Afsaneh and Enayat
Written and photographed by Nader Davoodi
December 28, 2001
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.