ETHNONYMS: Lor, Lori
The Lur are found mainly in three regions of Iran—Lorestān, Bakhtīarī, and Kohkīlūyeh, all of which are located along a northwest-southeast axis of the Zagros mountain range and its southern foothills. These mountains are 160 to 320 kilometers wide, and extend southeastward from Lake Van in Turkey to near Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, a distance of about 1,600 kilometers. The valleys within this mountain range have rich pastures that have been used by several nomadic pastoral societies, including the Lur.
Generally speaking, the Lur speak Luri, an Indo-Iranian dialect closely related to modern Persian (Farsi). Modern Luri is viewed as the continuation of an old dialect closely related to old Persian, or as a derivation from the Middle Persian that developed in pre-Islamic times. An alternative theory suggests that modern Luri developed from New Persian during the tenth century a.d.
There are three primary languages spoken by Lur today. Luri, a dialect of Farsi, is spoken by almost 90 percent of the inhabitants of Kohkīlūyeh. A Turkic language (which seems intrusive to the region) is spoken by the Qashqa'i pastoral nomads, who migrate annually into the area with their flocks of sheep. Farsi, the official language of government bureaucracies and non-Lur civil servants, is gaining in importance and popularity owing to compulsory education and government programs. Men, who, unlike women, have extensive contacts outside their communities, are often bilingual in Luri-Farsi and Turkic-Farsi.
History and Cultural Relations
The Lur may have migrated from Syria into the western Zagros Mountains some time after the Arab invasion of Iran in the seventh century a.d. Another theory suggests that the Lur were indigenous nomadic herders who inhabited the area since early times and spoke an Indo-Iranian language. Adherents of the latter theory believe that the Lur were the descendants of the Parsua, who inhabited what is now Lorestān and Bakhtīarī in 800 b.c. The Parsua established the Persian Empire (550-330 b.c.) and are thus considered among the indigenous Persians.
The traditional homeland of the Lur is the Zagros Mountains, but there are Lur communities scattered in many parts of Iran. The Lur are believed to constitute about half of the population of Īlām and the entire population of Lorestān, Bakhtīarī, Kohkīlūyeh, and Boyer Ahmadī. In addition, they occupy almost one half of Khūzestān, one third of Hamadān and Bushehr, and a significant portion of Fārs. There are also Lur communities elsewhere in Iran, and a significant population living in Iraq.
The traditional territory of the Lur was divided in the tenth century into what has become known as the Lorestān-e-Bozorg (the large Lorestān), which is now the Bakhtiari territory, and the Lorestān-e-Kuchak (the small Lorestān), which is now the governorship of Lorestān. Probably because of conflict between different tribes within the areas, each of the two Lorestāns was further subdivided into smaller political units. The Lorestān-e-Kuchak consists of two ecological and cultural zones: Pusht Kuh ("behind the mountain") and Peesh Kuh ("in front of the mountain"). Pusht Kuh is actually a transitional zone between Lorestān proper and central Kurdistan. The Bakhtiari of Lorestān-e-Bozorg were also split into two tribal blocs, Haft Lang and Char Lang. Kohkīlūyeh is an administrative district in southwest Iran covering an area of about 15,000 square kilometers. This region lies within the southwestern segments of the Zagros arc.
The inhabitants of Pusht Kuh include Kurds, Lur, and Arabs, who have strong cultural and linguistic affinities with the more dominant Kurdish populations to the north. This segment of the population numbers about 120,000 (Fazel 1984) and has a greater degree of religious diversity than the other Lur populations. The major religious groups here include the Shia Ithna Ashari (to which most Lur belong), Ali Allahi, the Sunnis, and Christian Assyrians. The population of the Lur of Peesh Kuh, or Lorestān proper, is estimated at 230,000 (Fazel 1984). The Peesh Kuh Lur are much more homogeneous than the Pusht Kuh Lur, and are very similar to the Bakhtiari, especially the Chahar Lang Bakhtiari. The Haft Lang Bakhtiari have more in common with Kohkīlūyeh Lur. The Lur of Bakhtīarī numbered approximately 680,000 in 1982 (Grimes 1988) and those of Kohkīlūyeh approximately 270,000 (Fazel 1984). The total population of Lur in Iran was estimated at about 3,000,000 in 1982 (Grimes 1988).
The reigns of Reza Shah (1925-1942) and Mohammad Reza Shah (1942-1979) brought drastic changes to the lives of the Lur and the other tribal groups in Iran. For the most part, the policies of both leaders included the elimination, pacification, or settlement of the tribes. During Reza Shah's reign, tribal leaders were executed, and migrations between summer and winter camps were banned. The resulting loss of 90 percent of the livestock inflicted extreme hardship on the tribes. The land reforms of the Pahlavi regime, intended in part to settle the tribes, created ecological disasters as impoverished nomads began a frantic conversion of steep mountain pastures into farmlands in order to qualify for individualized ownership of land. Similarly, the introduction of a national system of education undermined the normative foundation of the traditional socioeconomic systems; thus, literacy also brought alienation from the only life-style that was available.
The Revolution of 1978-1979 ended the Pahlavi regime and some of the problems it had created for the tribes. Postrevolutionary changes are proceeding in the context of the Islamization of society, enforced by strict guidelines from the central government. As a result, tribal religious leaders have been given a critical role in supervising and implementing Islamic guidelines in education, commerce, and aspects of social behavior. Lack of reliable information from Iran prevents an assessment of what effect these changes are having on the Lur and the other tribes of Iran.
The traditional subsistence activity of the Lur is pastoralism. As much as half of the Lur population may be engaged in nomadic herding of sheep and goats, although some experts believe the proportion of pastoralists is now much smaller. Like most nomads of the Zagros, Lur herders spend six to eight months with their flocks in the low-lying pasture lands, usually from October to April. In the dry season (May to September), the herders move to high mountain pastures. The longest migration takes about 25 days and covers a distance of about 240 kilometers. The more settled Lur emphasize agriculture over herding; wheat and barley are the major crops. They tend to live in permanent villages year-round, whereas the nomadic groups live in permanent buildings only in the winter. For the other eight months of the year, the nomads live in black goat-hair tents, which are made by women.
The Lur take their agricultural and pastoral products to markets, where they purchase goods manufactured elsewhere in the country. Itinerant traders and merchants have established long-standing commercial relations with the Lur, especially with the pastoralists. They extend credit to their trading partners during the fall and winter season and collect the debts in summer, when the surplus dairy products and animals born in the previous winter become available for the market. High interest rates, however, sometimes 100 percent semiannually, have greatly undermined the economic base of the nomadic household. Nearly 30 percent of the region's herds of sheep and goats are owned by urban-based merchants. Most households are burdened with perpetual indebtedness. Despite this systematic exploitation, the Lur nomads, along with other pastoral groups, continue to provide meat, dairy products, wool, and hides for the rest of the nation.
The Lur believe that their success as herders is determined by personal qualities and luck. It is only the wealthiest portion of the population, however, that is usually able to maintain or increase its wealth. The majority of the population requires economic support from the upper strata of society, which control larger herds, require labor for their herds, and can provide work and salaries for those of the lower strata. Lower-strata members have fewer animals, must work for others to make up for their lack of sufficient capital in animals, and are usually obliged to offer the labor of their sons to larger herd owners, so that control over their sons is also weakened. Lur claim that as equals they are free to opt out of dependent contractual relationships, but doing so means that they must find support from another source, which is usually not easy to do.
The most inclusive political unit of the Lur is the tribe, or il, which is composed of several genealogically distinct subtribes, each a federation of localized kinship groupings called an oulad. Oulad members trace descent through the male line, to an ancestor whose name has become the referent or label for the whole group. An oulad, in turn, is an aggregate of several migratory camp units or settled hamlets, the size of which varies from three to eight tent households. The tent household, composed of a husband and wife and their children, with a flock of sheep or goats, is the basic social and economic unit of the Lur.
Traditionally, each tribe is headed by a hereditary chief, or khan, who is recruited by a special oulad. Aided by an army of retainers, the khan ensures peace and security within his jurisdiction by maintaining a balance of power among the component subtribes, arbitrating potentially disruptive disputes that cannot be resolved at the local level, and representing the tribe in matters involving the state or the neighboring sedentary communities. The financial support of the khan's administrative apparatus is provided by an annual tax on grain and animals.
The religion of the Lur is based almost exclusively on the beliefs of the Shia sect of Islam. They have a very pragmatic belief system, with simple religious observances as compared to the highly esoteric Islam of the urban centers. Most religious practitioners are sadaat (sing., sayyid), who claim descent from the prophet Mohammed. Few sadaat are literate, and those who are rarely achieve high status within their community.
Shrines dedicated to holy men who were founders of various sadaat descent groups are scattered throughout the region. Because the shrines are believed to have curative powers, many people with physical and psychological ailments visit them seeking cures. Legal disputants also sometimes use the shrines to solemnize their testimonies.
The Lur system of values is based on the Islamic faith, but Lur values are also revealed by a rich body of folklore that glorifies the history of each group and describes the adventures of culture heroes. Personality characteristics that are considered important in these stories include honor, loyalty, generosity, and, most important, bravery in battle.
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Fazel, G. Reza (1984). "Lur." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, 446-451. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Fazel, G. Reza (1985). "Lurs of Iran." Cultural Survival Quarterly 9(1): 65-69.
Grimes, Barbara F. (1988). Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.