The Last and The Lost — The Brave Nomads of Iran

Catalina Martin-chico



The nomads were heroes in the past: in the country’s constitutional revolution (1905-1911), in the Second World War when they stood up to the Anglo-Soviet invasion, and later when they were targeted by the shahs determined to overpower them and have them show blind obedience to the central government. Over recent decades, with policies designed to force them to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, they have endured many ordeals and suffered many setbacks. Today the last nomads of Iran could again be described as heroes. Over a century ago, their numbers went from 5 million (and half the population) to only 1.5 million, a tiny minority of the 78 million Iranians in the country today. For the Bakhtiari and Qashqai people, spring and autumn are times of transhumance which can last from three to eight weeks. Traditional donkeys and horses have now been replaced by motor vehicles, but it is still a challenge: walking, setting up camp every evening, cutting wood, fetching water, feeding their herds, kneading bread and cooking. And at night they have to be on the lookout for cattle thieves. Three young women, Zeinab, Mohzeinab and Mounavar, chatted: “We hate this nomadic life. It is the grim burden we have had to bear ever since we were born.” The only other prospect would be to find a husband living in the city. Children attend primary school until the age of ten, but any further studies can only be done in the city. Yes, literacy is one of the main factors behind the change to a sedentary lifestyle. Many nomads who travel to Isfahan and Shiraz never come back. Some see things differently. “What would we do? Sell our animals, our only asset, and settle in the city? What for? What if you don’t find a job?” There are those who take up the challenge, willing to live in remote areas, with no security. Some adapt to urban living, while others, once cut off from their tribes, with no support from public authorities and unable to pay their bills, sink into deep depression. As grandfather Sabzali put it: “No one supports us... Yes, I am angry, and for fifteen years now I’ve been trying to keep my temper under control by smoking opium.”

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  • In the heart of the Zagros Mountains, west of Isfahan, Bakhtiari nomads find a sheltered site and settle there for the winter, often at the same site every year. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, February 2016.

  • Primary schooling in the mountains to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills. After primary school, you need to settle in the city to be able to continue your education. Near Qir, Fars Province, February 2016.

  • Zara and her sister-in-law pose for me. Their bodies changed due to the tough living conditions. Zara complains about her pain in the shoulder and her kidney stones. But doctor is never a solution,a s far as her husband is concerned. She is looking forward that her husband find another wife, to help her in the daily tasks. Bazoft- Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari – Mai 2016

  • In the road of baba ahmad shrin,  Lali, Khuzestan
    Crossing a mountain pass during transhumance. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, April 2016.

  • A Bakhtiari funeral. A car goes through the mountains and villages to announce the death, then nomads and sedentary people gather at the burial site. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, February 2016.

  • A break for some of the Bakhtiari nomads and time to look after their appearance. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, April 2016.

  • Susan and Khodamorad in their wedding tent adorned with gifts such as bedding, cushions and covers. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, February 2016.

  • The tradition of transhumance is still practiced by many nomads such as the Bakhtiari people, crossing mountains on foot with their sheep, horses and donkeys. Masumé says it's first time she falls during the migration. She rides most of the way.
    Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, May 2016.

  • Lali, Khuzestan – April 2016
    Zeinab, dressed and ready to meet her future husband.

  • Ahmad at work, smoking heroin. “I’d like to give it up. My son says I’m hopeless. I don’t dare go home.” At night he sleeps in a container. Suburban Shiraz, April 2016.

  • Sedentary Qashqai at a wedding party where the women dance in a circle and mingle with the men, which is not allowed in Iran. Suburban Shiraz, May 2016.

  • Akbar visiting his friend Reza, for tea and opium. Fifteen years ago he moved to the city to have better living conditions. He has a field of wheat near Shiraz but needs to find an additional source of income. Suburban Shiraz, April 2016.

  • Bazoft- Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari – May 2016
    Mohammed Hosseini is playing with his daughter. It's very rare to see tenderness among nomads. They laugh a lot but are raised with stones and shoutings.
    Hosseini loves nomadic life "if my brothers decide to leave to the city, i kill them!" He's one of the few that wouldn't change anything to his life. It's not the case of his wife...

  • During transhumance, the Bakhtiari people, such as Mahsan and her family, camp at a different site every night for their animals to graze on fresh pastures. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, April 2016.

  • Samba and her daughter follow in a pickup truck. More and more nomads are now using vehicles. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, April 2016.

  • Women are in charge of the fire. Here Sanbar is bringing firewood to the camp where they will spend the night. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, April 2016.

  • The Hossein family migrates to the same site every year, at the foot of a mountain where there is a natural enclosure for the sheep. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, February 2016.

  • Mohammed Hossein and two of his brothers who eventually managed to get a signal on their smartphone 20 minutes away from the camp. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, February 2016.

  • Sanbar milking the ewes in the middle of the night to prepare cheese and buttermilk for the next day. Near Lali, Khuzestan Province, April 2016.

  • Mohammed Hossein and his family have reached their summer camp. The sheep were sick and had to be transported by truck. The nights are very cold. Bazoft, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, May 2016.