African-Iranians…

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem,

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I have had an ongoing series of posts focusing on the traditional clothing/”hejab” of the many, varied ethnic and cultural groups within Iran along with the occasional post about other groups in the region (i.e. central asia, etc).

I have been meaning to do this post for awhile, but its been hard to get pictures/information to make this post worthwhile…unfortunately I still could not get much so I’ll just work with what I got.

I bet that most people dont know this…but Iran has a decent sized segment of its population which are actually of African origin.  They came to the region either through trade (fishing, pearling, spices), slavery or migration. They have been in Iran since time immortal and are  assimilated into which ever region of Iran they settled in, just like any other ethnic/cultural group within Iran, although some groups have retained some unique cultural traditions which differ from the “mainstream” society.

Now…they are an often neglected ethnic/cultural group within Iran with the majority reside in the southern provinces of Iran along the Gulf coast, Khoozestan and Sistan Va Baloochistan.  I say “neglected” because most Iranians in Northern and Central Iran really don’t know anything about them and many have never even SEEN an Iranian of African ancestory!!!  If a African-Iranians from say the Gulf coast has to go to Tehran or Esfahan they will often experience surprise and shock that they speak Farsi and are actually Iranian!  The northern Iranians reactions to these southern Iranians is a source of much humor within the southern Iranian community! To most Northern and Central Iranians they only connontations they have with the African-Iranian communities is of “Haji Firuz” and “bandari music”… (google it…you’ll see what I mean!)

Now, I admit that the FIRST time I saw an African-Iranian I was in Esfahan, in the popular with tourists area around “Chahar Bagh” , and I saw some young women who were obviously (daneshjoo/University students) waiting for a bus…perhaps to Esfahan University? And I noticed that one girl was of African backgtround. IO admit to standing there STARING for a good 5 minutes!!! She had on a manteau, chador and maghneh, a bookbag, everything…looking like the stereotypical Iranian daneshjoo…but…she was black!  I thought…OK, maybe shes African American or something and here to learn Farsi…but, I paid attention to her and no, shes was really from Iran from her mannerisms, look and accent. I was pretty surprised!!!   Then during my last time there we trekked down to Shiraz to see Persepolis and I suddenly saw a LOT of everything…Iranians who were Balooch…speaking Baloochi…Iranians from Southern Iran in their distinctive Burqa and African-Iranians. Really…it was quite an experience.  There was my husband and I, our son and 2 families we were friends with and we all stood out…for the first time…like sore thumbs!  We were sooo pale and just “different”. So obviously tourists from central or nothern Iran. It was a strange experience. LOL

Anyway, I digress…I share these experiences because I really want to convey how LITTLE is known about this ethnic group within Iran!!!

Unfortunately, I could not find any decent pictures of African-Iranians in any type of distinctive dress or hejab…this is because they have assimilated through the generations into which ever region of Iran they reside in!  Those in Khoozestan, Sistan va Baloochistan and along the Gulf Coast wear what the majority wear…be they overhead abayaat and jalabeeyat or rectangular chadors wrapped around themselves and a metallic, peaked burqa…to even…just a regular manteau, maghneh and chador!  This makes sense as they have been in Iran for hundreds to thousands of years!!

One unique difference I have noticed is that some communities have retained some  Pre-Islamic, perhaps originating in which ever part of Africa most came from traditions…such as the “Zar” ceremony which is similar to an exorcism where the religious leader has a similar role to a shaman.  There are other similar ceremonies which exist within their communities throughout the country.

Here is a really good link to information about the often neglected African-Iranian community within Iran…

Making the Burqa in Hormozagan province.

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asalaamu alaikum…

wow I’m surprised at the responses I got from my previous post on the dress of the Bandari peoples in Southern Iran. I thought noone really even read that series. Alhamdullah…

anyway, I found this neat pictorial showing how they make the traditional burqa (pron. bor-gha in Farsi) in Bandar Abbas (a city in Hormozagan province).

(Buying already made burqas and trimmings in the Bandar Abbas bazaar)

Starting from the beginning…

Dress of the Bandari peoples

As those of you who regularly read my blog know, since its inception Ive had an ongoing series detailing the traditional attires of the many different cultural groups in Iran and the Persian/Persianized groups in Central Asia. I do this series because there is so much misinformation out there, people just do not realize how ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse Iran is and about the different styles of cultural dress which is worn in the country.

This post will focus on the dress of the Iranian peoples of the southern coast line in Hormozagan province whom are known as “Bandari” (port people).

The province of Hormozagan is in the far south, along the Persian Gulf. It consists of a part of the mainland and several islands off of the coast…the largest of which is called Qeshm. As you can see, Hormozagan is closer to Oman, UAE, Bahran and Saudi Arabia than it is to Tehran or the Caspian sea!  The peoples of this province are known for being extremely ethnically and racially mixed! Most are a mix of Arab, African, Persian, Balooch, Baktiari, Indian, and probably more! This is due to the regions history as a center of trade since pre-history and there has always been a great deal of movement between areas since modern times! The culture of the province has a distinctive “Khaleeji” flavor which has more in common with traditional Omani, Eastern Provinces Saudi, Emirate and Bahraini culture than the rest of Iran! The peoples themselves speak an interesting dialect of Persian which is freely mixed with Arabic, Somali, Balooch, and Bakhtiari Persian! IN some areas a Khaleeji dialect of Arabic is the predominantly “home” language.

Both the traditional mens and womens attire is almost the same as what used to be considered traditional clothing in UAE, the EP of Saudi, and Oman! The womens dress styles do vary slightly depending on which part of Hormozagan province they are from. In some areas they wear a long gown with a printed rectangular chador thrown over the body like a large shawl, in others they wear someone similar to a shalwar kameeze but with skin-tight, heavily embroidered pants and a rectangular chador worn quite similarly to ho women in the Sudan wear their thobe (the outter sheet)! Traditionally the women wear niqab or “gatwiyyeh” and favor either the traditional mask-style niqabs, the more modern Gulf niqab or just a piece of cloth thrown over the face.  two summers ago when my family visited Shiraz to see Persepolis we all were quite fascinated with these women walking around in their traditional bandari attire! To say they stood out like colorful peacocks is an understatement and coming from Saudi we could instantly see the similarities between their attire and what we saw the elderly women on Tarut island and the villages around Saihat along the Gulf coast wearing.

On Qeshm island the women seem to favor the gold mask-style of niqab (burqa) which is similar to the styles worn around the Gulf traditionally. The women on Qeshm adopt the burqa at puberty is they come from a family where they are worn and their style tends to be the shalwar kameeze-like outfit with the snug pants and a rectangular chador wrapped over that.

(A Qeshm woman hand embroidering the traditional snug-fitting shalvar which the women wear)

The children wear similar outfits as the adults…but the girls dont wear a burqa or *generally* the rectangular chador. Just a semi-sheer scarf of some sort. Similar to the traditional little girls attire in the rest of the Gulf states.


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The women in other parts of Hormozagan province wear a very thick, heavily embroidered mask instead of the thinner, gold burqa. I’m not sure about the history of this style or how/why it developed or in which parts of the province this style is favored over the other one mentioned above. These women, atleast from what I saw in Shiraz tend to wear a long gown with a rectangular chador casually thrown over themselves as an extra topper, unlike the Qeshm where the rectangular chador is worn over the top and pants ensemble and worn just with the burqa, in place of an scarf.


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Yes what I call multi-tasking…(yes, in Iran, smoking nargileh is considered-traditionally, OK for women, it was historically seen as a female past-time…men did not openly smoke nargileh in public. Only recently-0since the revolution has it become kind of taboo for womenn to smoke nargileh and for it to become an openly male thing to do! But, in many villages around Iran, the older women will still congregate in the afternoons with tea, sweets and nargileh to pass the time!)

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The men in Hormozagan province wear attire which is almost identical to whats worn by men in UAE and Oman. either a thobe and a scarf (shmag) or a “vizaar” and shirt with a scarf.

In addition to the traditional burqa styles…some Bandari women have adopted the modern pan-Gulf/pan-Middle eastern niqab as travel and work between the Bandari region and the rest of the Gulf continues as it always has…