Basseri of Iran: Past and Present
February 24, 2013
When the Achamenian emperors of ancient Persia built their capital at Persepolis, in a valley of the Zagros, they did so with strategy in mind. Persepolis was placed in a common “bottleneck” in the annual migration routes of several tribes from the warm coastal plains to the cool summer pastures in the north. Twice a year, several whole confederations of tribes had to pass by Persepolis with all of their wealth in sheep, goats, and horses, and he who ruled Persepolis ruled what then was Persia. One of the tribes that still use this route today is the Basseri of Iran. (Coon, 1962) The Basseri of Iran was a nomadic pastoralist society from the beginning of their existence. The Basseri are located in southwest Iran and were housed in tents. Each tent housed a nuclear family and many tents made up a camp for the Basseri. An independent household occupied every tent in a camp. The tents were arranged in groups of smaller groups that usually would put all of their flocks of animals into one unit that was taken care of by one shepherd. A shepherd was usually a younger boy or girl from different tents that took care of the smaller camp’s flocks. Some families would hire a shepherd from other tents if they did not have the means to provide a qualified shepherd of their own. Nomadic pastoralists had no permanent settlements; instead, complete households shift location with the herd. House structures were highly moveable, such as a tent or yurt, a portable, felt-covered, wood lattice-framed dwelling structure used in the steppes of Central Asia among Kazakh and Kirghiz pastoralists. Pastoralists moved for a number of reasons other than following water and forage for their herds. Herders also moved to avoid neighboring peoples and government control, thus reducing disease, insects, and competition for resources, while abstaining from taxation and circumscription into military service. (Nowak & Laird, 2010) In the past, the Basseri of Iran were nomadic pastoralists, but the Basseri have started to come into a culture of a more advanced technological culture in today’s time. The Basseri have now become more advanced in their culture with the world we all live in today while respecting the culture they came from in decades past. The social organization of the Basseri is clearly simple, but effective as a organized system of leadership. The Basseri chief is the head of a very strongly centralized political system and has immense authority over all the members of the Basseri tribe. The chief, in his dealing with the headmen, draws on their power and influence but does not delegate any of his own power back to them. Some material goods – mostly gifts of some economic and prestige value, such as riding horses and weapons – flow from the chief to the headmen. A headman is in a politically convenient position: he can communicate much more freely with the chief than can ordinary tribesmen, and thus can bring up cases that are to his own advantage and, to some extent, block or delay the discussion of matters detrimental to his own interests. Nonetheless, the political power that a headman derives from the chief is very limited. (Johnson, 1996) The Basseri as noted are divided into camps of tents, which may or may not have a headman present in a particular camp. If a camp does not have a headman present, then that camp will usually have an informal leader who were recognized by the other headmen, but had no formal recognition by the Basseri chief. For this reason (not being formally recognized by the Basseri chief) the informal leaders still usually answered to an “official” headman in another camp which could bring things up before the chief if something needed to be addressed. The head of the household (or tent) would be the person responsible for bringing things up to an informal leader or a headman for...
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