Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird.

Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) online

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audience-chamber over the entrance, in which the chief
holds a daily durbar, the deep balcony outside being




usually thronged by crowds of tribesmen, all having free
access to him. The coming and going are incessant.

The palace or castle is like a two-storied caravanserai,
enclosing a large untidy courtyard, round which are
stables and cow-houses, and dens for soldiers and
servants. In the outer front of the building are deep
recessed arches, with rooms opening upon them, in which
the Isfahan traders, who come here for a month, expose


their wares. Passing under the Ilkhani's audience-
chamber by a broad arched passage with deep recesses
ou both sides, and through the forlorn uneven courtyard,
a long, dark arched passage leads into a second court-
yard, where there is an attempt at ornament by means
of tanks and willows. Round this are a number of
living-rooms for the Ilkhani's sons and their families, and
here is the andarun, or house of the women. On the far
side is the Fort, a tall square tower with loopholes and

A Cerberus guards the entrance to the andarun, but


he allowed Mirza to accompany me. A few steps lead
up from the courtyard into a lofty oblong room, with a
deep cushioned recess containing a fireplace. The roof
rests on wooden pillars. The front of the room facing
the courtyard is entirely of fretwork filled in with pale
blue and amber glass. The recess and part of the floor
were covered with very beautiful blue and white grounded
carpets, made by the women. The principal wife, a
comely wide-mouthed woman of forty, advanced to meet
me, kissed my hand, raised it to her brow, and sat down
on a large carpet squab, while the other wives led me
into the recess, and seated me on a pile of cushions,
taking their places in a row on the floor opposite, but
scarcely raising their eyes, and never speaking one word.
The rest of the room was full of women and children
standing, and many more blocked up the doorways, all
crowding forward in spite of objurgations and smart slaps
frequently administered by the principal wife.

The three young wives are Bakhtiaris, and their style
of beauty is novel to me straight noses, wide mouths,
thin lips, and long chins. Eacli has three stars tattooed
on her chin, one in the centre of the forehead, and
several on the back of the hands. The eyebrows are
not only elongated with indigo, but are made to meet
across the nose. The finger-nails, and inside of the
hands, are stained with henna. The hair hangs round
their wild, handsome faces, down to their collar-bones, in
loose, heavy, but not uncleanly masses.

Among the " well-to-do " Bakhtiari women, as among
the Persians, the hair receives very great attention,
although it is seldom exhibited. It is naturally jet
black, and very abundant. It is washed at least once a
week with a thin paste of a yellowish clay found among
the Zard-Kuh mountains, which has a very cleansing effect.

But the women are not content with their hair as it


is, and alter its tinge by elaborate arts. They mak
thick paste of henna, leave it on for two hours, and tln-n
wash it off. The result is a rich auburn tint A similar
paste, made of powdered indigo leaves, is then plastered
over the hair for two hours. On its removal the locks
are dark green, but in twenty -four hours more they
become a rich blue-black. The process needs repeating
about every twenty days, but it helps to fill up the
infinite leisure of life. It is performed by the bath

In justice to my sex I must add that the men dye
their hair to an equal extent with the women, from the
shining blue-black of the Shah's moustache to the brilliant
orange of the beard of Hadji Hussein, by which he
forfeits, though not in Persian estimation, the respect
due to age.

Some of the Ilkhani's children and grand -children
have the hair dyed with henna alone to a rich auburn
tint, which is very becoming to the auburn eyes and
delicate paleness of some of them.

The wives wore enormously full black silk trousers,
drawn tight at the ankles, with an interregnum between
them and short black vests, loose and open in front ; and
black silk sheets attached to a band fixed on the head
enveloped their persons. They have, as is usual among
these people, small and beautiful hands, with taper
fingers and nails carefully kept. The chief wife, who
rules the others, rumour says, was also dressed in black.
She has a certain degree of comely dignity about her,
and having seen something of the outer world in a
pilgrimage to Mecca vid Baghdad, returning by Egypt and
Persia, and having also lived in Tihran, her intelligence
has been somewhat awakened. The Bakhtiari women
generally are neither veiled nor secluded, but the higher
chiefs who have been at the capital think it chic to


adopt the Persian customs regarding women, and the
inferior chiefs, when they have houses, follow their

My conversation with the " queen " consisted chiefly
of question and answer, varied by an occasional diverg-
ence on her part into an animated talk with Mirza
Yusuf. Among the many questions asked were these :
at what age our women marry ? how many wives the
Agha has ? how long our women are allowed to keep
their boys with them ? why I do not dye my hair ? if I
know of anything to take away wrinkles ? to whiten
teeth? etc., if our men divorce their wives when they

are forty ? why Mr. had refused a Bakhtiari wife ?

if I am travelling to collect herbs ? if I am looking for
the plant which if found would turn the base metals
into gold ? etc.

She said they had very dull lives, and knew nothing
of any customs but their own ; that they would like to see
the Agha, who, they heard, was a head taller than their
tallest men ; that they hoped I should be at Chigakhor
when they were there, as it would be less dull, and she
apologised for'not offering tea or sweetmeats, as it is the
fast of the Ramazan, which they observe very strictly. I
told them that the Agha wished to take their photographs,
and the Hadji Ilkhani along with them. They were
quite delighted, but it occurred to them that they must
first get the Ilkhani's consent This was refused, and
one of his sons, whose wife is very handsome, said, " We
cannot allow pictures to be made of our women. It is
not our custom. We cannot allow pictures of our women
to be in strange hands. No good women have their
pictures taken. Among the tribes you may find women
base enough to be photographed." The chief wife offered
to make me a present of her grandson, to whom I am
giving a tonic, if I can make, him strong and cure his


deafness. He is a pale precocious child of ten, with
hazel eyes and hair made artificially auburn.

When the remarkably frivolous conversation flagged,
they brought children afflicted with such maladies as
ophthalmia, scabies, and sore eyes to be cured, but rejected
my dictum that a copious use of soap and water must
precede all remedies. Among the adults headaches, loss
of appetite, and dyspepsia seem the prevailing ailments.
Love potions were asked for, and charms to bring back
lost love, with special earnestness, and the woful looks
assumed when I told the applicants that I could do
nothing for them were sadly suggestive. There could
not have been fewer than sixty women and children in
the room, many, indeed most of them, fearfully dirty in
dress and person. Among them were several negro and
mulatto slaves. When I came away the balconies and
arches of the Ilkhani's house were full of men, anxious
to have a good view of the Feringhi woman, but there
was no rudeness there, or in the village, which I walked
through afterwards with a courtesy escort of several dis-
mounted horsemen.

After this the Ilkhani asked me to g*o to see a man
who is very ill, and sent two of his retainers with me.
It must be understood that Mirza Yusuf goes with me
everywhere as attendant and interpreter. The house was
a dark room, with a shed outside, in a filthy yard, in
which children, goats, and dogs were rolling over each
other in a foot of powdered mud. Crowds of men were
standing in and about the shed. I made my way through
them, moving them to right and left with my hands, with
the recognised supremacy of a Hakim \ There were some
wadded quilts on the ground, and another covered a
form of which nothing was visible but two feet, deadly
cold. The only account that the bystanders could give
of the illness was, that four days ago the man fainted,


and that since he had not been able to eat, speak, or
move. The face was covered with several folds of a very
dirty chadar. On removing it 1 was startled by seeing,
not a sick man, but the open mouth, gasping respiration,
and glassy eyes of a dying man. His nostrils had been
stuffed with moist mud and a chopped aromatic herb
The feet were uncovered, and the limbs were quite cold.
There was no cruelty in this. The men about him were
most kind, but absolutely ignorant.

I told them that he could hardly survive the night,
and that all I could do was to help him to die comfort-
ably. They said with one clamorous voice that they
would do whatever I told them, and in the remaining
hours they kept their word. I bade them cleanse the
mud from his nostrils, wrap the feet and legs in warm
cloths, give him air, and not crowd round him. Under
less solemn circumstances I should have been amused
with the absolute docility with which these big savage-
looking men obeyed me. I cut up a blanket, and when
they had heated some water in their poor fashion,
showed them how to prepare fomentations, put on the
first myself, and bathed his face and hands.

He was clothed in rags of felt and cotton, evidently
never changed since the day tHey were put on, though he
was what they call " rich," a great owner of mares, flocks,
and herds, and the skin was scaly with decades of dirt.
I ventured to pour a little sal-volatile and water down his
throat, and the glassy eyeballs moved a little. I asked
the bystanders if, as Moslems, they would object to his
taking some spirits medicinally ? They were willing, but
said there was no arak in the Bakhtiari country, a happy
exemption ! The Agha's kindness supplied some whisky,
of which from that time the dying man took a teaspoon-
ful, much diluted, every two hours, tossed down his throat
with a spoon, Allah being always invoked. There was


no woman's gentleness to soothe his last hours. A wife
in the dark den inside was weaving, and once came out
and looked carelessly at him, but men did for him all
that he required with a tenderness and kindness which
were very pleasing. Before I left they asked for directions
over again, and one of the Ilkhani's retainers wrote them

At night the Ilkhani sent to say that the man was
much better and he hoped I would go and see him.
The scene was yet more weird than in the daytime.
A crowd of men were sitting and standing round a fire
outside the shed, and four were watching the dying man.
The whisky had revived him, his pulse was better, the
fomentation had relieved the pain, and when it was re-
applied he had uttered the word " good." I tried to make
them understand it was only a last flicker of life, but
they thought he would recover, and the Ilkhani sent to
know what food he should have.

At dawn " death music," wild and sweet, rang out on
the still air; he died painlessly at midnight, and was
carried to the grave twelve hours later.

When people are very ill their friends give them
food and medicine (if a Hakim be attainable), till, in
their judgment, the case is hopeless. Then they send
for a mollah, who reads the Koran in a very loud sing-
song tone till death ensues, the last thirst being alleviated
meantime by sharbat dropped into the mouth. Camphor
and other sweet spices are burned at the grave. If they
burn well and all is pure afterwards, they say that the
deceased person has gone to heaven; if they burn feebly
and smokily, and there is any unpleasantness from the
grave, they say that the spirit is in perdition. A
Bakhtiari grave is a very shallow trench.

The watchers were kind, and carried out my directions
faithfully. I give these minute details to show how much


even simple nursing can do to mitigate suffering among
a people so extremely ignorant as the Bakhtiaris are not
only of the way to tend the sick, but of the virtues of
the medicinal plants which grow in abundance around
them. A medical man itinerating among their camps
with a light hospital tent and some simple instruments
and medicines could do a great deal of healing, and
much also to break down the strong prejudice which
exists against Christianity. Here, as elsewhere, the
Hakim is respected. Going in that capacity I found
the people docile, respectful, and even grateful. Had I
gone among them in any other, a Christian Feringhi
woman would certainly have encountered rudeness and

The Ilkhani, \vho has not been in a hurry to call,
made a formal visit to-day with his brother, Reza Kuli
Khan, his eldest son Lutf, another son, Gluilam, with bad
eyes, and a crowd of retainers. The Hadji Ilkhani,
Imam Kuli Khan, the great feudal chief of the Bakhtiuri
tribes, is a quiet-looking middle-aged man with a short
black beard, a parchment-coloured complexion, and a face
somewhat lined, with a slightly sinister expression at
times. He wore a white felt cap, a blue full -skirted
coat lined with green, another of fine buff kerseymere
under it, with a girdle, and very wide black silk trousers.

He is a man of some dignity of deportment, and his
usual expression is somewhat kindly and courteous. He
is a devout Moslem, and has a finely-illuminated copy of
the Koran, which he spends much time in reading. He
is not generally regarded as a very capable or powerful
man, and is at variance with the Ilbegi, who, though
nominally second chief, practically shares his power. In
fact, at this time serious intrigues are going on, and some
say that the adherents of the two chiefs would not be
unwilling to come to open war.




The greatest men who in this century have filled the
office of Ilkhani both perished miserably. The fate of
Sir H. Layard's friend, Meheraet Taki Khan, is well known
to all readers of the Early Recollection*, but it was
possibly less unexpected than that of Hussein Kuli Khan,
l>r<tther of the present Ilkhani, and father of the Ilbegi
Isfaudyar Khan. This man was evidently an enlightened

and able ruler ; he suppressed brigandage with a firm hand,
and desired to see the Mohammerah- Sinister- Isfahan
route fairly opened to trade. He went so far as to
promise Mr. Mackenzie, of one of the leading Persian
Gulf firms, in writing, that he would hold himself
personally responsible for the safety of caravans in their
passage through his territory, and would repay any losses
by robbery. He agreed to take a third share of the
cost of the necessary steamers on the Karun, and to


furnish 100 mules for land transport between Shuster
and Isfahan. 1

It appears that Persian jealousy was excited by
his enterprising spirit; he fell under the displeasure
of the Zil-es-Sultan, and in 1882 was put to death
by poison while on his annual visit of homage. The
present Ilkhani, who succeeded him, warned possibly by
his brother's fate, is said to show little, if any, interest
in commercial enterprise, and to have made the some-
what shrewd remark that the English ." under the dress
of the merchant often conceal the uniform of the soldier."

In 1888 the Shah relented towards Hussein Kuli
Khan's sons, the eldest of whom, Isfandyar Khan, had
been in prison for seven years, and they with their uncle,
Eeza Kuli Khan, descended with their followers and a
small Persian army upon the plain of Chigakhor, where
they surprised and defeated the Hadji Ilkhani. His
brother, Reza, was thereupon recognised by the Shah as
Ilkhani, and Isfandyar as Ilbegi, with the substance of
power. Another turn of the wheel of fortune, and the
brothers became respectively Ilkhani and Governor of the
Chahar Mahals, and their nephew is reinstated as Ilbegi. 2

The Ilkhani's word is law, within broad limits, among
the numerous tribes of Bakhtiari Lurs who have con-
sented to recognise him as their feudal head, and it has
been estimated that in a popular quarrel he could bring
from 8000 to 10,000 armed horsemen into the field. He
is judge as well as ruler, but in certain cases there is a
possible appeal to Tihran from his decisions. He is
appointed by the Shah, with a salary of 1000 tumans
a year, but a strong man in his position could be
practically independent

1 Proceedings of R. G. S., vol. v. No. 3, New Series.

2 I am indebted for the information given above to a valuable paper
by Mr. H. Blosse Lynch, given in the Proceedings of the R. O. S. for
September 1890.


It can scarcely be supposed that the present Ilkhani
will long retain his uneasy seat against the intrigues at
the Persian court, and with a powerful and popular
rival close at hand. It is manifestly the interest of the
Shah's government to weaken the tribal power, and
extinguish the authority and independence of the
principal chiefs, and the Oriental method of attaining
this end is by plots and intrigues at the capital, by
creating and fomenting local quarrels, and by oppressive
taxation. It is not wonderful, therefore, that many of
the principal Khans, whose immemorial freedom has been
encroached upon in many recent years by the Tihran
Government, should look forward to a day when one of
the Western powers will occupy south-west Persia, and
give them security.

The Hadji Ilkhani, for the people always prefix the
religious title, discussed the proposed journey, promised
me an escort of a horseman and a tufangchi, or foot-
soldier, begged us to consider ourselves here and every-
where as his guests, and to ask for all we want, here and
elsewhere. His brother, lieza Kuli Khan, who has played
an important part in tribal affairs, resembles him, but
the sinister look is more persistent on his face. He
was much depressed by the fear that he was going blind,
but on trying my glasses he found he could sea The
surprise of the old -sighted people when they find that
spectacles renew their youth is most interesting.

Another visitor has been the Ilbegi, Isfandyar Khan.
Though not tall, he is very good - looking, and has
beautiful hands and feet He is able, powerful, and
ambitious, inspires his adherents with great personal
devotion, and is regarded by many as the " coming man."
He was in Tihran when I was in Julfa, and hearing
from one of the Ministers that I was about to visit the
Bakhtiari country, he wrote to a general of cavalry in


Isfahan, asking him to provide me with an escort if I
needed it. I was glad to thank him for his courtesy in
this matter, and for more substantial help. Before his
visit, his retainer, Mansur, brought me the money of
which I had been robbed in Kali va Rukh ! This man
absolutely refused a present, saying that his liege lord
would nearly kill him if he took one. Isfandyar Khan
welcomed me kindly, regretting much that ray first night
under Bakhtiari rule should have been marked by a
robbery. He said that before his day the tribesmen not
only robbed, but killed, and that he had reduced them to
such order that he was surprised as well as shocked at
this occurrence. I replied that it occurred in a Persian
village, and that in many countries one might be robbed,
but in none that I knew of would such quick restitution
be made.

In cases of robbery, the Ilkhani sends round to the
ketchudas or headmen of the camps or villages of the
offending district, to replace the money, as in my case, or
the value of the thing taken, after which the thief must
be caught if possible. When caught, the headmen
consult as to his punishment, which may be the cutting
off of a hand or nose, or to be severely branded. In any
case he must be for the future a marked man. I gather
that the most severe penalties are rarely inflicted. I
hope the fine of 800 krans levied on Kahva Rukh may
stimulate the people to surrender the thief. I agreed to
forego 200 krans, as Isfandyar Khan says that his men
raised all they could, and the remaining sum would have
to be paid by himself.

After a good deal of earnest conversation he became
frivolous ! He asked the Agha his age, and guessed it at
thirty-five. On being enlightened he asked if he dyed
his hair, and if his teeth were his own. Then he said
that he dyed his own hair, and wore artificial teeth. He


also asked my age. He and Lutf and Ghulam, the
Ilkhani's sons, who accompanied him, possess superb
watches, with two dials, and an arrangement for showing
the phases of the moon.

Having accepted an invitation from the Ilbegi to visit
him at Naghun, a village ten miles from Ardal, accom-
panied by Lutf and Ghulam, we were ready at seven,
the hour appointed, as the day promised to be very hot
Eight o'clock came, nine o'clock, half-past nine, and on
sending to see if the young Khans were coming, the
servants replied that they had " no orders to wake them."
So we Europeans broiled three hours in the sun at the
pleasure of " barbarians " !

During the Ramazan these people revel from sunset
to sunrise, with feasting, music, singing, and merriment,
and then they lie in bed till noon or later, to abridge the
long hours of the fast " Is it such a fast that I have
chosen ? " may well be asked.

The noise during the night in the Ilkhani's palace is
tremendous. The festivities begin soon after sunset and
go on till an hour before dawn. Odours agreeable to
Bakhtiari noses are wafted down to my tent, but I do
not find them appetising. An eatable called zalabi is in
great request during the Ramazan. It is made by mixing
sugar and starch with oil of sesamum, and is poured on
ready heated copper trays, and frizzled into fritters.
Masses of eggs mixed with rice, clarified butter, and jams,
concealing balls of highly-spiced mincemeat, kabobs, and
mutton stewed with preserved lemon juice and onions are
favourite dishes at the Ilkhani's.

Besides the music and singing, the " Court " entertains
itself nightly with performing monkeys and dancing men,
besides story-tellers, and reciters of the poetry of Hafiz.
It is satisfactory to know that the uproarious merriment
which drifts down to my tent along with odours of per-


petual frying, owes none of its inspiration to alcohol,
coffee and sharbat being the drinks consumed.

We rode without a guide down the Ardal valley, took
the worst road through some deep and blazing gulches,
found the sun fierce, and the treelessness irksome, saw
much ploughing, made a long ascent, and stopped short
of the village of Naghun at a large walled garden on the
arid hillside, which irrigation has turned into a shady
paradise of pear, apricot, and walnut trees, with a
luxurious undergrowth of roses and pomegranates. The
young Khans galloped up just as we did, laughing heartily
at having slept so late. All the village men were
gathered to see the Feringhis, and the Ilbegi and his
brothers received us at the garden gate, all shaking hands.
Certainly this Khan has much power in his face, and his
dignified and easy manner is that of a leader of men.
His dress was becoming, a handsome dark blue cloak
lined with scarlet, and with a deep fur collar, over his
ordinary costume.

So much has been said and written about the Bakh-
tiaris being " savages " or " semi-savages," that the enter-
tainment which followed was quite a surprise to me.
Two fine canopy tents were pitched in the shade, and
handsome carpets were laid in them, and under a spread-
ing walnut tree a karri, or fire cover, covered with a rug,
served as a table, and cigarettes, a bowl of ice, a glass jug
of sharbat, and some tumblers were neatly arranged upon
it. Iron chairs were provided for the European guests,
and the Ilbegi, his brothers, the Ilkhani's sons, and others
sat round the border of the carpet on which they were
placed. There were fully fifty attendants. Into the
midst of this masculine crowd, a male nurse brought the

Online LibraryIsabella L. (Isabella Lucy) BirdJourneys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 29)