There are five tribal groups in South Persia with fine weaving cultures: the Afshar, Khamseh, Qashqa’i, Lors, and Bakhtiari. In 1900 there were about two million nomadic people in this area.
Most nomadic weaving, including bags, is done on a horizontal ground loom. This versatile loom can be used to weave cloth, many types of flat weaves, and piled pieces. Multiple techniques are often used to weave bags, especially the fine ones. Saddlebags are woven in one long strip on the loom. After it is taken off the loom, the two ends are folded inward and stitched along the sides to form the pouches.
The South Persian nomads are tribal pastoral nomads. Each family raises sheep and goats for their livelihood.Each tribe manages their resources including the lands. Every family in the tribe is given two pieces of land – one in the foothills and the other high in the mountains. There they live, raise their animals, and plant crops such as wheat and barley.
Twice a year they migrate with all their animals and household possessions between these two pieces of land, called pastures.The spring migration up to the mountains takes four to six weeks. Because there is less vegetation and water along the migration route, the fall migration down takes several months. The pastures are several hundred miles apart, but they must migrate – neither pasture can support year round grazing. During the migration steep mountain passes and rivers must be crossed. Bags are loaded with food and household goods and carried on pack animals.Large bags hold food and grain and small bags pipes or personal possessions. Most pack animals are mules and donkeys, but, depending on the group, camels, oxen, and horses are sometimes used.
In the pastures each family lives in a loosely woven black goat hair tent.For five months in the winter they live in the foothills, and then they migrate to the summer pastures high in the mountains to live for four months.When living in the pastures, bags are used to store food and household goods.
Bags are stacked on a pile of rocks in the back of the tent. Then the stack is covered with a colorful flatweave creating a storage unit in the back. The bedding materials used every night are piled on top. Small, often very colorful, bags are hung from the tent structures. Some hold food, like salt, sugar, or spices. Others hold special items, like spindles, tobacco pipes, or personal objects. The carpets, storage unit, and bags give color and beauty inside the black tent.
Bags not only have utilitarian uses but they also indicate status for both men and women. Fine weavings are one measure of a family’s wealth and are proudly displayed in the tent. A woman is judged by her weaving skills — a talented and accomplished weaver is admired and respected by both the men and women in her tribal group.Women own finely woven small bags called vanity bags that are used to store personal items such as money and jewelry. Often hung in the tent, they are also worn on a belt under their tunics.Bags can also indicate a man’s political status. Special bags are used by high ranking men to carry important tribal papers.
The dowry and wedding celebration are important nomadic traditions. Most of the items in the dowry are utilitarian weavings that would be used daily in the household. But there are some fine weavings to demonstrate the young woman’s weaving skill.
On the wedding day the dowry items are loaded onto pack animals for the bridal procession.
Bags are an indispensable part of nomadic life. They are used year round to store and transport personal possessions. Fine weavings are a part of a family’s wealth. They decorate the inside of the tent and express cultural identity. But in the final analysis, nomadic life is ruled by the seasons and the needs of the flocks leaving little time for creativity. So, for women, weaving may be her only opportunity for artistic expression.
Ann Nicholas and Richard Blumenthal May 6th 2006
Photos from: Kiani, M. 1999. Departing for the Anemone: Art in Gashgai Tribe. Kian nashr Publications, Shiraz. ISBN 964-91200-0-9.