SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Tribal Life

This section illustrates some of the many activities of Bakhtiari tribal life. It is based on the photographs taken by Caroline Mawer when she lived, and then walked the spring migration, with one Bakhtiari family – the Faridgi. To give an historical perspective, the contemporary photographs are juxtaposed with much older images.

There is much continuity over the one hundred years the pictures span: the tents look very similar; women are still using drop spindles; and men are still carrying guns. The lion graves of Bakhtiari warrior-heroes are still standing, even if they are not being constructed anew.

A commentary from Nicholas Tromans explores the reasons for these similarities. It is suggested that the apparent timelessness may say more about the unchanging ‘point of view’ of the Westerners creating the images – than anything about a static ‘Oriental’ society

Some big changes in Bakhtiari tribal society are highlighted. Women, for example, now use contraception – look out for the lady sitting outside an early family planning clinic, and the lovely woman with her hair tied traditionally under her chin who flashed her contraceptive pills. Although goatskins  are still being used to collect water, and to make yoghurt drinks (doogh); they are no longer used for river crossings  – either strapped to animals or to make a buoyant raft. Salt and shoes now come from shops, rather than the indigenous manufacture shown in the older photos.

All the photographs in this section, unless otherwise labelled, were taken by Caroline Mawer.