Iranian Nomads Constitute Cultural Treasure: Anthropologist
The Iranian society had a nomadic fabric up to half a century ago, spanning thousands of years, said a distinguished anthropological expert.
"Nomads constitute a cultural treasure, not a simple community, because the Iranian society can trace back its roots among them and still feeds on their agricultural products," said Dr. Jalaludin Rafifar, nomad expert and head of the Anthropology Association.
"Nomads are of huge importance for us for two reasons. Historically speaking, the Iranian society, no matter from which perspective you look at it, is nomadic in nature. As early as 50 years ago, all Iranian governments and thus our societal structures were nomadic," he noted. "Our traditions, rituals, social relations and values and handicrafts are influenced by nomads' lifestyle. Archeological findings indicate nomads are at least 10 thousands years old in Iran. It is true that the Achaemenid Empire (559-330 B.C.) had a solid and strong governance structure, but it lacked an urban society in modern terms. Even today you cannot point to a single Mede, Achaemenid or Parthian city that did not have any nomadic infrastructure or core."
Iran has been, indeed, inhabited by different people since the old days. By the time the Aryans reached this land, they faced communities that had settled down there since 7th millennium B.C. and were skilled in farming, cattle-raising and working with brass. Although settling in villages and valleys was quite prevalent when Aryans reached Iran, people used to live a pastoral life in many regions: they used to live in tents in summers and were not nomadic, migratory people.
Dr. Rafifar added that economically speaking, nomads meet 20 percent of Iran's needs to red meat, though they themselves are very content and incur little, if no, cost on the central government.
The Bakhtiari tribe, which numbers more than 800,000, inhabits an area of approximately 67,000 sq km (25,000 sq mi) that straddles the central Zagros Mountains in Iran. Although only about a third of the tribe is nomadic (the rest are settled agriculturalists), the nomads embody the Bakhtiari cultural ideals. They specialize in producing meat and dairy products and migrate seasonally with their sheep, cattle, or goat herds from high plateau pastures.
Bakhtiaris belong to the Lur race and their language is closely related to the oldest known forms of Persian. Bakhtiaris are divided into two major groups: the Haft Lang and the Chahar Lang, which in turn are divided into tribes, sub-tribes and clans.
The annual Bakhtiari migration in April from their Garmsir, or winter quarters in Khuzestan, to their Sardsir, or summer pastures in the Chahar-Mahal region of the plateau southwest of Isfahan, takes from four to six weeks. It is an epic of human courage and endurance in which men, women and children of all ages, with their animals and household goods, travel by five different migrations routes across some of the wildest and most difficult mountain country in Persia in their search for grass. They have to cross mountain passes at about 3,050 m (10,000 ft) and therefore have to time their movement with extreme care in order to minimize the danger of early snowfall, flooding mountain rivers, and lack of grazing.
As the head of the Anthropology Association of Tehran University, Dr. Rafifar recently took his graduate students of anthropology and ancient cultures and languages to field study in Kohrang, in Chahar-Mahal and Bakhtiari Province, to let them meet face to face with nomads and tent-dwellers.
The first day of their trip started on the lush highlands of Kohrang, whose landscape is made colorful by meandering rivers, jetting fountains and big and small black tents. Each tent is home to several kids, all frolicking outside beside their lambs.
The predominant color of the women unmistakably matches that of the tents. They say all nomads make up an enormously extensive family, so you have always someone beloved to mourn for in this harsh wilderness. Before you manage to take your black clothes off, another sad occasion makes you wear it afresh. Bakhtiari women change their black dresses just in case of a wedding, putting on hand-made attires all manually dyed and woven in an astonishing palette of colors.