Before the West’s greed for cheap oil and its consequences – the carve up of Assyria by the French and British after WW I, the Balfour Declaration and the problems of Palestine, the Gulf Wars and the events of 9/11 – we had a much more romantic view of the Middle East. It was the land of Scheherazade’s “Tales of a 1,001 Nights” where every night a wife used her feminine imagination to take her husband on a magic carpet ride to prevent her execution (so the brutality has always existed).
These tales, produced during the Islamic Golden Age, are actually a collection of folk tales from Persia and South Asia, probably based on the Persian Pahlavi “Hazar Afsan” (A Thousand Tales). And the tribal women of Southern Persia still weave their magic in the form of hand woven carpets and saddle bags that are now recognised as works of art.
When I worked in Iran (Persia) my Iranian friends wanted me to buy carpets. But they insisted on sophisticated and elaborate silk Qum, Kashan and Tabriz carpets. I preferred the tribal rugs of the Qashq’ai whose vegetable died natural wools, and geometric designs glowed from the walls of the carpet stalls in the Bazaars.
The nomadic tribes of Southern Iran persist in leading their harsh traditional lives in spite of the efforts of The Shahs (and the Ayatollahs) to settle them in villages and carve up their rich grazing lands into farms for themselves and their cronies. Every Spring the tribes and their flocks trek from the winter grazing in the lowlands over the snow and ice-capped Zagros mountains to the rich summer grazing in the high valleys, and back down again in the Autumn – hopefully before the blizzards. Many suffer frostbite and some die, slipping away on the ice.
Beg, borrow or steal – or even rent or buy on DVD – Anthony Howarth’s amazing documentary PEOPLE OF THE WIND to see the incredible hardships these people endure to follow literally in the footsteps of their forefathers. And read the story TRIBAL WEAVING in my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” to see how tribal women, as a defence against the coarseness and constant upheaval of their lives, use their inherent feminine artistry to weave their magic carpets to traditional designs that keep alive their cultural heritage and their tribal myths.
Their lives may be hard and short, but they are lived with an intensity and passion that is missing in The West. TRIBAL WEAVING is a story of love.
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