Monday, February 18

Director's Cut: Kibbe on the Docks and Feasting at Feltus

"Director's Cut" is a new weekly series on our blog, chronicling the travels and musings of our director, John T. Edge.

I travel for work. A lot. When people ask what it’s like to live in a small Mississippi town and work at a relatively small university in that town, I often tell them that I’d like it a lot better if I got to stay home. When I travel, I miss too much. This past week, I mostly stayed home. And I got to hear two really interesting talks.

At a brown bag lunch here in Barnard Observatory, home of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Jimmy Thomas delivered a paper called “Mississippi Mahjar: Lebanese Migration to the Mississippi Delta and its Impact on Race Relations.” Among other stories, Jimmy talked about the earliest report of a Lebanese immigrant to Mississippi, Elias Naseef Fattouh, who disembarked at the port of New Orleans in 1884.

“Elias knew he needed to make contact with other Syrians,” Jimmy said, “so he stood on the dock and repeatedly cried out, “Kibbe, kibbe, kibbe!!!” Kibbe, Jimmy told us, is considered the national dish of Lebanon, a mixture of ground lamb, bulghur wheat, and spices. Anyone who had lived in Mount Lebanon or Syria would have understood his cry, Jimmy said, an observation confirmed by SFA oral histories of Lebanese in Mississippi.

Potsherds found at the Feltus mounds near Natchez, MS.

Later in the week, I attended a job interview talk by Megan Kassabaum, who is finishing her doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spoke of the native people who constructed four earthen mounds at the Feltus site in Jefferson County, Mississippi, during the Coles Creek period (AD 700—1200.)

She shared new theories about mound building, about how the act of building mounds was imbued with ritual, and about how feasting figured in that ritualistic behavior. Citing the presence of black bear and monster garfish remains, and the discovery of a large depression that likely functioned as a barbecue pit, she, like Jimmy, made a convincing case for me to hang out more at home.