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…