-control drugs had eliminated every shred of my mother’s vibrancy that I remembered as a child. That bright red hair, that dazzling smile that had once propelled me to obsessively search for her everywhere among the crowds was gone.
ECT was introduced into Porirua Psychiatric Hospital in 1944, where it was used without anaesthetic on patients suffering from acute depression or ‘over-excitability’. My mother was admitted there again and again from the late 1950s onwards, sometimes in the throes of psychotic delusions. Towards the end of her life she would admit herself, looking for comfort and safe haven from the relentless demons which never allowed her any solace in her life, not even at the end of it. When Gina returned from visiting her friend, my mother decided to make us a cup of tea, and as she pottered in her cupboard of a kitchen, Gina said to me gently, ‘Mum, she is never going to love you’. My heart broke again. I didn’t want to hear that, not even as a woman fast approaching middle age. But I knew in my heart that she was too terrified to love me, or anyone else for that matter, except Kevin. She knew the terrible cost and she’d lived her life with the overwhelming guilt of it all.
I loved my mother dearly, and if not her physical being, which, sadly no photographs of her and her children together can bear witness, and without remembered mother and daughter cuddles, then certainly, through a deep primal memory of her, which is still with me today and often overwhelms me. I emotionally clutch my childhood memories, of fleeting visits with her in Dunedin that my father secretly instigated, and the ones when she would creep somewhere to snatch a moment with me, no matter how fleeting. What haunts me is that radiant smile that had a way of spreading over her face and crinkling up her eyes, all framed in wild red hair. I wonder, how did she manage that smile while living in her hell? Those must have been the only fleeting joyful moments in a lifetime for her.
My extensive research into the murky past, which was partly buried in the Aramaic language and ancient names, reveals how much I didn’t know about my paternal grandfather, Jacob Habib El Khouri Eleishah Fahkrey. Nevertheless, my limited personal contact with Jacob left a significant impact. I deeply mourn that he died before I ever had the chance to talk with him about our extremely rich genetic and cultural heritage. If only I’d known as a child that he was such a valuable resource for our Lebanese family history. But then, what child can really comprehend such a thing? That, beyond their narrow sphere of existence, a family history has been woven as intricately as any tapestry, replete with human drama, personal tragedy and war, set in countries at opposite ends of the world. As a child my whole world stretched no further than a few urban blocks in Dunedin – The Catholic orphanage at one end and the Coory family home at the other.
Jacob and my grandmother, Eva, both spoke a Semitic language, an ancient form of Aramaic. Jacob’s forebears most likely descended from an ancient tribe of Israelites originating in the ancient Canaan, now known as Israel and Jordan. From there, some Canaanite clans including, I believe, those of Jacob’s distant ancestors, migrated to the rich and ancient area in the plains of Mesopotamia, close to the life-giving Euphrates River. There is linguistic evidence the Semitic tribes first arrived in Mesopotamia around 4000 BCE. The Aramaeans (speakers of Aramaic) were a nomadic tribe when they first encountered Mesopotamia. Over the centuries they gradually moved in a westerly direction then south down the Euphrates River, eventually settling in to form kingdoms. The consolidation of the Aramaeans into settled kingdoms allowed the re-establishment of the trade routes through Palestine (Philistine) and Syria, and allowed the temporary Israelite expansion. Some of the Aramaean tribes continued to migrate west across Mesopotamia, their fortunes greatly improved due to the relative stability of the settlements in the area.
The Bible mentions the Aramaeans and links the Israelite Patriarchs with them. The ancient Israelites had to profess their faith by pronouncing ‘my father was a wandering Aramaean’. It was probably during their settlement in Mesopotamia that the clans mixed with the seafaring Phoenicians, recorded there as early as 2300 BCE. The first key port of the Phoenicians was at Sidon in Lebanon. For the remainder of the pre-Christian period, around 300 BCE, Mesopotamia was safely in the hands of the Seleucids (Greeks) while the two-millennia-old Babylonian civilisation was dying. Since the turn of the millennium, both socially and linguistically, Aramaeans had been penetrating Babylonia; their tribal systems overtook the cities, and their language eventually superceded the ancient Akkadian.
Some of the native Syriac dialects, as well as ancient Hebrew, merged with Aramaic, one of the Semitic languages which has been known since almost the beginning of human history. The Semitic languages, which include Hebrew, Arabic, Akkadian, Aramaic and Ethiope, were first glimpsed in ancient royal inscriptions around 900-700 BCE. The Aramaeans introduced their language to Syria when they settled there during the second millennia BCE. The Persians gave Aramaic official status, and throughout the Greek and Roman eras it remained the principal vernacular language. Babylonian and Persian Empires ruled from India to Ethiopia, and Assyrians employed Aramaic as their official language from 700-320 BCE, as did the Mesopotamians. The Aramaic script in turn derived from the Phoenicians, who most likely extracted it from the Canaanites. Writing derived from Phoenician, began to appear in Palestine around the tenth century BCE.
Click on map to enlarge
There is general agreement among scholars that the linear alphabet had its beginnings somewhere in the Levant during the second millennium BCE. The Etruscans were the first among Italic Peoples to adopt the linear alphabet script and it spread rapidly throughout the Italian peninsula. The Phoenicians and the Etruscans had close trading and religious ritual links. These days, Aramaic is only spoken by small Christian communities in and around Lebanon, and in a small Christian village in Syria. The word Aramaic derives from the word Aram, fifth son of Shem, from which the word shemaya (semitic for ‘high up’ or ‘mountain’) is derived. Around 721-500 BCE, the ancient Hebrew language of the people of Palestine was overtaken by Aramaic, and much later the message of Christianity spread throughout Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia via this Semitic vernacular. Aramaic survived the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE and continued to be the predominant language. But Arabic spread and gradually took over as the lingua franca in the Middle East, around the thirteenth century CE. It seems reasonable to assume that, as speakers of this ancient language and in conjunction with their familial names, the Fahkrey forebears were originally members of a Judaic tribe, the Canaanites, who, over the centuries, mixed with other ethnic groups such as Hittites, Phoenicians, Akkadians, Greeks, and Macedonians to name a few. The word Fahkrey probably derives from the Aramaic word fagary, which means ‘the solid one’. There is plenty of evidence to support this, as Jacob and his descendents are of short, stocky build with strong and thick arms and legs.
Many Canaanite menhirs (religious rock emblems) have been found in Lebanon and Syria. It’s interesting to note that at Baalbek, in the mountains of Lebanon, there is evidence of sacred ritual prostitution (male and female); a long-established Phoenician institution, associated with the cult of Astarte, the Goddess, also called Ishtar (Esther). Within the Phoenician realm, the great mother goddess Ishtar/Astarte was venerated in caves and grottos. A number of these sacred caves later evolved into sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Adoration grew into a cult, elevating Mary to the status of ‘Protectress of Lebanon’. My paternal family’s stocky build, soft round features and fairer complexion add a little mystery to their ancestry in a region where many inhabitants have dark features.
We have very little archaeological or written evidence, and so much of this history is conjecture. What we do know is that the Greeks overran and were prominent in the Levant from at least 1200 BCE. The Romans invaded in the first century BCE and Roman rule strengthened after this time. Judea later became a Roman province. And there were other ethnic groups which invaded the area from time to time in between. Ancient Damascus played an important role in the destiny of the Fahkrey tribe. Around the ninth century BCE, Damascus’s political and economic strength enticed both Palestinian Kingdoms , Israel and subsequently Judea, to seek alliance with it. At the time there was a direct and vital communication route between Tyre in Lebanon and Damascus via the Beqa (Bekka) Valley. In 64 BCE Damascus had become part of the Roman Empire and thrived as a city-state, converting to Christianity very early on in the Christian era. The leaders of the Roman Empire would later see the infrastructure of the Catholic Church as a beneficial conduit of power for their vast empire and name it as their official religion…
During the 630s CE, Jacob’s distant ancestors were on the move again towards Damascus, ahead of the Muslim armies rampaging across the Arabian peninsula. Muslim armies attacked and eventually occupied Damascus in 635 CE, then converted Syria to Islam. Those tribes living in and around Damascus would have been familiar with the safe haven of Bcharre in the hills of Lebanon. Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and was once a central sphere on influence and prosperity. Around the fourteenth century our Fahkrey ancestors moved on from Damascus and up into Lebanon’s protective mountains….
Comment on my post dated 9/12/2011, from David Anthony in America:
To Anne Frandi-Coory: – What a touching note. [from post: My Father, Joseph Jacob Habib Eleishah Coory]. You mention Aramaic: I have a little story for you:
About 30 years ago, about 1978-1980, my jidoo [grandfather] was visiting my house when a distant cousin from Lebanon visited. My jidoo’s parents came to America in 1892. He was raised speaking what he and we thought were Arabic. He spoke it fluently- after all, it was what was spoken in his household growing up.
Well, when my cousin, who recently came from Lebanon fleeing the civil war, visited, they (my cousin and my grandfather) both spoke to each other in [what they thought was] Arabic. They couldn’t understand one another. My cousin said my grandfather wasn’t speaking Arabic, but a language much older. He said it was like an Italian listening to Latin.
Come to find out that my jidoo didn’t really speak Arabic. The language he spoke so fluently was Syriac- as you know, a version of Aramaic. The “Arabic” words I picked up as a youth tended much more towards Aramaic. In fact, many years after my jidoo passed away, a very good friend of mine from Zahle told me that the few Lebanese words my dad and I spoke had a strong northern (Ehden) accent.
Just one other note: Anxiety runs rampant in the Lebanese side of the family. For some, the levels of anxiety run so high that it’s disabling. I’m wondering if there’s a similar issue in your family.
Too, as you mention above, [in 'My Father...'] my dad was beaten by the Catholic nuns at his school growing up. Two reasons; 1) Lebanese boys were forced to sit in the back of all classes. Italian and Irish boys sat in front. 2) As my dad had terrible nearsightedness, and he wasn’t allowed to sit in the front of the class because of his skin color, he could never see the blackboard. In order to take any notes, he’d copy notes from the student sitting next to him. When he got caught by a nun, which was often, he’d get sent to the principle for copying notes. The principle would tell him to put out his hand, which would then get beaten pretty badly.
Finally,one day, when he was in 8th or 9th grade or so, he came home with such a beaten hand that my sitoo [grandmother] noticed. After she insisted he tell her what happened, my dad then explained what happened. Right away they went and bought him his first pair of glasses. After that, he could see the blackboard better- and his grades went sky high.
But the damage was done. By tenth grade, he left school to work in a factory, partly driven, I’m sure, but the beatings.- David Anthony.
How wonderful to hear your story. Yes, Aramaic is derived from an ancient form of Syriac and is now spoken only by small pockets of Syrian peasants. It was also the language that Jesus spoke. I did much research into my grandparents’ history and the history of Lebanon in general. My grandfather’s ancestors moved to the hills of Lebanon (Bcharre) around the 14th Century, from Iraq.
You may be interested in my book ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ A personal story, but which also delves deeply into the ancient history of my ancestors and the Aramaic language, which was eventually swamped by the advance of Islam and Arabic, which became the lingua franca of Arabia. BTW, Zahle is a name that pops up in my grandfather, Jacob Habib Fahkrey’s family history.
Anxiety runs deep in my family tree as well. In both the Lebanese and Italian sides of my family, volatile personalities reign. My children have inherited the tendency to anxiety, although nowhere near as intense as preceding generations. Of course, both Lebanese and Italian peoples express the whole range of emotions vividly, which can sometimes be quite intimidating to others.
I agree with you about the blatant racism that thrived in those times. Once again, both my Lebanese and Italian ancestors experienced this.
I would love to hear more of your story.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face?…Wilt thou harass a driven leaf? Job xiii: 24-25
….But you should also be proud that your mothers and fathers came from a land upon which God laid his gracious hand and raised his messengers. – Kahlil Gibran, I believe in you (1926)
When I was a child, my father’s was the face I searched for whenever I heard heavy, non-nun-like footsteps echoing on the highly polished floors of the orphanage. I was always and forever tuned into the sound of footsteps. A nun’s footsteps sounded lighter, stress-free, and somehow patient, like they themselves were. It was as if they had all the time in the world to get where they were going, praying as they went.
Once I was alerted that a nun was on her way, I would strain my ears for the accompanying rhythm, in tune with a particular nun’s footsteps, of the rosary beads clinking with the heavy crucifix hanging from a belt around her waist. I would know who she was before I saw her face. A visitor’s footsteps, on the other hand, were usually more purposeful, more intent on their course. Perhaps it was someone wishing to get the visit over with, to leave as quickly as possible. The fact that there were many children living there didn’t make the place any less sombre. Colours were an unnecessary luxury. ‘Interior décor’ was a phrase out of place and out of mind in that institution. My father, Joseph Jacob Habib Eleishah Coory, rarely visited me and I learned very early on not to expect to see anyone other than the Sisters of Mercy, day in and day out. Occasionally, a priest would visit the orphanage but I rarely had any significant contact with them. They were, as far as my child’s mind could fathom, so close to God and so holy that they would not want to bother with me. The nuns reinforced this perception by their subservient attitude whenever a priest or bishop made an entrance. But when my father came to visit me, I would feel a strange kind of comfort, almost a feeling of surprise, at the sight of him.
All through my childhood, I would reach out for his emotional support. and in his emotional immaturity, he would reach out for mine. As young as I was, I always sensed that he needed me as much as I needed him. In this way, we both survived my childhood. Perhaps it was my concern for him and his whereabouts when he left me that caused me so much anxiety. He could never stay for long and his leaving always caused my insides to churn, which I never really learned to deal with. A Catholic orphanage was not the sort of place where your emotional needs were attended to. The most important thing here was the health of your soul. My father always seemed harassed and a bit lost, so eventually I avoided scenes of tears because it would only upset him. I had no idea what was happening to my father on the outside of the orphanage but it didn’t stop me from picking up on his moods and demeanour. Children like me become very adept at internalising emotions and hurts. But there were times when the dam burst, causing me to scream and yell so much that the nuns would lose their patience and lock me in a cupboard or a small room. There was always that air of emotional fragility about Joseph, my very being attuned and attentive to his every nuance. Too soon I would become the adult and he the child. Perhaps this was why I took so long to deal with my own emotional needs.
Jacob and Eva Coory’s firstborn son, Joseph, followed two daughters, Elizabeth and Amelia. But sadly Joseph was not the healthy son his parents longed for. His sickly entry into the world was one of the reasons he suffered ill-health all of his life. According to his father’s diary, written in his native Aramaic, Joseph almost died when he was a newborn. He was so ill during his first two years that his mother wrapped him warmly and tightly and waited for him to die. Joseph suffered ill thrift all through his baby and toddler years because he could only suck small amounts of milk, sometimes bread soaked in milk. I was later to discover that Joseph’s birth had never been registered so there is no doubt that his parents expected that he would die. From his childhood to his death, he never ate a balanced diet, ever. He existed instead on bread and cheese, some fruit, and endless cups of sweet milky tea. He was a simple man who attained the literacy levels only of a twelve-year-old. But he could speak English and Aramaic fluently. He left school at the age of nine and refused to return because of the beatings he says were meted out to him by the Christian Brothers. As a young boy he only spoke comfortably in Aramaic, so language was definitely a barrier to his learning. It has been confirmed by his cousins that his parents refrained from disciplining him because of his fragile health and that he, quite literally, got away with doing almost whatever he wanted to do at home. He in turn clung to them for the rest of their lives and he never left The Family home at 67 Carroll Street in Dunedin, where he was born.