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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contain the camp, hut the women do the really hard work.
Their lords, easily satisfied with their modicum of labour,
soon retire to enjoy their pipes and the endless gossip of
Bakhtiari life.


After the ground has been arranged the tents occupy
invariably the same relative position, whether the camp
is in a row, a semicircle, a circle, or streets, so that the
cattle and flocks may easily find their owners' abodes
without being driven. The tents, which are of black goats'
hair cloth, are laid out and beaten, and the women spread
them over the poles and arrange the rest, after which the
inside is brushed to remove the soot. In a good tent, reed
screens are put up to divide the space into two or more


portions, and some of the tribes fence round the whole
camp with these screens, leaving one opening, and use the
interior for a sheepfokL The small bushes are grubbed
up for fuel. The women also draw the water, and the
boys attend to the flocks. Many of the camps, however,
have neither fences nor environing screens, and their in-
mates dwell without auy attempt at privacy, and rely for
the safety of their flocks on big and trustworthy dogs,
of which every camp has a number.

When they move the bulk of the labour again falls
on the women. They first make the baggage into neat
small packages suited for the backs of oxen ; then they
take up the tent pegs, throw down the tents, and roll
tin-in up in the reed screens, all that the men undertake
being to help in loading the oxen. It is only when a
division halts for at least some days that this process is
gone through. In fine weather, if a tribe is marching
daily to its summer or winter camping - grounds, the
families frequently sleep in the open.

The chiefs tent is always recognisable by its size, and
is occasionally white. I have seen a tent of a wealthy
Khan fully sixty feet long. A row of poles not more than
ten 1'rrt likjh supported the roof, which was of brown
haircloth, the widths united by a coarse open stitch.
On the windward side the roof was piuned down nearly
to the top of a loosely-laid wall of stones about three feet
high. The leeward side was quite open, and the roof,
which could be lowered if necessary, was elevated and ex-
tended by poles six feet high. If the tent was sixty feet
long, it was made by this arrangement twenty feet broad.
At the lower end was a great fire-hole in the earth, and
the floor of the upper end was covered with rugs, quilts,
and pillows, the household stuff being arranged chiefly on
and against the rude stone wall.

The process of encamping for a camp of seventy tents


takes about two hours, and many interruptions o<
especially the clamorous demands of unweaned infants of
mature years. De-camping the same number of tents
takes about an hour. A free, wild life these nomads lead,
lull of frays and plots, but probably happier than tin,-
average lot.

Below the castle is the great encampment of the
chiefs, brown tents and white bell tents, among which
the tall white pavilion of the llkani towers conspicuously.
The Ilkhani and Ilbegi called on me, and as they sat
outside my tent it v:as odd to look back two years to
the time when they were fighting each other, and barely
two weeks to the discovery of the plot of the dark-
browed Ilkhani to murder his nephew. The Ilkhani's
face had a very uncomfortable expression. Intrigues
against him at Tihran and nearer home, the rumoured
enmity of the Prime Minister, the turbulence of some of
the tribes, the growing power of the adherents of Isfand-
yar Khan, and his own baffled plot to destroy him must
make things .unpleasant Several of the small Khans
who have been to see me expect fighting here before the
end of the summer. The Ilkhani had previously availed
himself of the resources of my medicine chest, and with
so much benefit that I was obliged to grant a request
which deprived me of a whole bottle of " tabloids."

In the evening I visited the ladies who are in the castle
leading the usual dull life of the haram, high above the
bustle which centres round the Ilkhani's pavilion, with its
crowds of tribesmen, mares and foals feeding, tethered
saddle horses neighing, cows being milked, horsemen
galloping here and there, firing at a mark, asses bearing
wood and flour from Ardal being unloaded a bustle
masculine solely.

Isfandyar Khan, with whose look of capacity I am
more and more impressed, and Lutf received us and led


us to the great pavilion, which is decorated very hand-
somely throughout with red and blue appligiU arabesques,
and much resembles an Indian durbar tent. A brown
felt carpet occupied the centre. The Ilkhani, who rose
and shook hands, sat on one side and the Ilbegi on the
other, and sons, Khans, and attendants to the number
of 200, I daresay, stood around. We made some fine
speeches, rendered finer, doubtless, by Mirza ; repeated
an offer to send a doctor to itinerate in the country
for some months in 1891, took the inevitable tea, and
while the escorts were being arranged for I went to the

It is the fortress of the Haft Lang, one great
division of the Bakhtiari Lurs, which supplies the ruling
dynasty. The building is a parallelogram, flanked by four
round towers, with large casemates and a keep on its
southern side. It has two courtyards, surrounded by
stables and barracks, but there is no water within the
gates, and earthquakes and neglect have reduced much
of it to a semi-ruinous condition. Over the gateway and
along the front is a handsome suite of well -arranged
balconied rooms, richly decorated in Persian style,
the front and doors of the large reception-room being
of fretwork filled in with amber and pale blue glass,
and the roof and walls are covered with small mirrors
set so as to resemble facets, with medallion pictures of
beauties and of the chase let in at intervals. The effect
of the mirrors is striking, and even beautiful. There
were very handsome rugs on the floor, and divans
covered with Kashan velvet ; but rugs, divans, and squabs
were heaped to the depth of some inches with rose petals
which were being prepared for rose-water, and the prin-
cipal wife rose out of a perfect bed of them.

These ladies have no conversation, and relapse into
apathy after asking a few personal questions. Again


are properly elective, the office of Khan or chief is strictly
luTfilitJiry, though it does not necessarily fall to the eldest
son. . This element of permanence gives the Khan almost
supreme authority in his tribe, and when the Ilkhani is
a weak man and a Khan is a strong one, he is practically
independent, except in the matter of the tribute to the

It was in curl ! ML: the power of these Khans by steer-
ing a shrewd and even course among their feuds and con-
flicts, by justice and consideration in the collection of
the revenues, and by rendering it a matter of self-interest
for them to seek his protection and acknowledge his
headship, that Sir A. H. Layard's friend, Mohammed
Taki Khan, succeeded in reducing these wild tribes to
something like order, and Hussein Kuli Khan, " the last
real ruler of the Bakhtiaris," pursued the same methods
with nearly equal success.

But things have changed, and a fresh era of broils
and rivalries has set in, and in addition to tribal feuds
and jealousies, the universally-erected line of partisanship
between the adherents of the Ilkhani and Ilbegi produces
anything but a pacific prospect These broils, and the
prospects of fighting, are the subjects discussed at my tent
door in the evenings.

The Dastgird encampment that evening was the
romance of camp life. On the velvety green grass there
were four high black canopies, open at the front and sides,
looking across the green flowery plain, on which the
Ilkhani's castle stood out, a violet mass against the sun-
set gold, between the snow-streaked mountains. There
were handsome carpets, mattresses, and bolsters ; samovars
steaming on big brass trays, an abundance of curds, milk,
and whey, and at one end of the largest tent there were
two very fine mares, untethered, with young foals, and
children rolling about among their feet I was placed,







as usual, on a bolster, and the tent filled with people, all
shouting, and clamouring together, bringing rheumatism
(" wind in the bones "), sore eyes, headaches (" wind in the
head "), and old age to be cured. The Khan's wife, a
handsome, pathetic-looking girl, had become an epileptic
a fortnight ago. This malady is sadly common. Of the
278 people who have come for medicines here thirteen
per cent have had epileptic fits. They call them " faint-
ings," and have no horror of them. Eye diseases, includ-
ing such severe forms as cataract and glaucoma, rheu-
matism, headaches, and dyspepsia are their most severe
ailments. No people have been seen with chest com-
plaints, bone diseases, or cancer.

In the largest tent there was a young mother with an
infant less than twenty-four hours old, and already its
eyebrows, or at all events the place where eyebrows will
be, were deeply stained and curved. At seven or eight
years old girls are tattooed on hands, arms, neck, and
chest, and the face is decorated with stars on the fore-
head and chin.

Though children of both sexes are dearly loved
among these people, it is only at the birth of a son that
there is anything like festivity, and most of the people
are too poor to do more even then than distribute sweet-
meats among their friends and relations. The " wealthier"
families celebrate the birth of a firstborn son with music,
feasting, and dancing.

At the age of five or six days the child is named, by
whispering the Divine name in its ear, along with that
chosen by the parents.

After a long visit the people all kissed my hand,
raising it to their foreheads afterwards, and the Khan
made a mounting block of his back, and rode with me to
the main path. It was all savage, but the intention was
throughout courteous, according to their notions. It


became pitch dark, and I lost my way, and shouM 1.
pulled Screw over a precipice but for his sagacious self-
will. One of the finest sights I have seen was my own
camp in a thunderstorm, with its white tents revealed
by a flash of lightning, which lighted for a second tl it-
black darkness of the ravine.

The next morning the Khan of Dastgird's servants
brought fifteen bottles and pipkins for eye-lotions and
medicines. In spite of the directions in Persian which
Mirza put upon the bottles, I doubt not that some of
the eye-lotions will be swallowed, and that some of the
medicines will be put into the eyes !

June 8. The last evening has come after a busy day.
The difficulties in the way of getting ready for the start
to-morrow have been great The iron socket of my tent-
pole broke, there was no smith in the valley, and when
one arrived with the Ilkhani, the Ilkhani's direct order
had to be obtained before he would finish the work he
had undertaken. I supplied the iron, but then there
was no charcoal. I have been tentless for the whole
day. Provisions for forty days have to be taken from
Chigakhor, and two cwts. of rice and flour have been
promised over and over again, but have only partially
arrived to-night. Hassan has bought a horse and a cow,
and they have both strayed, and he has gone in search of
them, and Mirza in search of him, and both have been
away for hours.

Of the escorts promised by the Ilkhaui not one man
has arrived, though it was considered that the letter to
him given me by the Amin-es-Sultan would have obviated
any difficulty on this score. An armed sentry was to
have slept in front of my tent, and a tufangchi was to
have been my constant attendant, and I have nobody.
Of the escort promised to the Agha not one man has
appeared. In this case we are left to do what General


Sehindler and others in Tihran and Isfahan declared to
be impossible, viz. to get through the country without an
escort and without the moral support of a retainer high
in the llkhani's service. Whether there have been
crooked dealings ; or whether the Ilkhani, in spite of his
promises, regards the presence of travellers in his country
with disfavour ; or whether, apprehending a collision, both
the Ilkhani and Ilbegi are unwilling to part with any of
their horsemen, it is impossible to decide.

I. L. B.


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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 29 of 29)