The Basseri Tribe of Iran

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The Basseri Tribe of Iran
Crystal L. Brooks
ANT 101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Professor Jason Gonzalez
August 8, 2011

The Basseri Culture of Iran

The Basseri Culture of Iran’s primary mode of subsistence is Pastoralism. The Pastoral lifestyle affects the social, political and economic organization of the Basseri Culture. This lifestyle also dictates the religious convictions, and the social changes of the culture. According to Barbara Nowak and Peter Laird (2010), “Pastoralism is a subsistence strategy involved in herding animals such as sheep, goats, camels, alpaca, reindeer, and cattle.” (Introduction, Para 1).They also depend on these animals for their survival. In the Basseri Culture, they primarily herd sheep and goat. (Nowak & Laird, 2010) However, according to Carlton Coon, they also raise donkeys, horses, camels, and dogs. (Coon, 2009) The sheep are a special breed that can adapt to this nomadic lifestyle and unless you move them twice a year, 70 to 80% will die. (Coon, 2009). “Usually two to five households pasture their flocks together under the care of a single shepherd, and the herding unit so formed is the second largest unit in Basseri society. It is not based on kinship but on economic need and expediency.” (Coon, 2009, American Anthropologist, page 637). The most important products of the Basseri are milk, lambskins, and wool. The tribe weaves wool and goat hair, and makes their own tent poles, and packsaddles. (Coon, 2009). The Khan or chief, who exercises great power and authority, is known as the leader in the Basseri Culture. He rules with autocratic authority. (Salzman, 2000). This authority is focused in three areas:

1. Allocating pastures and coordinating tribal migrations; 2. Settling disputes; and
3. Acting as tribal representative to outsiders, including government. It was the chief’s job to see to it that each received pastures. One way a chief could exercise control is to allocate poor pastures to people who did not obey him. The chief was also responsible for coordinating when and where the tribe would migrate. (Salzman, 2000) Settling disputes was another function of the chief. His word was the final authority when problems arose within the tribes. “Basseri tribal unity was defined by a common allegiance to the chief.”(Salzman, 2000) There were instances where one was beat by another commoner at the command of the chief. (Salzman, 200). To his tribesmen, the chief was "he who must be obeyed." And in the view of the Basseri tribes- men, this was proper and desirable: "The tribe without its chief was compared to a flock without its shepherd and a car without its driver.” (Salzman, 2000, p. 52) However, it must be noted that all authority was by submission of the people. The chief did not have any military power under his control and at any moment, a family could leave and move on from the rule of the chief. If a family with a large herd decided to leave and others followed, this could prove costly. So it is understood that the chief’s authority really lied in his ability to keep the favor of the people. Otherwise, he would be a man out for a walk with no followers. The most important job of the chief was his ability to represent his tribe against outsiders, especially the government. (Salzman, 2000). “By so doing, the chief, enabled by ruling power within his own group and elite status among other regional and national elites, bridged the gap between the partly autonomous Basseri on the one hand, and the Persian government….”(Salzman, 2000, p. 51). The chief’s role in mediating relations with sedentary society is backed by a strong feeling of respect and dependence among the tribesmen. (Salzman, 200). This respect is also aligned with the strong Islamic roots of the Basseri Tribe. The Basseri’s Islamic Faith is deeply rooted in supernaturalism. According to Sekandar Amanolahi, (2007), the term “Supernaturalism refers to anything that is...
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