Economy and Tourism
The economy of Umm Qais in the recent past was founded on agricultural production, including on land overlying the archaeological remains of ancient Gadara. Within the local economy was largely carried out through barter and exchange of goods and labour
“We bought all our needs from the local groceries, sweets is an example. Our parents gave us some wheat seeds and we bought items using them. There was no currency, we lived off farming.”
However, Umm Qais’ location and connection to other villages in the region made it an important hub for trade of agricultural produce, (especially grain) with larger urban centres like Irbid, Haifa and Damascus and the arrival of the Hijaz railway opened trade further. These trade links gave the community access to more expensive goods such as sugar, textiles, furniture and farm equipment.
The arbitrary creation of international borders (Syria, Palestine, Trans-Jordan etc) by the French and British after the First World War and the impact of conflict in the 1940s and 60s limited the trade network of the village to local markets such as Irbid.
Increasing tourism and an attempt to protect the ancient remains of Gadara in 1976 led to the relocation of the community to a nearby housing project and confiscation of 460 donums of agricultural land located over the archaeological remains. The loss of the land and social infrastructure of the village had a very negative impact on the community and economy with only minimal benefit from tourism income.
Proposals to demolish the village and build large international tourist developments in the 80’s and 90s caused further conflict with the community.
“Many investment projects were being initiated in the area by random investors and we, the locals, had no say in any projects”
Interview with Firas Al-Rousan: Building with the past, living among the archaeology
Interview with Umm Hiba: Visiting the arcaheological remains, shops and the barter economy
The Living Museum of Umm Qais project has been interviewing the people of Umm Qais, recording the oral histories of the community. The following videos are excerpts from this archive in which people describe their memories of the community, it's rituals and events in the life of the community.
Throughout the project we are processing more interview material collected by our project volunteers in Umm Qais so look out for new material uploaded here.
Recently a more balanced approach has been followed with the Department of Antiquities and the local community working collaboratively to manage the site and the traditional village.
Community based tourism projects now offer sustainable tourist experiences around cooking, food, basket weaving and stone carving as well traditional olive and honey production methods in Umm Qais. These small locally owned tourism businesses are providing direct benefits to the local economy and involve the community in the protection and celebration of their heritage within this unique site.
“We teach them (tourists) to cook traditional dishes…. What we do brings back old traditions, how people used to visit, sit and eat together”