The Basseri of Iran: a Pastoral Society

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The Basseri of Iran: A Pastoral Society
Kristin K. Lilienthal
ANT 101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Kimberly Long
October, 8 2012

The Basseri of Iran
The Basseri of Iran are tent dwelling and nomadic people. The Basseri live in the south of Iran, in the Fars Province. While the origin of the Basseri is unclear, it is believed that they are of Arab decent (Amanolahi, 2003). The Basseri have traditionally been pastoralist, herding both sheep and goats. This paper will explore the impact the pastoral mode of subsistence has on the kinship, social organization, political organization, gender relations, and the beliefs and values of the Basseri community. Mode of Subsistence

Pastoralists are nomadic people who travel to search for grass and water to feed their heard. Pastoralists usually change their locations with the seasons (Nowak & Laird, 2010, Sect. 5.2, Para. 1). Unlike other cultures, pastoralists depend on their live stock to meet most of their needs. The Basseri herd sheep and goats, through the southern region of Iran, they change the location of their camps between areas located southeast and northeast of Shiraz (the capital of Fars province) depending on the season (Amanolahi, 2003). According to Barth (1961) a successful Basseri would build up his heard into the hundreds or even thousands, and to keep from losing this accumulated wealth to disease they would sell or trade the animals to obtain other forms of wealth such as land in the local villages (Nowak and Laird, 2010, Sect. 5.2, Para. 18). Kinship Relationship

The Basseri follow a patrilinal line of decent, upon marriage a bride will leave her family and join her husband. Although a newlywed couple may live with the husband’s family for a short period of time, the Basseri set up their own tents as soon as possible. To stimulate an interest in caring for livestock, and to test his ability a father may give a small amount of animals to his young son. This practice will also allow his son to build up some capital before he marries. According to Barth, at marriage a son would receive a portion of his father’s herd; this amount would be equal to the amount he would receive as an inheritance. A young man may also receive a portion of the animals given to his father-in-law as a bride price. Gifts of cash and sheep are given to a bride’s father as a bride price. The bride’s father is expected to use a portion of the cash to provide his daughter with all the items necessary to set up a new tent with her husband. It is also expected that the bride’s father will pass on some of the sheep to his son-in-law (Barth, 1961). While in reality theses practices were not always adhered to, occasionally father-in-laws would keep the entire bride price and not provide the new family with the items they may needed, or some poorer fathers did not have a large enough herd to be able to pass animals on to his son. The entire system was set up to ensure the continuance of the pastoral mode of subsistence. Social Organization

The Basseri measure their numbers in tents. Each tent typically contains a nuclear family (mother, father, and children). Each tent is represented by a male head of the household, and the household head holds all the rights to moveable property, including the livestock. The tents are the main unit of both production and consumption in the Basseri community (Barth, 1961). In 1953 the Iranian government estimated that their 2500 Basseri families, however Barth argued that the numbers fluctuated between 2000 and 3000 families, or approximately 16000 people (Amanolahi, 2003). According to Amanolahi, it is difficult to get an exact count of the Basseri people today because many of them have settled in rural areas, or moved to the cities. However, in 1987 the number of nomadic Basseri left in the region was 1139 households or 7911 (Amanolahi, 2003). The Basseri camps usually number from 30 to 50 tents and move every three to four days...
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