In my quest to learn as much as I could about the rug world, I came across this 1976 documentary of the Babadi, a branch of the Bakhtiari tribe in Iran. Narrated by Jaffar Qoli, Kalantar (chief) of the Babadi at that time, the film (not re-enacted) brings the viewer on an authentic nomadic migration from winter to summer pastures. Beginning in the plains of Khuzistan, the Babadi’s trail brings them through the Zagros mountains in Western Iran and over the summit of Sardoh Kuh before arriving in their seasonal home.
An introduction to the nomadic ways of a tribal people, the film sheds light on the importance of the migration to the health of the sheep and the strength of the tribe. Kalantar Jaffar talks about the political, technological, and cultural changes he has seen over the years and how these changes have affected his people. He speaks of how his people had been force to settle and how their flocks suffered, how when new government came into power they knocked down their housing, wove new tents, and continued to migrate; of poorly paved roads which can be taken around the mountains; of children going to school and later working in the oil fields, no longer concerned with the traditional ways; all of these changes which will affect the future stability of his people.
In preparation for this, and every migration, the Babadi make a supply run to the market town of Lali, where people who are too poor to migrate stay in the hot summer months. Every year the nomads bargain for and stock up on the supplies they will need for their migration, using their sheep as credit, and each year the merchants then run to the summer pastures to await the coming payment.
In Lali, while decorative bags (constructed of woven pile and flatwoven material) are filled with flour, Kalantar Jaffar looks to purchase a coat for one of his strongest men. A discussion takes place in the shop of a weaver, who is working the loom as they speak. The coat in question is then placed on a carpet covered table to bargain before a price is agreed on. All of the supplies purchased are then loaded onto the backs of their horses, tied with tent bands, and brought back to the camp where preparation begins.
While the woven arts are not the concentration of the film, handmade items can be seen everywhere throughout, as well as the processes of making them. Rolls of sticks laid parallel and tied together are seen used as fences for the flocks, easily assembled and dis-assembled, and loaded onto a mule. Stakes, driven into the ground for securing the tents are made of the branching portion of a branch. You see handwoven baskets and plaid blankets, all of these functional arts which while beautiful, also serve a purpose. The particular items which I was looking to study though were carpets, kilims, tent bands, and bags, the faces of which may be woven pile or colorful flatweaves.
Babadi women are seen throughout the journey hand-spinning wool, though never weaving a carpet. During one leg of the trip Jaffar visits with the leader of the Mowri tribe, where women are seen working a loom constructed of 3 large branches, tied together in an A shaped frame.
Most of the carpets seen in the documentary can be taken note of while Kalantar Jaffar visits with other tribes, always shown as a place to sit while conversing, and then covered for a meal. Many of these pieces are dyed with deep red and navy hues, though one example of a muted but colorful piece can be seen prior to the migration, with Ali Agha’s tribe. While visiting with the Mowri (a stationary mountain tribe) the group of men is seated on tribal carpets (in deep reds and blues) to eat and share tea. Behind the men piles of bags, also in these signature colors, can be observed.
Bagfaces, blankets, kilims, and tentbands of all kinds are seen by the multitudes as the tribe makes their way through the ‘pass of a thousand hazards’, though their importance are apparent throughout the entire film. Bags are used not only to carry belongings and supplies, but also as pillows. The closest detail of a bag face can be seen in this clip (not from original movie, has been voiced over) as Kalantar Jaffar brands the face of his sheep to distinguish them from his fellow traveler’s flocks.
Tent bands, by name claim their use of stabilizing a tent (as well as decorating it), but also are used to hold gear on the animals backs. Tied around horses or mules mouths and necks, they can be used as a harness & lead. A young girl is seen wrapping the band around her shoulders and waist to carry a full container of water on her back, and later swinging from the branch of a tree with the same band.
While I found the film in pursuit of furthering my education of the carpet and weaving world, I found it inspirational on so many levels. As a traveler, and child of the Western World, I have always had a strong interest in the processes and cycle of life from which I feel so far removed. My own deep respect for the natural world leaves me feeling extremely impressed at the tribes instinctive ability to navigate the land, with hundreds of people, all kinds of pack animals, thousands of sheep, dogs, chickens, all of their belongings…and no climbing gear. Seeing the organization it takes to cross rivers with no bridges, the persistence to climb rocky rugged terrain with cows, trudge through snow with no boots; to know how quickly or slowly to travel; to understand the weather and how it will affect you; to kill, butcher and eat an animal impresses me beyond description. All of these are things I would love to learn, to experience first hand as these natural practices and processes continue to be pushed further from modern life.
“Don’t you want to settle down, they ask us, stop that migration, live like peasants? I’d rather be here in the mountains, with my flocks…..What will become of the Babadi if we settle? What will become of our flocks? No, as long as we can we shall migrate…”
~ Jaffar Qoli, Kalantar
I wonder now, almost 40 years later, what has become of the Babadi. Through political changes and turmoil, do they continue to migrate today?
*this clip is the only one I could find from the original documentary on YouTube, and showcases the last leg of their journey. Many of the woven goods discussed here can be seen half way through this clip. The quality prevents you from seeing the true patterns or colors on said items, however if you are interested in watching, the film is available through Netflix.
Many of the rugs seen in this film have a feeling similar to the following pieces available from Rahmanan Antique & Decorative Rugs: