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…

5 thoughts on “African-Iranians…

  1. Wow I would’ve never guessed that Africans had been in Iran that long or at all. Thanks as always for sharing. Aside from having one friend married to a man from Iran, you’re the only source of information I have on this country and its people so I appreciate all the cultural entries you make on your blog as well. I will check out that link!

    • wa salaam…YUP! People tend to think Iran is just this homogeneous society or something when its far, far from it…its as ethnically, culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse as China is! Unfortunately Iranians themselves tend to be the most ignorant on how diverse their own country is, as unless you watch the regional IRIB channels…the normal, national programming really gives little hint as to the life and peoples of those living outside of Tehran or Esfahan…like you never see a Iranian Arab, African-Iranian or Baloochi-Iranian presenting the evening news! Also another reason why this group is esp. ignored is that there is this huge pressure to be fair and “Persian”…so if your not “fair” or “Persian”…your just not “really” Iranian according to some)…even if your ancestors came to what is now, modern day Iran 2 thousand years ago! LOL. There is much discussion about this on Iranian Diaspora forums… ne way, its a huge topic and my intention isnt to start a debate, just to spread the knowledge..ofcourse this post probably will. LOL

      • Well I hope no one starts a debate. I really value the insight you share with those of us who haven’t seen the beauty and complexity of this country. It’s a shame these other groups, particularly African Iranians, are marginalized in Iran, but it’s not a surprise. There are so many countries/cultures where there is a tendency to prefer fairer skin to darker skin and marginalize anyone who doesn’t fit into that ideal standard.

  2. Excellent post!!I remember we had a long string about this pre-blog days! Personal story to share: My BIL, who is a v fair-skinned Persian, has always claimed to be black (btw his family can trace lineage all the way back). For obvious reasons, we all were like “yeah right” anyway when we visited them this summer topic came up about African Iranians: the current issues, and about how it was much easier “back then” for this minority group to become marja and access to broader economic opportunities, etc. etc….anyway he finally showed us pic of his great-grandfather and grandfather and we were stunned!!! There they were in regalia of the time: black Persians!!! Awesome.

    • wooow…thats sooo cool…mash’Allah!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

      ooohhh…long rant…LOL…I’m sure more Iranians are mixed than realize…all of these different ethnic groups have been mingling in the country now known as Iran for thousands of years…I’m sure more who claim pure Persian or Azeri or Arab blood are mixed than realize… What always disturbs me…and maybe youve noticed this, is how nationalistic it all is…like when we were in Saudi we went over to Iran before coming back to the USA and I wore my silk Bahraini overhead abaya everywhere because…it just rocks…and everyone told me how gorgeous it was…BUT….then they all said how Arab it looks and that people may think I’m Arab for wearing it! LOL…I was like…and I care because…??? It has hand holes, is comfortable, is gorgeous, i can shop in a teeshirt and jeans…and…your problem is…what??? Its like Niqab…you only really ever see “Persian” Iranians with niqab in Qom…but if you wear niqab in Esfahan or a small town around it, people think your an Arab tourist…because you only see Gulf tourists wearing it! Id never wear niqab in Iran…its just such an odd mindset. One can be Arab in a Persian chador or Persian in an Arab abaya or even be Iranian of African background…who knows…everyone is unique in their own way…i see that openness really lacking…

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