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Typology of Iran Nomads

Il” refers to a group of people who have blood relation or social-political affiliation, and inhabit their own geographical area. They are mostly shepherds who do seasonal transhumance between summer & winter pastures to find grass for their animals. In Persian language, such movements in search of grasslands is called ‘Kuch’. Therefore, a nomadic lifestyle has nothing to do with luxury. Their simple life includes the necessary things they need to have. They carry no extra stuff since it makes their kuch hard. Nomads of Iran can be classified into 8 groups. Here in this article, 4 main Iran Nomad Tribes are discussed: Kurdish Tribes, Lur Tribes, Shahsevan Tribes, Qashqaie Tribes, Baloch Tribes, Khamseh Tribes, Turkmen Tribes, Arab Tribes.

1. Kurdish Tribes

The word ‘Kurd’ refers to a nomad or a person who wanders in deserts. But linguistically, it refers to a courageous hero. Ferdowsi, in his Shahnameh (Book of Kings) which is the world’s longest epic poem, has taled about the Kurds. That’s why Kurd people have great respect for Shahnameh. Kurds are all Muslims from different branches; Shiite and Sunni and mystical sects like Qadiriyyah and Nashnabidiyeh. Kurdish dialect is one of the main dialects of the Persian language which consists of some sub-dialects such as Kormanji, Sourani, Laki, etc.

Kurd people inhabit the western part of Iran; they mostly live in the north of West Azerbaijan Province, Kurdistan & Kermanshah region and some parts of Ilam. There are also groups of Kurd people in Razavi & North Khorasan. In Safavid and then in Afsharie era, these people were forced to migrate from the west of Lake Urmia to the north part of Khorasan in order to defeat the enemies’ schemes and to prevent their coalition.

Kurdish Tribes-Iran Nomad Tours
  • Due to the fact that Iran has a hot, dry climate, water plays a vital role in everybody’s life. During times of drought, people of various tribes practice different rituals to pray for rain. Kurd people ask God for the rain in an event called “Praying for Rain” or “Bouke Baraneh” during drought or when the rain is less than what it should be. On the day of the ceremony, children take two sticks of wood wrapped in colorful cloth and go around the village. When the people see the rain doll, they pour water on the doll and by doing so, they pray for the abundance of rain & wheat. They also give some gifts to the children who are carrying the doll around the area.
Bouke Baraneh or Praying for Rain- Kurdish Event
  • Pir Shalyar is the next festival common among the Kurds. It is held twice a year in February & May, in the village of Uraman Takht in Kurdistan. It is believed that Pir Shalyar was a pious, well-respected man who had miraculous power. In this ceremony, people of the village sacrifice the sheep and play spiritual music and do a traditional dance.
  • Dancing plays a key role among nomads of Iran, especially among Kurd people. Iranian dance has an epic, mystical, religious roots indicating cooperation among the people. People dance not only in joyous & wedding ceremonies, but also when they want to mourn in sorrowful occasions to express their inner feelings. Kurdish dance is called Halparin (or Helperkê/Hilperkêin Kurdish alphabet) which means motion is a symbol of union & affinity. It is a symbolic dance which begins with a slow rhythm and then continues with epic, fast movements representing martial gestures.
Halparin Kurdish dance-Nomads of Iran
  • Nomads of Iran mostly inhabit “Black Tents”. The very epitome of a nomadic life is the ‘Black Tent’. Persian Nomads call their tent Siyah Chador (literary, black tent). The majority of Nomads use Black Tent as their mobile housing when they move from place to place in their seasonal migrations as a way of obtaining food, finding pasture for livestock, or making a living.
  • The black tent is made from goat’s wool and are hand-woven by the Nomad women on ground looms. One of the main features of the black tent is its natural ventilation. When the sun hits the black roof of the tent, hot air starts to rise above the cloth and forces air to be drawn out from inside the tent. This creates a cooling wind effect during the hot days. On rainy or snowy days, the woolen fibers absorb water and swell, creating a thicker and tighter tent cover. So, it provides the Nomads with a dense shade in the day time and protection against wind, sand, rain, dust, and cold in the night. It is durable and it prevents willows and termites’ penetration.
  • Different nomads of Iran use different terms for “black tent”. The Kurds call it “Rash Mal” meaning “a black house”.

2. Lur Tribes

The next group of nomads of iran we are going to talk about is the Lur. There are some ideas regarding the word “Lur”:

  1. The name is derived from the name of a plain called ‘Loor’ in the north of Dezful & Andimeshk
  2. The name is derived from the word ‘Lir’ meaning jungle mountains
  3. The name is derived from ‘Lohrasb’, one of the kings in Kianian dynasty

The Lurs mostly live in Mt. Zagros and they are of two main groups:
Small Lur: Lorestan & Ilam
Great Lur: great Bakhtiari Lur (north of Khuzestan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Isfahan & Fars) & Mamasani Lur (Shoolestan) – Lurs of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad.
From among the above-mentioned tribes, Bakhtiari Nomads are the biggest tribe doing a seasonal migration (Kuch).
The Lurs are Shia Muslims and speak Lurish dialect of Persian language.

Lur Tribes-Iran Nomad Tours
  • Small Lurs call their black tent ‘Duar’, and the great Lurs call it ‘Bohon’. In Bakhtiari province, we come across cemeteries with big lion statues as a tombstone for great, courageous Bakhtiari men with great hunting & shooting skills.
Lion Tombstones-Lur Tribes-Iran Nomad Tours

Lur people have great respect for Nowruz ceremonies. They not only clean the houses before Nowruz but also go to the cemeteries the night before to honor the dead and ask God for forgiveness.

Lorish event-Lur Tribes
Lurish Dance- Lur tribes

There is a Lorish dance called ‘Choobi’ in which men & women stand hand in hand in a circle and dance around the so-called circle. There is a person in front of the others with a handkerchief directing the others. He is called ‘Sarchoobi’.

3. Shahsevan Tribes

Another nomads of iran is the Shahsevan, The word ‘Shahsavan’ is made of two words; a Persian word: Shah (= king), and a Turkish word: Sevan meaning those who admire their kings. And the reason goes back to the reign of King Abbas Safavi.

Shahseven tribe is a Turk tribe who inhabit the northwest of Iran and they are all Shia Muslims.

Shahsevan Tribe-Iran Nomad Tours
Shahsevans’ tents- Iran Nomad Tours
  • Despite the other nomads who live in black tent, Shahsevans’ tents are white felt made of sheep wool.
  • It is so common among the nomads to weave Kelim, Jajim & Carpet. But Shahsevans are well-known for their Varni which is a carpet without lint without any printed pattern, all the paterns are just kept in their mind and passed from generation to generation. No other nomad tribe makes such handicraft.
Varni- Handicraft-Iran Nomad Tours

4. Balouch Tribes

Ernst Emil Herzfeld, a German archaeologist, and Iranologist believes the name “Baluch” comes from the  “BRAZAWACCHIA” meaning a loud cry. But there is another group who believes ‘Balooch’ is derived from ‘pahal’, meaning pahlavan (= athlete), and ‘ouj’, meaning high, and it means a tall athlete.

Balouch is another nomads of Iran who mostly live in the east & southeast of Iran in Sistan & Balouchestan which is the largest province. The northern part is of the province is called Sistan, and the southern part is Balouchestan. Balouchi people are Muslims, and in the southern parts they are mostly Sunni who speak a dialect of Persian language called ‘Makourani’. But in the northern parts, they are Shtti speaking ‘Sarhaddi’ dialect.

Balouch Tribes-Iran Nomad Tours
gedam tent- Balouch Tribe
Balouch tent- Balouch Tribe
balouch tent-Balouch Tribe

Balouchi nomads call their black tents ‘Gedam’.

They have also another type of housings made of palm trees. They are crescent-shaped houses and on the roof, they are covered with palms & wild palms leave calling ‘Loog’.

‘Gerdtoop’ is one of the most beautiful Baloochi houses, but the only difference is that Gerdtoops are Balouchies’ fixed housings. They are muddy structures made in a circle having date’s leaves & branches as a roof, which is really good insulation against the heat of the area.

  • Of the main features of the Balouchi people is their loyalty, supporting the oppressed & keeping their promises. If they promise to do something, they never break it. They are well-known for being welcoming to those who join them and they have a deep sense of honor. If someone, whether he is guilty or not, takes refuge in their house and asks for help, they’d never decline him. They do their best to help him and act as an intermediary to put an end to the dispute. But in case they couldn’t solve the problem, they’d never give in, and defend the person to their last breath. The act of supporting and giving refuge to is called ‘Miarjal’ . ‘Miyar’ & ‘Bahout’ means taking refuge in some body’s house to avoid the harm, and ‘Miarjalli’ means accepting one in your house.
sword dance persian-Balouch Tribe-Iran Nomad Tours
  • ‘Sword dance’ or ‘Chup / double Chup’ are Balouchi dances. A person dancing a Balouchi dance repeatedly slams his feet to the ground, and it follows rhythmic and alternating semicircular and circular rotations, and gradually it gets faster and faster.
  • Like other nomads, Balouchi nomads are interested in weaving and making carpets. Balouchi women usually make the carpets with the patterns they have in their minds, and they usually use geometric patterns in the carpets. But, the most important, unique and authentic handicrafts of the Balouchi is their ‘needlework’ which is mostly seen in Balouchi women clothing. The late “Mahtab Norouzi” is one of the well-known Balouchi’s who has done much awe-inspiring needlework. She has made some great needlework on Farah Pahlavi’s costumes. The dresses are now available in Saadabad Collection.
needlework on Farah Pahlavi's costumes
  • In the south of Kalpurgan, a village in the district of Saravan, people still make pottery in the traditional way and they don’t use a pottery wheel. This way of making pottery is an ancient way which goes back to thousands of years ago. It has geometric patterns, and they make use of a special stone to create the patterns on the hand-made potteries. What has attracted the world’s attention to Kalpurgan’s pottery is the traditional method which is still used by Balouchi women. They use no pottery wheel and make the pottery by the traditional methods. Throughout history, this art has remained unchanged in its style and raw materials, and it has passed down to the next generations quite exactly the same way it was used traditionally.
hand-made potteries- Balouch Tribe
  • “Donnelly” is a kind of wind instrument played by Balouchi people. The instrument consists of two flutes; one male with six holes which plays the melodies, and the other one is the female flute that plays a fixed sound. The musician plays both flutes simultaneously and puts the female flute slightly lower than the male one. Shir-Mohammad Espandar, who lives in Bampour, is the biggest and most famous person who plays Donnelly in Iran.
Shir-Mohammad Espandar -Music of Baluchistan -donnely

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