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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being decidedly rude, and inclined to hoot and use bad
language. Even the touch of a Christian is regarded as
polluting, and I nearly got into trouble by handling a
" flap-jack," mistaking it for a piece of felt. The bazars
are not magnificent. No rich carpets or other goods are
exposed to view for fear of exactions. A buyer wanting
such things must send word privately, and have them
brought to his house.

Justice seems to be here, much as in Turkey, a
marketable commodity, which the working classes are
too poor to buy. A man may be kept in prison because
he is too poor to get out, but justice is usually summary,
and men are not imprisoned for long terms. If prisoners
have friends, the friends feed them, if not they depend
on charity, and charity is a Moslem virtue. There is no
prison here for women. They are punished by having
their heads shaved, and by being taken through the
town on asses. Various forms of torture are practised,
such as burning with hot irons, the bastinado, and
squeezing the fingers in a vice. The bastinado is also
most extensively used as a punishment.

Yesterday by appointment we were received by the
Governor of the Province. Riding through the slippery
snow-heaped alleys is not what Europeans would think


of, and our host with his usual courtesy humoured the
caprice by walking with us himself, preceded by six
farashes (lit. carpet-spreaders) and followed by his purse-
bearer casting money to the poor, and a train of servants.
The Citadel, or Governor's residence, like all else, is
forlorn, dirty, and ruinous in .its approaches, which are
long vaulted corridors capable of much adornment.
Crowds of soldiers, mollahs, dervishes, and others were
there to see the visit, which was one of ceremony. The
Palace and Government offices are many- windowed, well-
built brick -and -tile buildings, arranged round a large
place with trees and fountains.

Two little fellows in scarlet uniform were at the
entrance, and the lobby upstairs was crowded with
Persian and Negro servants, all in high, black lambskin
caps, tight black trousers, and tight coats with full
skirts. The Governor received us in a very large, lofty,
vacant-looking room, and shook hands. I never saw a
human being more nearly like an ape in appearance, and
a loud giggle added to the resemblance. This giggle and
a fatuous manner are possibly assumed, for he has the
widespread reputation of being a very able man, shrewd
in business and officially rapacious, as was his father
before him. The grotesque figure, not more than five
feet high, was dressed in a black Astrakan cap, a coat of
fine buff Eussian kerseymere with full skirts, and tight
trousers of the same, and an under-coat of rich, Kerman
silk brocade, edged with costly fur. He made a few
curt remarks to his foreign guests, and then turned to
Abdul Ilahim, and discussed local affairs for the
remainder of a very long visit.

A table covered with exquisite -looking sweetmeats
was produced, and we were regaled with tea a la
RuAse in Russian glasses, ice-cream, and gaz. Then
young, diminutive, raw-looking soldiers in scarlet coats


and scarlet trousers with blue stripes marched into the
courtyard, and stood disconsolately in the snow, and two
bands brayed and shrieked for an hour. Then kalians
were smoked, and coffee was handed round, the cups
being in gold filigree holders incrusted with turquoises.
This was the welcome signal for the termination of a
very tedious visit. The reception-room is a dismal
combination of Persian and European taste, invariably a
failure. The carpets are magnificent, but the curtains
are common serge bordered with white cotton lace, and
the tea-table with its costly equipments was covered
with a tawdry cretonne cover, edged with some inferior
black cotton lace. The lofty walls of plain plaster of
Paris have their simplicity destroyed by some French
girandoles with wax grapes hanging from them.

The Governor returned the visit to-day, arriving on
horseback with fully forty mounted attendants, and was
received in a glass room on the roof, furnished with
divans, tables covered with beautiful confectionery, and
tea and coffee equipages. The conversation was as local
as yesterday, in spite of our host's courteous efforts to
include the strangers in it. The Governor asked if I
were going to Tihran to be Hakim to the Shah's haram,
which our host says is the rumour in Kirmanshah !
During such visits there are crowds of attendants in the
room all the time pouring out tea, filling kalians, and
washing cups on the floor, and as any guest may be a
spy and an enemy, the conversation is restricted to
exaggerated compliments and superficial remarks.

Everything is regulated by an elaborate code of
etiquette, even the compliments are meted out by rule,
and to give a man more than he is entitled to is under-
stood to be intended as sarcasm. The number of bows
made by the entertainer, the distance he advances to
meet his guest, and the position in which he seats him


are matters of careful calculation, and the slightest mis-
take in any particular is liable to be greatly resented by
a superior.

The Persian is a most ceremonious being. Like the
Japanese he is trained from infancy to the etiquette of
his class, and besides the etiquette of class there is here
the etiquette of religion, which is far more strict than
in Turkey, and yields only when there is daily contact, as
in the capital, between Moslems and Christians. Thus,
a Moslem will not accept refreshments from a Christian,
and he will not smoke a pipe after a Christian even if
he is his guest, and of equal or higher rank.

The custom is for a visitor, as in the case of the
Governor, to announce his visit previously, and he and
his train are met, when he is the superior, by a mounted
servant of the recipient of the honour, who precedes him
to the door, where the servants are arranged according to
their rank, and the host waits to take his hand and lead
him to a seat. On entering the room a well-bred
Persian knows at once what place he ought to take, and
it is rare for such a fiasco as that referred to in Luke
xiv. 9 to occur. Eefreshments and pipes are served at
regulated intervals, and the introduction of a third cup
of ^ tea or coffee and a third kalian is the signal for the
guest to retire. But it is necessary to ask and receive
permission to do so, and elaborate forms of speech
regulated by the rank of the visitor are used on the
occasion. If he is of equal or superior rank, the host,
bowing profoundly, replies that he can have no other wish
than that of his guest, that the house has been purified by
his presence, that the announcement of the visit brought
good luck to the house, that his headache or toothache
has been cured by his arrival, and these flowery com-
pliments escort the ordinary guest to the door, but if
he be of superior rank the host walks in advance to


the foot of the stairs, and repeats the compliments

The etiquette concerning pipes is most elaborate. 1
Kalians are invariably used among the rich. The great
man brings his own, and his own pipe-bearer. The
kalian is a water pipe, and whatever its form the
principle is the same, the smoke being conducted to
the bottom of a liberal supply of water, to be sucked up
in bubbles through it with a gurgling noise, as in the
Indian " hubble-bubble." This water-holder is decanter-
shaped, of plain or cut glass, with a wide mouth ; the
fire-holder, as in the case of the Governor's pipe, is often
a work of high art, in thin gold, chased, engraved,
decorated with rcpoussd work, or incrusted with tur-
quoises, or ornamented with rich enamel, very costly,
40 or even 50 being paid by rich men for the decora-
tion of a single pipe-head. Between this and the water-
holder is a wooden tube about fourteen inches long, from
one end of which an inner tube passes to the bottom of
the water. A hole in the side of the tube admits the
flexible smoking tube, more used in Turkey than in
Persia, or the wooden stem, about eighteen inches long.
The fire-holder is lined with clay and plaster of Paris.
Besides these there is the wind -guard, to prevent the
fire from falling or becoming too hot, usually of silver,
with dependent silver chains, and four or six silver or
gold chains terminating in flat balls hang from the fire-

The kalian is one of the greatest institutions of
Persia. No man stirs without it, and as its decoration
gives an idea of a man's social position, immense sums
are lavished upon it, and the pipe-bearer is a most
important person. The lighting is troublesome, and

1 The reader curious as to this and other customs of modern Persia
should read Dr. Wills's book, The Land of the Lion and the Sun.


after all there seems " much ado about nothing," for a
few whiffs exhaust its capacities.

The tobacco, called tumbaku, which is smoked in
kalians is exceptionally poisonous. It cannot be used
the first year, and improves with age, being preserved
in bags sewn up in raw hide. Unless it is moistened it
produces alarming vertigo. When the kalian is required,
about three-quarters of an ounce is moistened, squeezed
like a sponge, and packed in the fire-holder, and morsels
of live charcoal, if possible made from the root of the
vine, are laid upon it and blown into a strong flame.
The pipe-bearer takes two or three draws, and with an
obeisance hands it with much solemnity to his master.
Abdul Rahim smokes three or four pipes every evening,
and coffee served with the last is the signal for his

A guest, if he does not bring his own pipe and pipe-
bearer, has a kalian offered to him, but if the host be
of higher rank any one but an ignoramus refuses it till
he has smoked first. If under such circumstances a
guest incautiously accepts it, he is invariably mortified by
seeing it sent into the ante-room to be cleaned and refilled
before his superior will smoke. If it be proper for him to
take it, he offers it in order of rank to all present, but
takes good care that none accept it till he has enjoyed
it, after which the attendant passes it round according to
rank. In cases of only one kalian and several guests,
they smoke in order of position, but each one must pay
the compliment of suggesting that some one else should
smoke before himself. The etiquette of smoking is most
rigid. I heard of a case here in which a mollali, who
objected to smoke after a European, offered it to one
after he had smoked it himself so gross a piece of
impertinence that the other called the pipe -bearer,
saying, " You can break that pipe to pieces, and burn


the stick, I do not care to smoke it," upon which the
mollah, knowing that his violation of etiquette merited
this sharp rebuke, turned pale and replied, " You say
truly, I have eaten dirt."

The lower classes smoke a coarse Turkish tobacco, or
a Persian mild sort looking like whitish sawdust, which is
merely the pounded leaf, stalk, and stem. The pipe they
use and carry in their girdles has a small iron, brass, or
clay head, and a straight cherry-wood stick, with a very
wide bore and no mouthpiece, and it is not placed in
the teeth but is merely held between the lips. Smoking
seems a necessity rather than a luxury in Persia, and is
one of the great features of social life.

Kirmanshah is famous for its " rugs," as carpets are
called in this country. There are from twenty-five to
thirty kinds with their specific names. Aniline dyes
have gone far to ruin this manufacture, but their import
is now prohibited. A Persian would not look at the
carpets loosely woven and with long pile, which are
made for the European market, and are bought just now
from the weavers at 13s. the square yard. A carpet,
according to Persian notions, must be of fast colours,
fine pile, scarcely longer than Utrecht velvet, and ready
to last at least a century. A rug can scarcely be
said to have reached its prime or artistic mellowness of
tint till it has been " down " for ten years. The per-
manence of the dyes is tested by rubbing the rug with a
wet cloth, when the worthless colours at once come off.

Among the real, good old Persian carpets there are
very few patterns, though colouring and borders vary
considerably. A good carpet, if new, is always stiff;
the ends when doubled should meet evenly. There must
be no creases, or any signs on the wrong side of darning
or "fine-drawing" having been resorted to for taking
out creases, and there must be no blue in the white


cotton finish at the ends. Carpets with much white are
prized, as the white becomes primrose, a colour which
wears well. Our host has given me a rug of the oldest
Persian pattern, on a white ground, very thin and fine.
Large patterns and thick wool are comparatively cheap.
It is nearly impossible to say what carpets sell at, for if
one has been made by a family and poverty presses, it
may be sold much under value, or if it is a good one and
they can hold on they may force a carpet fancier to give
a very high price. From what Abdul Eahim says, the price
varies from 13s. to 50s. a square yard, the larger carpets,
about fourteen feet by eight feet, selling for 40. 1

Abdul Eahim took me to see carpet-weaving, a pro-
cess carried on in houses, hovels, and tents by women
and children. The " machinery " is portable and mar-
vellously simple, merely two upright beams fixed in the
floor, with a cross-beam near the top and bottom, round
which the stout cotton or woollen threads which are the
basis of the carpet are stretched. The wools are cut in
short lengths and are knotted round two threads, accord-
ing to the pattern, which, however elaborate, the weaver
usually carries in her head. After a few inches have been
woven in this simple way the right side is combed and the
superfluous length cut off with rough scissors. Nothing
can be more simple than the process or more beautiful
than the result. The vegetable dyes used are soft and
artistic, specially a madder red and the various shades of
indigo. A soft turquoise blue is much used, and an
" olive green," supposed to be saffron and indigo. The
dull, rich tints, even when new, are quite beautiful.
The women pursue this work chiefly in odds and ends of

1 A rug only eight feet by five feet was given me by a Persian in Tiliran,
which was valued for duty at Erzerum at 3 the square yard, with the
option of selling it to the Custom-house at that price, which implies that
its value is from 70s. to 80s. per yard. It has a very close pile, nearly as
short and fine as velvet


time, and in some cases make it much of a pastime.
Men being present they were very closely veiled, and
found great difficulty in holding on the chadars and
knotting the wool at the same time.

After taking tea in the pleasant upper room of the
carpet-weaver's house, we visited the large barracks and
parade ground. The appearance of the soldiers could
not possibly impress a stranger favourably. They looked
nothing better than ," dirty, slouching ragamuffins," slip-
shod, in tattered and cast-off clothes of all sorts, on the
verge of actual mendicancy, bits of rusty uniform appearing
here and there amongst their cotton rags. The quarters are
not bad. The rank and file get one and a half pounds of
bread daily and five rupees a month nominally, but their pay
is in arrears, and they eke it out by working at different
trades. These men had not been drilled for two months,
and were slovenly and unsoldierly to a degree, as men
must be who have no proper pay, rations, instruction,
clothing, or equipments.

The courtesy of the host leaves nothing unthought of.
In returning from a long stroll round the city a wet place
had to be crossed, and when we reached it there were
saddle-horses ready. On arriving at dusk in the bazar
several servants met us with lanterns. The lantern is an
important matter, as its size is supposed to indicate the
position of the wearer. The Persian lantern has a tin or
iron top and bottom, between which is a collapsible
wired cylinder of waxed muslin. The light from the
caudle burning inside is diffused and soft. Three feet
long and two feet wide is not an uncommon size. They
are carried close to the ground, illustrating " Thy Word
is a lamp unto my path," and none but the poor stir
out after dark without a lantern -bearer in front. Our
lanterns, as befits the Vakil's position, are very large.

There is something Biblical in the progress of Abdul


Eahim through the streets, always reminding me of
" greetings in the market-place/' and " doing alms to be
seen of men," not that I think our kind host sins in either
direction. "Peace be with you," say the people, bending
low. " To you be peace," replies the Agha.

A wish having been expressed to visit the rock-sculp-
tures of the Takt-i-Bostan, a winter picnic was quietly
arranged for the purpose. There was a great snowstorm on
the night we arrived, succeeded by intense frost and clear
blue skies, glorious Canadian winter weather. Outside
the wall an English landau, brought in pieces from Bagh-
dad, awaited us, with four Arab horses, two of them
ridden. There were eleven outriders and some led
horses, and a Turki pipe - bearer rode alongside the
carriage with two cylinders of leather containing kalians
in place of holsters, on one side, behind a leather water-
bottle, and on the other a brazier of lighted charcoal
hanging by chains much below the horse's body. Another
pipe-bearer lighted the kalian at intervals and handed it
into the carriage to his master. Some of the horsemen
carried rifles and wore cartridge-belts.

Reaching the Karasu river we got out into deep mud,
were ferried over in a muddy box hauling on a rope, and
drove to the Takt-i-Bostan, where several tanks of
clear water, a house built into the rock, a number of
Kurds on fine horses, the arched recesses in the rock
which contain the sculptures, and the magnificent range
of the Jabali-Besitun formed a very striking scene.

Sir H. Eawlinson considers these sculptures the finest
in Persia, and regards them as the work of Greek artists
The lower of the two bas-reliefs at the back of the main
recess is a colossal figure of a king on horseback, " the staff
of whose spear is as a weaver's beam." On the sides of the
recess, and, like the equestrian figure, in very high relief
and very much undercut, are scenes from the chase of a


most spirited description, representing a king and court
mounted on elephants, horses, and camels, hunting boars,
stags, and other animals, their enthusiasm in the pursuit
being successfully conveyed by the art of the sculptor.
In the spandrels of the archway of the main recess are
carved, winged female figures. In the smaller arch, also
containing a bas-relief, is a Pehlevi inscription. 1

There is a broad stone platform in front of the arch,
below which flows direct from the mountain a great
volume of water, which replenishes the tanks. The house,
which also contains a tank fed by the same living water,
the mountain and its treasures, the tanks, and some miles
of avenues of willows, have been bought by the Vakil,
and his son laughingly says that he hopes to live to see a
time when Cook will give " tourist excursion tickets " by
rail to the Takt-i-Bostan !

Coffee and kalians were served to the Kurds in the
arch, and mounting the horses we rode to a country house
belonging to our host in the midst of large rose gardens,
and with a wonderful view of the magnificent Besituu
range, of the rolling snowy hills on which Kirmanshah
and its plantations lay like a black splotch, and of this
noble plain, six miles long from north to south, and thirty
from east to west, its absolutely unbroken snow gleam-
ing like satin, and shadows lying upon it in pure blue.
Many servants and a large fire awaited us in that pleasant
bungalow, as well as coffee and sweetmeats, and we stayed
there till the sinking sun flushed all the surrounding hills
with pink, and the gray twilight came on.

I rode a splendid Arab, with a neck " clothed with

1 For the Sasanian inscriptions, vide Early Sasanian Inscriptions, by E.
Thomas. The great work published by the French Government, Voyage
en Perse, Paris, 1851, by Messieurs Flandin et Coste, contains elaborate
and finely-executed representations of these rock sculptures, which are
mostly of the time of the later Sasanian monarchs.



thunder," a horse to make one feel young again, with
his elastic stride and pride of bearing, but indeed I
" snatched a fearful joy," for the snow was extremely
slippery, and thirteen Arab horses in high condition
restrained to a foot's pace had belligerent views of their
own, tending to disconcert an unwary rider. We crossed
the Karasu by a deep and devious ford up to the girths,
and had an exhilarating six miles' ride by moonlight in
keen frost, the powdery snow crackling under the horses'
feet. It was too slippery to enter the town on horse-
back, but servants with lanterns awaited us at the gates
and roaring fires and dinner were ready here, after a
delightful expedition.

I dined alone with our host, Hadji, who understands and
speaks English fairly well, acting as interpreter. Abdul
Bahirn at once plunged into politics, and asked very many
intelligent questions about English politics and parties,
the condition and housing of our working classes, and
then about my own family and occupations. He is a
zealous Moslem, and the pious phrases which sit so oddly
on Hadji come very naturally from his lips. In reply to
a sketch of character which I gave him he said : " What
God does is good. He knows, we submit. He of whom
you speak laid up great treasure for another life. Whoso
loves and befriends the poor is acceptable to God. One
day we shall know all. God is good." He said he had
been too busy to learn English, but that he understands
a great deal, and added, with a roguish gleam lighting up
his whole face, and a very funny laugh, " And I hear

what M says." He has seen but very few English

ladies, and it shows great quickness of apprehension that
he should never fail in the respectfulness and quiet
courteous attentions which would be shown to a lady by
an English host.

Even after India, the quantity of servants employed in


such a household as this is very impressive. Besides
a number who are with the Vakil in Tihran, there are
the nazr or steward, who under the master is supreme,
cooks and their assistants, table servants, farashes, who
are sweepers and message-runners, in any number, pipe-
bearers, coffee and ice-makers, plate-cleaners, washermen,
lamp-cleaners, who are also lantern-bearers, a head groom,
with a groom for each horse under him, and a number
more, over forty in all, receiving, if paid at the usual
rate of wages in Kirmanshah, which is a cheap place,
from sixty krans a month down to twenty, the kran being
now about 8d. These wages do not represent the actual
gains of a servant, for he is entitled to perquisites, which
are chiefly in the form of commissions on things bought
and sold by his master, and which are regarded as legiti-
mate if they do not exceed 10 per cent. It is of no use
to fight again this " modakel," or to vex one's soul in any
way about it. Persians have to submit to it as well
as Europeans. Hadji has endeavoured to extract from
50 to 80 per cent on purchases made by him for me,
but this is thought an outrage.

This modakel applies to all bargains. If a charvadar
(no longer a katirgi) is hired, he has to pay one's servant
10 per cent on the contract price. If I sell a horse, my
servant holds out for a good price, and takes his 1 per
cent, and the same thing applies to a pair of shoes, or
a pound of tea, or a chicken, or a bottle of milk. The
system comes down from the highest quarters. The
price paid by the governor of a province to the Shah is
but the Shah's modakel, and when a governor farms the
taxes for 60,000 tumans and sells them for 80,000, the
difference is his modakel, and so it goes on through all
official transactions and appointments, and is a fruitful
source of grinding oppression, and of inefficiency in the
army and other departments. The servant, poor fellow,


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 9 of 29)