The Basseri community is one of the traditional ethnic groups in Iran who inhabits the Fars province. This tribe is illustrated as Persian and Arab and nomadic within a delineated territory. The Basseri community is one of the pastoral nomads who usually wander along the plains and hills near the Shiraz town. In the area where they migrate it is said to be best for agricultural activities as well as it is also the habitat of a wide variety of birds and animals to hunt. Actually, the place is referred to as the “land of nomadic tribes”. As stated above, the Basseri communities are pastoralist, (Ronald, 2006). Therefore, in this essay I will be analyzing how the pastoralist mode of life has impacted the social, political, and economic organization. To be more precise, I will be analyzing the economic, social and political organization of the Basseri community.
It is argued that the Basseri is a delineated group who can be defined not by ethnic or geographical but rather political criteria. The exact number of the population in this community is the recent time is not known as research has not been carried out to establish this. But in 1950s, they were estimated the entire community was estimated to be about 16,000. The vernacular language of the Basseri is Farsi, although a remarkable number of them do speak Arabic or Turkish
It is important to note that just like in any other pastoralist community, pastures are seen as being the most crucial part of the Basseri community. However, the pastures are not enough to support the large flocks of animals of the community. This explains why this community wanders along the plains efficiently and according to a set schedule. In most cases, there is no official division of labor when setting, ready to make a move, (Thomas, 2009). Although this community is on the move from one place to another throughout the year, it is argued that agriculture is the most crucial part of the community. The tribe has developed a way of life that enables them to maximize the use of seasonal pastures.
Arguably, the nature of the climate that is found in the area they inhabit dictates that they perform artificial irrigation so as to support their agricultural activities during the dry season. It has been observed that the most common economic activities that are carried by the community are domestic work, animal raring, and daily cycles of migration. In this community, the principle of division of labor is well appreciated as it makes work easier. Division of labor is usually applies as work is distributed according to sex as well as age although circumstances may sometimes dictates that work be allocated to one sex or age, (Ronald, 2006). The animals that are kept by this community includes; horses which are used for riding more especially by men, donkeys which are used for simple transportation especially by kids and women, camels which are used for heavy transportation during migration, and dogs for guarding their herds during the night.
Despite the fact that the community keeps a number of domestic animals, those of the greatest importance are the goats and sheep. Besides, the community also keeps poultry not for their eggs but specifically as source of meat. As mentioned above, the goats and sheep are highly valued by the Basseri more than any other animal specifically because of the milk, wool, meat and hides that they supply. It should be noted that in most cases, the animal products are consumed as soon as they are produced; although some may be preserved for future use, or as trade commodities. It is estimated that each and every household in the community owns about 120 goats and sheep and more than 8 donkeys.
To some extent, trading can be considered as being one of the economic activities of the Basseri community. It is true that the community cannot produce all they need for themselves as they wander from place to place. Therefore, exchanging what they have for what they do not have is inevitable. Mostly, they trade with villagers and other communities who they encounter with on their way as they move from one place to another. Some of the goods which they trade in include; cash crops such as the dates and cotton, and other animal products, (Ronald, 2006). Moreover, they sometimes undertake animal hiring business in that they hire out their animals for transport. In exchange, they get from the villagers such goods as cereals for instance, barley which is one of their stable food. Other which they trade in includes craftsmanship products such as tent fixtures and some other household items. It should also be noted that when drought persisted for a long period, the Basseri are forced to rent land from the villagers for grazing and water rights during migration period.
Socially, this community is organized into small groups. The basic unit of social organization among the Basseri is known as the “tent”. Notably, a tent is a unit that is occupied mainly by a nuclear family. The tents in turn form the camp groups. Moreover, each and every tent represents a production as well as a consumption unit headed by a male individual. The occupants of tents act as political units which have rights over property within the community units, (Ronald, 2006). The combination of units to form a small herding groups whose combination depends on usefulness rather than kinship principles, is a common feature among the Basseri community. In the winter periods, a group of 3-6 tents of herding units form up small camps that are about 3-4 kilometers apart. Most of the historians assert that in the real sense, these camps form up the principal communities of the Basseri nomadic society.
Among the Basseri, marriage is considered as being a very important social event that constitutes the entire household. It is a common thing that the authority to make marriage contracts lies on the hands of the head of the household or tent, (Khanam, 2008). Many a times, marriage takes between the ages of about seventeen and twenty for the female case but in males, it might happen at an older age. It is an obligation of the father to furnish his daughter with various items usually household items during the ceremony. To some extent, the father may also offer some animals such as goats and sheep to his son-in-law as an economic support to start his family.
The obligation of the mothers of the couple is mainly to prepare a new home for the couple by entwining a new tent where the couple will be living after the marriage. Although the authority to make marriage contracts is within the powers of the head of a tent, the contract is in most cases presided over by a nontribal ritual specialist, or holy man, (Ronald, 2006). This contract is concluded by the bride-payments for the girl on top of the domestic tools she is expected to bring to her in-laws. According to this community, the newly married couples have equal rights as far as decision making is concerned. The two individuals sit down together and discuss on family issues and how they should raise their family in order to fit in the community.
Beliefs and Values
The Basseri are one of the Shia Muslims who adheres to the teachings of the Islam religion. However, some of them are not very much aware of the beliefs of Muslims, ceremonies and customs. This is so because they tend to differ from other Muslim over the events and divisions of the Muslim year, although sometimes they are influenced by other villagers who they encounter while in movement from one region to another, (Khanam, 2008). It has also been noted that they are not strict in observing some Islamic customs even though they are aware of them. For instance, this community rarely celebrates Islamic feasts. In fact, even the most common feasts of Ramadan and Moharram are observed by not many Basseri. When it comes to rituals, they are usually associated with the life cycle of the people more than the Islamic teachings, that is, from birth to death
As stated earlier, although the distribution of authority is fairly equal, men are considered as the head of their families once they start their families. A female can only be considered to be the head of her family if only she is a window, (Khanam, 2008). Work is also distributed in terms of sex. Female and children undertake domestic chore while men take care of the animals and provide security for their families. It is as well, the work of men to provide water and wood for the family.
Sickness and Healing
It is very rare for a Basseri to fall sick majorly because of the kind food they eat. Because of the kind of life they live, these people mostly take natural plants and animal products which help to boost their immunity system. However, the community has medicine-men who are specialists in treating the sick. In most cases these specialists uses natural medicine which they obtain from natural herbs.
There are some remarkable changes that have been occurred among the Basseri community over time. This may be majorly due to the different people with different modes of cultures who they encounter in their migrations. Therefore, there are some things that they have copied from these communities and they have also influenced these communities in one way or another. For example, from the very beginning the community was known to be purely pastoralists who their needs were met from their animals, (Thomas, 2009). However, with time they have learnt to also plant some crops to supplement their diet and also as a source of food for their animals during the dry season. It is also argued that trading was never one of the economic activities among the Basseri people. They have only learnt this activity from other communities more especially the villagers who sometimes offer their pastures for the Basseri animals in exchange for animal products such as hides and milk.
Unlike most of the nomadic communities more especially in the East Africa who were independent and autonomous, the Basseri formed the Khamseh Tribal Confederation which was also a part of the elite urban merchants. With time, this community have come to be independent in one way or another because of the decisions which they make which are generally based on the circumstances and also the needs that they have as per that time and not according to the requirements of the confederation.
Arguably, there have been a lot of changes in the social structure of this community over time. It is important to note that inter-marriages in the community were never prohibited. As a result, a number of the Basseri community members have been assimilated by other communities majorly due to intermarriage, (Khanam, 2008). This has also led to the changing roles between the males and females. In the current times, it is normal for a woman to undertake what is considered as a man’s job and vice versa.
In this community, a centralized type of government is used in administration. A chief is the single leader of the Basseri who has supreme authority over the entire community, (Khanam, 2008). The functions of the chief includes; collection and storage of goods in the community, planning and directing how the community should take its production activities, and ensuring that the behavior of the people is as per the norms and beliefs of the community. The Basseri are grouped into smaller units called tribes or chiefdoms. The smaller groups are usually headed by a leader who is usually recognized by the chief. These tribes or chiefdoms forms the formal institutions that are used to unify the dispersed groups. According to this community, leadership depends on the lineage clans. This means that one becomes a leader if only his parents or clan comes from the leadership background.
The chief draws his powers from the headmen (Katkhoda) who he sometimes, gives precious goods as gifts. The headmen are very influential people than any ordinary man because they are privileged to deal directly with the chief, (Thomas, 2009). These headmen come from the various political units (Tents). As mentioned early, leadership among the Basseri is hereditary. This explains why the son of the Basseri is always considered to be a Basseri even if his mother may be from a different tribe. As such, there is some kind of stratification of the society according to the different levels of power and prestige.
In many nomadic communities, raiding is a very common phenomenon because they belief that all the animals belongs to them. However, among the Basseri community this is not the case. They prefer co-existing peacefully with their neighbors who they encounter as they wander from place to place. This explains why they prefer an arbitration mode of conflict resolution whenever there is a misunderstanding between either the community members or the community and another community. There are different modes of dealing with those who are found to have broken the code of behavior that is accepted in the community, (Khanam, 2008). This will include imposition of fines whereby the offender is supposed to pay a certain amount of agricultural products, and to the extreme one may be disowned by the community members, a decision which is made by the Chief who is the supreme authority in this community.
The Basseri community can be described from various viewpoints that are common in almost all the nomadic communities. For instance, almost all these communities have a similar form of political and social organization. However, due to the surrounding communities and the environment the community has come to change their life-styles in one way or another. This explains the various changes that have been observed in the Basseri community in the recent times.