38. The Water Jug, Susa, Iran


One of my unforgettable memories was of scrambling up a tell ( small hillock) on the outskirts of Susa in Southwestern Iran, in search of an archaeological site left partially excavated since the 1950s. I had my trusty Leica camera with me but carried nothing else , all other possessions were in the hired car parked at a distance.

It was an extremely hot day, there were mirages floating in that hot, dry sand. I could see just the spire of the Tomb of Daniel in the horizon. The area was deserted except for some black tents dotted around tents near the foot of the hill.

Half way up I heard loud shouting, turned to see a wildly gesticulating woman approaching. I worried that I had unwittingly wandered into private land and came down to meet her and apologise. I was taken aback when she grinned and held out gleaming stainless dry steel jug with sparkling clean water as she had seen I carried nothing but my camera. The kindness of a stranger is priceless. After I had had a deep drink I offered her some money, she looked taken aback, vigorously shook her head to decline. Seizing me by my arm, she indicated by sign language that I should not go up the tell again as there were men with guns on the other side. I later learnt that there was a highly guarded military installation close by and she had indeed saved me from getting into the most serious trouble.

The woman gestured for me to come to meet the womenfolk in the tents. They were nomads of the Bakhtiari tribe. I was invited into one of their black tents, Siah Chador, which is waterproof and woven using the wool of their goats.

Here I saw all their utensils neatly arranged, woven blankets, embroidered pillows, camel saddle bags holding the few possessions they owned and gorgeous rugs on the floor. It was a simple, extremely clean mobile dwelling which could be wrapped up and ready to leave in minutes. I met the matriarch and other women and children including an adorable infant. The men and boys had obviously taken the goats and sheep to pastures as I saw no male member of the tribe except the 10- month old babe in arms!

I asked permission to take a group photo and showed them the picture. It attracted massive curiosity and utter delight especially as I enlarged each face on the picture viewer particularly of the baby.

I later learnt about Bakhtiari. The Bakhtiari are a southwestern Iranian tribe and a subgroup of the Lurs. A small percentage of Bakhtiari are still nomadic pastoralists, Bakhtiari nomads migrate twice a year with their herds for pasture.  The livestock the Bakhtiari mainly raise are goats, sheep, horses, and cattle. Nomadic Bakhtiari also rely on trading and bartering with nearby villages.

Much of Bakhtiari culture is based on their seasonal migration and the fact that their primary source of income is their livestock.


Original:  Oil on canvas ; 12 x 16″  (305 x 410mm) ; framed

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