The Khamseh Nomads of Bavanat, Iran (بوانات)

The Khamseh nomads of northeastern Fars province, Iran.


Khamseh nomads of Bavanat; photographer unknown
Just over 200km northeast of Shiraz is an area made up mostly of a valley of walnut trees known as Bavanat county. Being between the Zagros Mountains to south and the rocky deserts to the north, Bavanat is pretty isolated. However there is a small village there known as Shah Hamzeh Bazm, or simply Bazm for short.

The Khamseh

Nomad near Bazm; photographer unknown
A few kilometers to the north of Bazm is stronghold of one of Iran’s nomadic confederations, the Khamseh. Meaning “five” in Arabic, the Khamseh consist of five nomadic tribes of Arabic, Qashqai (also written Qashghai, a Turkic language) and Persian-speaking peoples. Between April and October, the Khamseh make camp in the hills around Bazm where they herd their sheep and goats.

The story of how this hodgepodge of various linguistically different tribes got together is quite interesting. Around 1861–1862, when the Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah created the Khamseh Tribal Confederation to help him control the areas of Fars outside Shiraz. According to the Cambridge History of Iran, the Khamseh “was created by the Qavam family, merchants of Shiraz, in order to protect caravans and balance the power of the Qashghai” 1 Of the five tribes, one was made up mainly Arabs, three were Qashqai-speaking tribes – the Nafar, Baharlu, Inalu – and one tribe, the Basseri, were Persian speaking, the Basseri.

Out of the five, the most interesting tribe for me are the Basseri. Not only do they speak their own dialect of Persian (with many words not found in modern Farsi), but legend has it that are descendants of the Parsagadai, the largest Persian tribe of early Achaemenid Iran. It is also said that they fought alongside Ardeshir I, the founder of the Sasanian Empire in 224. I can’t confirm this, but it makes for a good story.

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