Since two years ago, on an accidental and fortunate occasion of trekking through the Zagros mountains with a group of friends, I got to know more about nomads of Iran. I found out that we have the highest number of nomads in the world and these indigenous people still practice ‘transhumance’ in the Zagros mountain ranges. But, unfortunately, they are not as much and widely known as, for example, Mongolian nomads, even among Iranians themselves.So, when one of the nomads invited us to her wedding party one day, since I had never been to a nomadic wedding, I didn’t doubt even for a second. I was thrilled to have first-hand experience of a nomadic wedding.
On a beautiful, crisp autumn day, when the day was short and the leaves were turned pleasantly gold, we started our epic journey to the great Zagros mountain. To me, Zagros has always been magnificent and inspiring. It still stands head and shoulders above the other mountains I have seen so far.
It was just the three of us and the pristine nature of the area. We had the road and almost all the area to ourselves, and the long, clear turquoise Bakhtiari river was running beside us all the way long. The sunset that day was a once-in-a-lifetime beauty and I’d never forget the mystic hue of the moment. It was magical. These are moments to treasure – all tranquility and solitude, with the incredible scenery of fog over the mountain peaks, and the stunning grandeur of the mountains.
We saw vast green pastures, mighty mountains, a long fast-flowing river, and many springs with fresh, lively water on our way. In some valleys surrounded by the mountains all we heard was the birds’ song.
On the first night, we stayed in a cozy house in a beautiful village. In the morning, refreshed by a good rest and ready to party, we set off on foot for the wedding behind Zagros ranges.
Every now and then, we came across a nomad shepherding his herd of livestock. I realized that they had a great knowledge of the area and its wild plants. They knew herbal remedies for illnesses. Speaking of which, the bride’s uncle was also accompanying us on the way to the wedding and very often, he used to pick up a herb and chew it, telling us it was anti-cancer.
The part of Zagros Mountain we visited is also home to many picturesque pomegranates, berries and oak forests. In our short breaks, we used to sit by the trees eating the sour pomegranates. All day long, we were passing through the trails crossed by the Bakhtiari nomads for thousands of years. There was also a moving bridge above the river made by the nomads of Talogerd and Vark. It was made of stone, wood and wire cables and it made it much easier for the nomads and us to cross the river without climbing up for several hundred meters.
From above the last peak, we caught a glimpse of the village somewhere down the valley among the oak trees. At this point, the family members could also see us and began to shoot their guns in the air. It is very common among the nomads to shoot their guns for their guests out of respect. The bride’s family were the only residents of the village.
The family welcomed us with open arms; although they were quite surprised to see us there. Even though we’d told them we were coming, they couldn’t believe we’d come such a long way.
““I can’t believe my eyes seeing you here. How come you’ve taken the trouble to pass all these mountains to come to my wedding?” said Ashraf, the bride.:)
Soon, they served us with fresh, hot tea made on the fire. All the girls had colorful dresses on and everybody was happy, greeting the others and saying congratulations.
Again, we heard someone’s shooting; this time though, it was for the groom’s family who were coming down from the opposite mountain. This moment was one of the most memorable ones for me. The groom’s relatives who lived in Pez village were getting close to the bride’s house and they were all singing and cheering.
The main ceremony started around noon, when everybody arrived and was served with tea and sweets. Then all the young men and women gathered in the yard holding each other’s hand, the little finger(?), and started dancing a Lori dance. They knew how to move their feet in a 3-step movement to the rhythm of the music. While dancing, they seemed so tough and strong to me, and maybe it is so with all the nomads; tough and at the same time kind and caring. I was in these thoughts when they invited me to join their dance and so I joined the dance with the bride and the groom’s mothers while I had no clue how to move my feet or even my hands. 🙂
There was a boy in the ceremony whom everybody calls ‘Trump’. “Why” you ask? Because he was blonde; different from other Bakhtiari nomads who had mostly dark hair and black eyes.
It is very typical of the nomads to play a special game in their ceremonies called Choob Bazi (= wood sticks game). In the course of the game, all men gather in an area, then two of them stand in the center, opposite of each other, with two sticks of wood; one of them attacks and the other one defends with the woods they have in their hands. They are supposed to hit each other’s legs gently to score points. While they are playing the game, they listen to some epic Lori songs and the other men cheer them and spare them words of encouragement.
Another common activity among nomad women in wedding ceremonies is baking nomadic bread. To do so, first they make two big pots of flour, and after kneading enough, they begin baking it. Since they need a large amount of bread for both lunch and dinner, two or more women take a turn making the bread.
Women in wedding ceremonies are either dancing a Lori dance or singing traditional Lori songs. They sit in a semi-circle and one of them sings the song and the others repeat the refrain. One of these famous songs sung especially in wedding parties is ‘Ahay Goley’. ‘gol’ means flower in Persian and in almost all Lori songs the word is used. The poem is about the bride and the groom and their families. In each nomadic tribe, there are some women who know the songs by heart. In the ceremony I attended, there was a woman called Bozorg and although she was an illiterate woman, she knew so many songs and had a very lovely voice. On our way to the bride’s house, and also during the wedding, she was singing beautiful happy songs for the bride and the groom.
For a nomad, his herd of livestock is very important. Thus, no matter if it is a wedding day or a common day, he knows that he has to take care of his animals. Early in the morning, the sheep and goats are sent to the surrounding pastures, and in the evening, they come back to their pen. Girls usually stay in the pen helping baby animals find their moms.
Nomads’ guests and the animals need water. So, nomads need to fill the Mashks (= water containers made of goat’s hair) with fresh water from the springs.
A goat or sheep is served for the ceremony. Mostly men are responsible for preparing the meal under women’s supervision. Everybody has his/her own share of responsibilities, and both the bride and the groom’s families and their relatives help with the tasks which need to be done.
The bride’s family provides the new couple with the dowry, and the groom’s family pays the bride’s family. But deciding how much needs to be paid is the elderly’s responsibility. At night, after having dinner, the elderly get together in a room to talk about ‘Shirbaha’ while the young have fun. When it is finalized, they write the amount down on a piece of paper and some of the guests sign it as witnesses to the marriage ceremony.
Another typical ceremony is Henabandan. All women gather in the room, the groom also joins them. There is a bowl of Hena on the old heater. A piece of Hena is put on the bride’s and the groom’s palm, and then they take each other’s hand as a sign of unity. The others also take a piece of hena to brings them good omen.
Quite contrary to what happens in the cities, nomads register marriages at the end of the ceremony. Thus, after the partying is over, they register the marriage. But there needs to be a clergyman to do it, and as there is no one in the mountain to do so they call him on the phone from the mountains, so that he can announce the bride and the groom as husband and wife.They called him 3 times; but no connection. They increased the altitude J(?) and went to the roof to try it again. There they called him one more time. Finally, the call was made and their marriage got registered. somewhere close to the sky and the mighty mountain, Hossein and Ashraf were announced as husband and wife.
When the marriage is registered it’s time for the father or a father figure to give the bride some advice regarding her new life. At this point, there is a shift in the mood of the family; a bittersweet moment for all. The bride’s side of the family is both happy and sad. Happy for the bride’s new life, and sad because she will no longer be living with them.
While her father was talking to her, Ashraf was shedding tears quietly and gently. She knew she would miss her family, especially her mom and her second sister to whom she was strongly bonded. The father then attached a sum of money to the bride’s scarf which is another custom among the nomads. Then they all came out of the room and circled around the fire; another custom. Now, it was time to hand the bride to the groom.
We were all out now. Some were packing the mules. The night before, the Bride’s clothes were packed. Little kids who couldn’t do the hiking were put on the mules. The rest were on foot, ready to start the 5-hour hiking to the groom’s village. Bozorg was singing ‘Ahay Goley’ and the others were cheering.
Around noon, we got ready to say goodbye to our kind host. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to them, but it was inevitable. On our way back to Dastgerd village, once again I was mesmerized by the natural beauty of the region. I exactly remember all the emotions I felt when we were passing by the majestic river and the mighty mountains. Immersed in the early, pleasant recollections of the experience, I had a smile on my face all the way back to Tehran…
I wish I were there now…