Nomads of Iran - PhMuseum

Nomads of Iran

Rachele Caretti

2018 - Ongoing

Iran; Isfahan, Iran

Iran has one of the largest nomadic populations in the World, an estimated 1.5 million in a country of about 70 million. But the number of nomads living in Iran is in decline and experts say it's a way of life that is slowly disappearing, if this trend continues, there will be no more nomads living in Iran in the next 20 years.

This a long term project which aim to document the lifestyle of the Bakhtiari tribe, one of the main nomadic groups in Iran. Trough this project I want to document the rich culture, traditions and unique lifestyle of the Bakhtiari and simply how they live their everyday life.

The first part of the project focus on the daily life of three nomads families during summer, when they are not migrating. The Bakhitiari can be found during the summer months in the high grounds of the Zagros Mountain, while in winter they resides in Khuzestan. When they don’t migrate the Bakhitiari settled in the mountains for months, mostly in isolated parts, which are quite difficult to reach. They live a basic life: eating what they produce and sleeping in tents, without electricity, running water or any other facilities.

The second part of the project will focus on the documentation of the annual migration of the tribe. During the month of April the nomads leave their winter pasture and cross the Zagros Mountains on foot, walking for about 30 days, with all their families, animals and belongings in order to reach their summer pastures.

This type of migration, called vertical migration, is something very unique that not many nomads still do in the traditional way. While migration is still an important part of the nomads life, nowadays most tribes move from one place to another using trucks, bikes and other transportation. The Bakhtiari tribe is one of the few nomadic tribe left that still practise the migration in the traditional way, by crossing the mountains on foot.

It is a tradition that many families have lost and a lifestyle that will soon disappear. My aim and wish, by continuing this project, is to document it before it will be forgotten.

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  • Ghasem Soleymani, the head of the family, descending the mountains towards the camp, followed by his donkey which is used to carry food and other goods. The Bakhtiari live between the region of Khuzestan and Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. They speak a dialect of Persian called Lori and are Shiite muslims like the majority of the country.

  • Mahpary, which means fairy moon, in front of the Zagros mountains. Bakhtiari women wear traditional clothes made of long flawy skirts and scarves usually detailed with stitching, coins or other gold and silver objects. Although the style of clothing really depends on the weather and the tribe, often they use a wonderful array of colours. The simplicity of the possessions they own also is rooted in their nomadic lifestyle.

  • Three generations of a Bakhtiari Nomad family, from the left the grandfather, the father, and the mother with their 3 kids standing in front of their tent. One of the peculiarities of Bakhtiari social organization is the existence of numerous interlocked social units within the tribe. Each tent is the home of a nuclear family (kanvada), and an encampment (māl), comprising three to twelve tents, corresponds to the extended family (tāš or awlād).

  • View of the Zagros Mountains from the inside of the tent. Nomads sleeps on the floor which is covered by carpets to protect them from the cold during the night.
    Bakhtiari carpets, famous under the trade name Bībībāf, are woven by ladies.The wool and hair which they use come from their own sheep and goats. The principal handicraft of the Bakhtiari is weaving.This activity produces a wide range of goods of high quality such as: ropes, straps, sacks and saddle-bags.

  • A new born baby sleep in a traditional baby cot. The baby cot is made of woods and traditional Bakhtiari’s decoration called Shirdang. They are used as decorations in front of black tents, homes, or baby cots to represent happiness and joy.
    “Shir” (=poem) + “dang” (=sounds & echo) stand for poetic sounds used to prevent bad omen. According to the nomad’s tradition this particular cradle has the function to keep demons and misfortune away from the new born.

  • The Bakhtiari are famous for their black tents, Siah Chador, which is waterproof and woven using the wool of their goats. Much of Bakhtiari culture is based on their seasonal migration and the fact that their primary source of income is their livestock. The more
    sheeps and goats a family owns', the richer the family is.

  • Behnaz taking care of the family horse. The Bakhtiari are one of the largest and most prominent tribes of Iran. Yet, what characterise the tribe is their humility and a deep connection to nature.

  • Bakhtiari men typically spend their days out in the nature, grazing and breeding the animals. Sometimes they are away for days so is the women's duty to take care of everything in the camp: they milks the goats, look after the animals, cook food for the entire family and take care of the kids.

  • Women play an important role within the tribe: their main duties are to bake bread, fetch water, milk the goats, and take care of the kids and all other household needs.

  • Freshly milked goat’s milk. Nomads families sustain themselves by selling curds, a dairy products made of goats milk, which is a very common ingredient of persian cuisine.

  • The goats have to be milked twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. It is usually the women’s duty to milk the goats: it is a job that can require several hours depending on the number of livestock the family owns.

  • Bread, yogurt and milk are freshly made everyday: they are the main source of nutriment for the nomads, along with doogh, a yogurt-based drink typical from Iran. Bread is a fundamental part of the nomads’ diet. It’s made freshly every morning: women wake up at around five o clock and one of the first things they do is to bake bread for the breakfast and for the rest of the day.

  • The Bakhtiari eat little meat as it’s very expensive and, especially during the migratory period, will make them feel heavy and stop them from moving quickly. But, when they have guests, the tradition want them to kill the best goat and offer a feast to the guest as a sign of their hospitality. But sometimes they cannot afford to kill a goat so, instead, they offer chicken to their guests.

  • Nomads live a basic life with little possessions. The tent is the central part of their life: here they sleep, eat and sometimes even cook, everything happen in the same little space. When they eat they lay a long plastic cloth on the floor and sit all together around it to share their meal.

  • Ghasem Soleymani with his daughter Setare (which means Star). Most families have no electricity in their camps, they rely on generators, or simply use a fire or a candle, to light up the tent during the night.

  • Tea or “chai” is the national drink in Iran: it plays a social role and ends every meal even in Bakhtiari culture. The tea is always served piping hot and in small tea glasses.
    The tea leaves are infused in the tea pot and the host pours a little amount of tea into a glass and brings it up to the light to assess its color and strength. The very strong tea is then poured in a small glass and diluted with boiling water.

  • Older generation of nomads are worried about the future of their tribe. With more and more young people leaving the families to go and live in cities and have a more stable life, there will be no one to keep the nomads culture and traditions alive in the future.

  • Family is extremely important in the Bakhtiari culture and all important decisions are taken by consulting the heads of the tribe first. In order to keep the membership within a tribe there are 3 principle to follow: (1) a rule of patrilineal descent, whereby membership is transmitted in the male line or a person must belong to the same group as his father and to that group alone; (2) a preference for marriage between patrilineal cousins, most of the marriages in the Bakhtiari families are still between cousins and decided and arranged by the heads of the families years in advance: (3) a rule of residence, whereby the wife is required to move after marriage from her father’s home to her husband’s home or to her husband’s father’s home.

  • As parents are always busy with many duties during the day, older kids have to learn how to take care of their younger siblings since an early age.

  • Today, it is estimated that only a third of the Bakhtiari tribe remains nomadic as many have settled down to become agriculturist or were forced to move to cities due to economic hardship and unemployment. Yet, those that continue the nomadic lifestyle undergo one of the most challenging and fascinating life.


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