Afsaneh and Enayat

Afsaneh, a Qashqaie girl, lives near Bahman Dam in the plains of Fars together with her mother. In less than four months, Afsaneh will be eighteen. She is getting married as all Qashqaie girls hope to between the ages of fourteen and twenty. In later years chances of marriage become less and less, as fewer and fewer suitors come calling. Photos here

Afsaneh is wearing her beautiful tribal dress and is going to the banks of the river. Although she is wearing a scarf, her brown hair can be seen from underneath. She is distinguished from other Qashqaie girls because of her green eyes, elongated nose, and erect body. When she walks on the slopes of Fars plains, she looks like an inseparable part of nature.

Enayat is a boy from Galeh-zani clan of the Qashqaie, well-known for their bravery. He is very fond of Afsaneh, but cannot indulge in expressing his love for her because of traditional tribal considerations. His brother Sayyad is in prison in the United Arab Emirates for having smuggled narcotics. He has served three years of his seven-year sentence. Enayat must take care of Sayyad's family until he gets out of prison.

When he finishes his daily chores, Enayat goes to Bahman Dam under the pretext of dipping in water, but in fact he wants to watch Afsaneh and admire her from a distance. If Afsaneh leaves home and goes to the river to wash pots and dishes or to graze the cattle, there will be an opportunity for a secret conversation.

Some Qashqaie boys are bolder than that. They tell girls that they will be behind their tent at night. If the girl replies “by doing so you will set foot on my eyes”, it means they are preparing for love and eventual union. If the girl's father or brother learn of this, the young lovers will be severely punished.

Of course, tribal traditions become less severe from one generation to another. Young men question the supremacy of the chief as well as ancient traditions. Those who are brave enough to rise up against the accepted traditions of the tribe are not immune to changes. Forced migrations, settlement of tribes and marriages with non-Qashqaies have affected tribal traditions.

Secret relations are kept short. The young lovers exercise extreme caution until, at the appropriate time, the boy goes to the girl's house to ask her hand in marriage. If the bride's father agrees, then a period of courtship starts, which may sometimes last up to three years. During this period, the groom is not allowed to see the bride or establish any contact with her. He merely should work hard to earn money for the wedding expenses and their future common life.

When he seeks the girl's hand in marriage, the bridegroom must pay baashlogh or shirbahaa, which is the sum of money the bride's father receives to give her daughter away in marriage. In urban areas, this amount of money is usually spent on home furnishings so that the bride would not go empty-handed to her husband's home.

These days the baashlogh varies from 20 to 30 million rials ($4,000 to $6,000). An old man who guards a Sassanid palace in Sarvestan tells us that the amount of shirbahaa is much less than this figure, and that it can be as low as $600. When it is time to pay shirbahaa — a few days after the marriage proposal — the groom bargains with the bride's father about the amount.

During this ceremony, someone acting on behalf of the groom, and another acting on behalf of the bride, discuss the amount and arrive at the figure which is mutually acceptable. Of course, the suitor's financial standing too affects the amount.

A Qashqaie wedding reception lasts more than 24 hours. On the eve of festivities, the bridal couple take part in hanaa bandaan — to be decorated with henna. The following day a group of four musicians will play continuously during the wedding. After a few hours, they will rest and give their place to reserves. The sound of music will not stop except during lunchtime. (During the war with Iraq — 1980-88 — Qashqaies omitted music from their ceremonies, out of respect for war martyrs.)

As they rest, tired musicians drink tea and smoke opium to reinforce themselves and play better in the following hours. Smoking opium is not a strange act among Qashqaie tribes. Almost all, young and old, do so. Smoking opium is done by various means. It is sometimes as easy as smoking cigarettes when smoked in sikh o sang (skewer and stone) form.

When men start Tarkeh andaazi a special music is played for them. Tarkeh andaazi is a ceremonial sport, played by two men holding wooden sticks that are used to hit the opponents' legs. Men are divided into two groups. One attacks and the other defends. The attackers hold smaller sticks cut from branches, and the defenders hold longer sticks.There is no actual winner or loser. But, landing more blows does bring cheers.

Women watch from inside the tents and whenever an attacker hits the opponent's leg, they shout in praise. Meanwhile girls keep an eye out for potential husbands. Displays of strength and courage during tarkeh andaazi would be a strong attraction. If tarkeh andaazi heats up, blows can crush an opponent's leg. Jahanbakhsh recounts that his legs have been broken on two occasions. (He is a young modernist who makes fun of the khan's supremacy and talks about new customs.)

Then comes the dance. Older women, followed by younger ones and girls, form a circle that can include up to 400 persons. Every woman and girl holds a handkerchief in her hand, matching the color of their multicolored dress. While the women are dancing, handkerchiefs move in the air, creating a magnificent spectacle. This is an opportunity for young Qashqaie men to choose their future wives, and girls to win the attention of future husbands.

Qashqaie men are strict about how women should dress. They do not allow strangers to approach or photograph them. Still, the Islamic Republic is not too happy about the manner Qashqaie women appear in public and has advised them to wear the chador over their multicolored dresses when they enter towns and cities.

When guests enter the wedding reception, the host goes to welcome them and fires shots in the air with World War II vintage Borneo rifles. Qashqaie men are famous for shooting and horseback riding, although they do not engage in these sports very much these days. The tribes have been largely disarmed by the central government and therefore they do not take their guns out except on special occasions, or they will risk punishment.

Borneo bullets are expensive too ($2 at current exchange rate). Russian Klashnikov bullets are much cheaper (30 cents). Yet tribes prefer to welcome their guests by firing off their Borneo guns perhaps because they bring back memories of a more independent past, when the central government was not as strong and tribes controlled their own territories.

Three or four days before the wedding reception, young men collect logs and girls bake bread. Lunch usually consists of meat and rice, cooked in large pots near the tents at the riverbanks. During the reception, a sheep is also slaughtered in honor of the bride and groom, in a ceremony called paay andaazi.

After lunch, the elderly bring the bride to the place of the festivities. In the evening, 24 hours after the wedding begins, the bride enters. She is taken to a tent topped by a flag with a bright color and a sugar cane. The flag distinguishes the bride and groom's tent from others. Each guest pays a sum of money to the groom as a gift. The amount collected is enough to cover the wedding expenses and helps the young couple start their new life.

When ceremonies end and guests depart, the groom takes the bride to hejleh (bridal chamber). The groom's mother and sisters wait at the entrance until they are given a handkerchief smeared with blood — proof that the bride is no longer a virgin and the marriage has been consummated. Photos here


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