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The Nomad’s Black Tent: A Traditional, Transportable Dwelling

Iran Nomad ToursNomadsThe Nomad’s Black Tent: A Traditional, Transportable Dwelling

The majority of the nomads use ‘Black Tent’ as their mobile housing when they move from place to place in their seasonal migrations (transhumance) as a way of obtaining food, finding pasture for livestock, or making a living. This raises some questions about what specific features a black tent has? how the nomads make such tents? how they adapt the black tent to their specific needs and environmental conditions? and how they make it more resistant to cold and rain?
Usually, the extended families settle their tents near each other. This allows their communication easier and also permits enough space for animals to spend the night near each tent. They know how to adapt the black tent well to their specific requirements and to environmental conditions.

black tent of iranian nomads
Aaj family are sitting in their black tent in their summer pasture. In less than a month, they are going to move to their winter pasture.

The Makings of Siah Chador

The word in the Persian language for the black, goat-hair tent is Siyah Chador (literary, black tent). Black tents are made from goat hair which is drawn from the black goats in the herd of livestock. First, the nomads shear the hair from the goats and it is usually done by the father of the family or the older sons. It is not like a special occasion or a ritual. Each family shears its goats whenever it is convenient for them. They tie the animal’s leg and lay it down on its side. By the use of the special knives, the long, coarse hair of the goats is cut. The goats’ underwool (= kork) is not used for weaving the tent.

bakhtiari man iranian nomads
Mr. Sokhteroo is selecting the black goats

When enough hair is accumulated, it needs to be cleaned and separated which is often done by nomad women. A number of women sit around a large pile of goat hair and it is usually done by the senior woman of the family. It may take a number of months to be done, and the women do it whenever the time is available. Once the hair is spun, the yarn is rolled in balls.

Now, it is time for weaving the yarn. Nomad women usually weave in late spring, and it is done on a wooden, horizontal ground looms called Mehudar. It is a frame of four pegs which are driven deep into the ground. These four pegs are the corners of a 1.5. 2-meter-rectangle. The more the nomad women weave, the more they move forward while sitting on the completed cloth. And, when the weather gets dark, they cover the cloth and leave the rest for the next day.

weaving the tent iran nomad tours

Goat hair is a material with tensile properties. It also has a crimped shape which gives it a high specific heat coefficient. It can retain heat and has good insulation. From a sustainable point of view, wool is highly beneficial since it is a renewable material made from natural fibres. It can also be easily repaired.

Black Tent Main Feature

One of the main features of a 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 fibres absorb water and swell, creating a thicker and tighter tent cover. So, it provides the nomads with a dense shade in the daytime and protection against wind, sand, rain, dust and cold in the night.

tent of bakhtiari nomads of iran
A Black Tent woven by the hands of nomad women

Black Tent Components

Nomads can produce all components of the tent themselves since it is mostly made by goat hair. Goat hair has the necessary length and strength and it is so resistant. It is “reasonably waterproof when new and becomes increasingly waterproofed with the oily cow-dung smoke soot” (Ekvall 1968:63). Then the woven strips are sewn together. It is also very heavy and the color is the natural color of animal hair. The black tent is used by nomadic groups that live in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Arabic countries, Europe (Gypsies), Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and as far east as the Tibetan Plateau (Feilberg 1944).

Black Tent Layout

The black tent is divided into two parts; men’s side and women’s side. A fireplace divides it into two halves. Weapons, equipment, coats and blankets are piled on the men’s side. Sacks and boxes at the back, and kitchen equipment and the tools for milk processing on the women’s side. There is neither a bed nor a chair inside a tent. Rather, people sit on carpets and cushions.

bakhtiari men nomads of iran
Mr. Khorshid Mokhtari and his sons and brother are sitting in the black tent talking to the French & Italian travelers who have come to experience a nomadic life.

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