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Identification. The Qashqa'i are tribally organized, Turkic-speaking, nomadic pastoralists and agriculturists who live in southwestern Iran. They possess a strong sense of ethnic identity and are one of Iran's many national minorities. They are Shia Muslims, unlike most of Iran's other minorities, who are either Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, or Baha'is.

Location. The Qashqa'i are located in the Zagros Mountains, in the province of Fārs. Their territory extends from the Persian Gulf-coast littoral in the east to the Shīrāz-Eşfahān highway in the west, and from the Persian Gulf-coast littoral in the south to the Bakhtiyari border south of the city of Eşfahān in the north. Shīrāz, the major urban center of southwestern Iran, is located in the middle of Qashqa'i territory. Qashqa'i nomads migrate between their low-elevation winter pastures near the Gulf and their high-elevation summer pastures to the north or northeasta distance as great as 560 kilometersand en route they pass by Shīrāz and through settled agricultural zones. Their winter pastures are hot and dry in late spring, summer, and early autumn, and their summer pastures have a deep snow cover all winter, both features necessitating seasonal occupation and migration.

Demography. The Qashqa'i number approximately 500,000 people. Although the Iranian government has never taken a census of the Qashqa'i, their tribal leaders give quite accurate estimates of the people under their authority. Until the national land reforms of the 1960s, the vast majority of Qashqa'i were nomadic pastoralists, but, since then, many Qashqa'i have settled in villages, sometimes creating new ones, in and near the territory through which they had migrated as nomads. Qashqa'i people are also found in Shīrāz and Eşfahān and in the region's towns.

Linguistic Affiliation. The first language for the majority of Qashqa'i is Turkish, a southwestern Oghuz Turkic language. Qashqa'i Turkish is not a written language. The Qashqa'i tribal confederacy was formed over several centuries by diverse peoples, and, as a consequence, the first language of some Qashqa'iLuri, Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, Baluchi, or Rom (Gypsy)reflects this diversity. Almost all Qashqa'i men also speak Persian, the official language of Iran and the medium of communication with markets, government agents, and the surrounding dominant, Persian-speaking society. Since 1955, Qashqa'i schoolchildren have been taught to read and write in Persian. Most Qashqa'i nomad women know enough Persian to negotiate with itinerant peddlers and other outsiders, but the settled Qashqa'i women speak Persian more fluently than the nomad women.

History and Cultural Relations

The Qashqa'i trace their origins to the steppes of Central Asia, east of the Caspian Sea, and they state that their ancestors resided for a while in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Caspian and Black seas, before they came to Fārs Province. It is likely that the originating and ruling dynasty of the Qashqa'i tribal confederacy, the Janikhani family, did have such a history, but the majority of the Qashqa'i of the mid-twentieth century consisted of diverse peoplesTurks primarily, but also Lurs, Kurds, Arabs, Persians, Baluch, Gypsies, and otherswho joined together for the first time in southwestern Iran. No historical evidence exists of a Qashqa'i group anywhere outside of Fārs. The ruling family and the many components of the confederacy have origins in what are today Central Asia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and the vast Iranian territory. The Qashqa'i tribal confederacy was formed in the late eighteenth century during or just following the rule of Karim Khan Zand in Shīrāz. It grew in power under the Qajar dynasty in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and played a military and political role during World War I, when the British and Germans competed for influence in Iran. Reza Shah Pahlavi, ruler of Iran from 1925 to 1941, imprisoned and executed Qashqa'i leaders, forcibly stopped Qashqa'i migrations and ordered the nomads to settle, disarmed the tribespeople, and assigned military governors. When Reza Shah abdicated, Qashqa'i leaders resumed power and kept it until Reza Shah's son, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, exiled them from Iran to punish them for their opposition. They remained in exile until the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979, when they returned to Iran to resume rule. After an initially good relationship with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, they fell into disfavor with other members of the ruling clergy. The Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards arrested an important Qashqa'i leader, who, with others, had mounted an insurgency in 1980. Revolutionary Guards succeeded in stopping the insurgents and capturing the principal leaders in 1982. (See "Political Organization.") The Qashqa'i peoplethe vast majority of whom played no role in the insurgencyhave devised various ways to cope with and adapt to the new Islamic regime.


Qashqa'i nomads live in small tent encampments in both their winter and their summer pastures. Most of the Qashqa'i nomads who have settled in villages since the 1930s have chosen locations in or near their summer or winter pastures, and most have continued to practice pastoralism. In 1992 many Qashqa'i lived in small houses in one seasonal pasture for part of the year and migrated to the other seasonal pasture for the other part. Some Qashqa'i people also live in towns and cities in southwestern Iran.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The vast majority of Qashqa'i subsist on a mixed pastoral-agricultural economy. The nomads are more dependent on their sheep and goats, whereas the villagers place a greater reliance on agriculture. They sell surplus live animals once a year, usually in cities, and dairy products (fresh and clarified butter, dried curds) in villages and town markets. The animals provide meat for the Qashqa'i on ceremonial occasions and also whenever one is slaughtered because of injury or illness. The people consume diverse dairy products, primarily yogurt, sour milk, butter, cheese, and dried curds. The nomads rely heavily on their wide territories for meat from game animals and for gathered foods of many kinds. Their staple food is bread baked both from the wheat that they cultivate in winter and summer pastures and from wheat that they purchase. Women weave many items from the yarn they spin from the raw wool of their sheep and from the raw hair of their goatsincluding knotted pile carpets (for which the Qashqa'i have been internationally famous since the nineteenth century), various flat weaves, saddlebags, horse covers, and tent fabric. Most of these items are used in Qashqa'i tents or given as gifts within the group, but some are sold in villages and urban bazaars.

Division of Labor. Men, women, and children share the tasks of nomadic pastoralism and agriculture. Men and boys tend the sheep and goats, herd the camels, care for the pack animals (camels, mules, donkeys), pitch the tents, lead the seasonal migrations, cultivate the crops, trade in markets, and hunt. Women and children perform most of the chores connected with the home. Women care for children, cook, bake bread, weave, tend animals near the tent, collect water and fuel, and gather wild fruits and vegetables. Boys assist their fathers, and girls help their mothers. During the migration and in any kind of crisis, all of the people help with whatever work is necessary. Among the Qashqa'i who live in villages, men cultivate fields and negotiate economic affairs, and women and children are responsible for domestic tasks. For the nomads in particular, a fairly equitable social and economic relationship exists between men and women.

Land Tenure. Until the national land reforms of the 1960s, the Qashqa'i derived their rights to use pastures and agricultural land through membership in their tribal groups. Tribal leaders held control over territory and distributed land rights. In the 1960s, when the government nationalized Iran's pastures and confiscated much of the cultivable land, most Qashqa'i lost their customary rights. The shah's government had not yet adequately formulated a new system of land tenure for the pastoralists when the 1979 Revolution occurred. Despite much talk about land reform, the Islamic Republic has continued to avoid any systematic reorganization of land tenure. It does, for the moment, recognize the private rights of individual users of pastoral and agricultural land, especially if they can demonstrate and prove past occupancy and use of the land.


The Qashqa'i people follow notions of patrilineal descent in forming social categories and in defining personal rights. Each Qashqa'i person is a member of a named patrilineage and derives status and reputation from this group. Bilateral ties are also important, especially because of the high rates of lineage endogamy and intermarriage between lineages. Every person is bound by multiple ties to others of the local and wider sociopolitical groups to which he or she belongs.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Until the 1980s, men married in their late teens or early twenties, whereas women often married soon after puberty. In the 1980s, however, political and socioeconomic changesparticularly the impact of the Iran-Iraq War (when many Qashqa'i were killed or wounded), the expansion of formal education for both sexes, and the rise of job training and employment outside the camps and villageshave led to a rising marriage age for both sexes. The preferred form of marriage, in the past as well as in the early 1990s, has been between patrilateral relatives, especially patrilateral parallel cousins. Patrilineages are highly endogamous. When a Qashqa'i man marries, he brings his bride to live in his parents' household. After they have produced children and are prepared economically to form their own independent household, they set up a new tent or build a new house nearby and move out of the home of the husband's parents.

Domestic Unit. A son brings his bride to live in his natal household, and many domestic units consist, therefore, of three generations. The youngest son, the "son of the hearth," remains in the parental home and cares for his parents in their old age.

Inheritance. The Qashqa'i practice anticipatory inheritance, a system by which married children receive their portions of the parental wealth whenin the cases of sonsthey form independent households or whenin the case of daughtersthey marry and leave their natal homes. The youngest son shares with his parents the last portion of the parental wealth. The Qashqa'i do not observe Islamic inheritance rules.

Socialization. Qashqa'i boys and girls learn their roles from an early age, as they follow their elder brothers or sisters and their fathers or mothers in the many tasks that sustain the livelihood. Children perform tasks as soon as they are physically able to do so. Aunts and uncles on both the father's and the mother's side play important roles in caring for and instructing their nephews and nieces.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Qashqa'i nomads live in small tent encampments in winter and summer pastures; during the long seasonal migrations, they travel in larger groups for purposes of defense and security. Their social groups at the local level are based primarily on patrilineal ties, but ties of economics, social compatibility, and politics are also considered relevant. Qashqa'i villagers live in similar social groups, although larger, and they lose the flexibility and the seasonal social changes that the nomads appreciate.

Political Organization. The Qashqa'i confederacy consists of a ruling dynasty (the Janikhani [var. Shahliu] family), five large tribes (Amaleh, Darrehshuri, Kashkuli Bozorg, Farsi Madan, and Shesh Boluki), and some smaller tribes. Different tribally organized people in Fürs Province have allied with the confederacy and its component tribes during certain historical periods, and thus both confederacy and tribal forms of membership have varied. The leader of the confederacy is the ilkhani, or paramount khan, a member of the Janikhani family and a direct descendant of the first Qashqa'i ilkhani. He is assisted by the ilbegi, the deputy khan, also a Janikhani. Each Qashqa'i tribe except the Amaleh has its own ruling family of khans. The ilkhani appoints one khan from each tribe as kalantar, or leading khan; he is responsible for liaison with the ilkhani. The last functioning ilkhani, Khosrow Khan Janikhani, was captured and executed by the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, at the end of the insurgency that he had formed and led. All of the other members of the Janikhani family who could possibly succeed Khosrow Khan are either under house arrest in Iran or in involuntary exile abroad. Despite these restrictions, the Janikhanis and other Qashqa'i still animatedly discuss the possible successors, in case the political situation in Iran should change and they could return to Qashqa'i territory. Most of the khans of the component Qashqa'i tribes were still living in Qashqa'i territory in 1992, but the current regime restricts their political activities, and they are no longer the mediators and brokers they once were.

Each Qashqa'i tribe consists of many subtribes, each of which is headed by a kadkhoda, or headman. Until the late 1960s, these men were appointed by the khans of their tribes, who usually recognized the men whom the tribal people themselves desired as their headmen. Since the late 1960s, the government has recognized headmen by following the same practice. Headmen rely on and respect the advice and wishes of the "gray beards," the elders of the community. Throughout the 1980s, the Islamic Republic encouraged local Qashqa'i groups to form councils and to rely on them instead of relying on individual headmen, who, by 1992, had greatly diminished power and authority.

Social Control. The nomads regulate among themselves their relationships to others and may also seek assistance from elders, headmen, andsince the 1980sfrom councils, when necessary. The small groups in which the nomads live are formed on a voluntary basis and can easily be disbanded when problems arise. The elders, both men and women, exercise influence and some control over others, and men exercise some control over women. Until the 1980s, Qashqa'i people sought help from their tribal khans, but, since then, the regime has discouraged them from doing so.

Conflict. Traditionally, conflicts were regulated by representatives of a progressive order of authority: nuclear families, extended families, lineages, subtribes, tribes, and the confederacy. Since the late 1960s, government agentsthe rural police, the army, and various government agencieshave become involved when problems reach the higher levels.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Qashqa'i are Shia Muslims, members of the dominant religious group in Iran. Until the revolution of 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, few Qashqa'i expressed any interest in the formal institutions and learned practitioners of Shia Islam, but, since 1979, they have had to adjust to the presence and power of the new Islamic state and the many agents who are connected with Islamic and Islamic/state institutions. Before 1979, few Qashqa'i said daily prayers or fasted during the month of Ramadan, and few observed other Islamic rites or ceremonies except for the Feast of Sacrifice (Id-e Qorban). They considered themselves good Muslims, and they often compared the sincerity of their basic religious beliefs with those of the men who held power over themsuch as the ostentatiously pious merchants and moneylenders who, although praying and fasting as Muslims are required to do, also routinely violated Islamic law by engaging in usury and theft.

Religious Practitioners. Throughout their history, the Qashqa'i have had had no formal religious practitioners of their own. Most groups had one or two men who could recite Quranic passages at funerals and write marriage contracts. The nomads and villagers relied on itinerant dervishes and others (all non-Qashqa'i) who dispensed prayers and fulfilled vows. Their only contact with Muslim clerics was in the city, when they sought to have their marriage contracts certified. With the establishment of the Islamic Republic, a few young Qashqa'i men have entered theological schools, and most of them intend eventually to provide services to their own groups. The ritual specialists and the musicians and circumcisors who were once associated with each Qashqa'i tribe have been curtailed in their activities since 1979.

Ceremonies. Wedding celebrations are the ceremonial highlights of Qashqa'i life and are virtually the only occasions for large gatherings of Qashqa'i people. Usually three days long, they are festive affairs hosted by the groom's parents at their camp or village. On the third day, a delegation collects the bride from her parents' home. Since 1979, the ceremonial center of these ritesthe public dancing of men and women, the traditional music played on oboes and skin drums, and the stick-fighting game performed to musichas been declared immoral and anti-Islamic by the new regime. In the early 1990s some Qashqa'i groups took advantage of loosened restrictions and again invited oboe players to perform at their weddings. When a young married couple decides to form an independent household, they invite their closest kin and their group elders to participate in a small celebration to commemorate the event. Group elders oversee the transference of property from the husband's parents to the new household. The birth of a child, especially a son, is marked by a small celebration of close kin. The circumcision of young boys, usually around the age of 3 or 4, is also accompanied by a small celebration.

Arts. The Qashqa'i say that they receive aesthetic pleasure from their freedom of movement, the sight of the surrounding mountains and the vast expanse of uninhabited territory, the process of weaving and the beauty of their woven goods, and their music and storytelling. Two Qashqa'i artists, Bijan Kashkuli and his son, Siroos, are well known in Iran for the watercolor depictions of "traditional" Qashqa'i life, and several Qashqa'i men are beginning to experiment with writing and publishing the short stories that customarily had only oral expression. Because Qashqa'i Turkish is not a written language, they are forced to write in Persian.

Medicine. Until the 1980s, the Qashqa'i relied mainly on their own forms of medical treatment, a system based primarily on the plants and minerals that they collected in the vast territories through which they traveled. Certain individuals had special interests and abilities and were sought out for help, but every household had its own collection of curative substances. The nomads' intimate understanding of natural causes, derived from their reliance on nature, has given them confidence in their own treatments. With the expansion from the 1970s of what passes in Iran as "modern" medicine, Qashqa'i people have come to rely more heavily on urban doctors, hospitals, and pharmacists.

Death and Afterlife. When a person dies, close relatives wash and prepare the body for burial. Men carry the body, wrapped in cloth, to a graveyard or other secluded place. The body is placed in the grave so that it faces Mecca, and, after the grave is filled with dirt, someone in the group recites passages from the Quran. On the seventh and fortieth days after the death, family members gather at the tent or house of the deceased to mourn and to visit the grave site. Beginning in the 1980s, many Qashqa'i have added a ceremony at the nearest mosque, at which a clergyman recites from the Quran. The Qashqa'i believe in heaven as they have heard it described by villagers and urbanites.


Beck, Lois (1986). The Qashqa'i of Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Beck, Lois (1990). "Tribes and the State in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Iran." In Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East, edited by Philip Khoury and J. Kostiner. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Beck, Lois (1991). Nomad: A Year in the Life of a Qashqa'i Tribesman in Iran. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Cronin, Vincent (1957). The Last Migration. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.

Oberling, Pierre (1974). The Qashqa'i Nomads of Fars. The Hague: Mouton.