Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When Tribal Men Talk about Women

The following is a translation of a wonderful article by Mas`ud Naseri about Bijan Bahadori Kashkuli, "The Wind Painter".(1) It was conducted on May 4, 2008.

Bijan Bahadori is a tribologist who depicts the life and the culture of his tribe, the Qashqais, in his paintings. He works in the Na├»ve School of painting, very much like Mokarrameh Ghanbari, the peasant woman from northern Iran. Bijan employs vivid colors, simple images, and mixed perspectives (direct angle as well as distant views). He uses contrast to create harmony and rhythm, an atmosphere full of energy, movement and life which is the secret of tribal life. As portrayed in Bahadori’s paintings, tribal life owes its energy and vibrancy to its women, and this is the secret of tribal life he tries to reveal by depicting them in his paintings. His paintings have been on exhibit in Iran, France, England, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

Bahadori was born in one of the black tents of the Qashqai tribe. He says he is seventy or even sixty years old, but his wife, Bibi Iran, jokes, “Sixty or seventy? He is ninety years old!”

Undoubtedly, he has sucked the milk off his mother’s breast perfumed with clove and rosemary and slept in a bed covered with salt flowers, sea shells and love rings dropped off snakes when copulating, with the lion’s nail hanging over his crib. He has dreamed of climbing his mother’s delicate silky head gear and has witnessed the life of “tribal women and men who are born on horseback, live on saddles and die while riding.”(2)

Very likely he has spent his childhood in the saddle of new brides riding hill and dale in a Gabbeh and Qashqai tribal klims that he recalls with joy and ecstasy:

I loved painting. There were no tools for it in my tribe, even a pencil. I designed over stone slabs with the sharp edges of pebbles. I would draw horses, goats and camels. My tribal elders showed my paintings to each other and would say, “See, they look very similar to horses and camels.” They would encourage me with their tribal simplicity. Later on, I drew over the blue and while papers wrapped around the Belgian sugar cones. There was no paint or pigment and I had to use the juice and essence of various herbs and plants. I would smash the grass and thought I would make green dye, but after drawing it would yield only a dull brownish color. Despite the lack of facilities, I loved painting. The head of our tribe, Elias Khan Kashkooli, was a cultured man. He liked me and tried to make a good painter out of me. He introduced my paintings to everyone. He even sent me to school so I could learn Persian. In fact, he revived me a and gave me a new life. He introduced me to Mohamad Bahman Beigui, who had a great impact in my life. Later I became an art teacher myself and taught painting and calligraphy to the tribe kids.

Then, he could paint the bluest of the blue sky of his tribe, and “listen to Qashqai music that was nourished from the modest and generous breast of Mother Nature.”(3) He traveled and became a companion to troubadours, storytellers, camel drivers and stevedores, and listened to the magical happy songs of Vasunaks, the sad melodies of Kakams, the exciting and energetic music of Koroghlus, the love songs of Sanan, the lamentations of Aghoriles, the heart-breaking songs of Guriely Khavar, and the epic lyrics of Jongnamehs. He translated them all into the colors and images to his tribal people on his return.

My paintings are narratives from tribal life: women and men and children, migration, hunting, stick games, erecting winter and summer tents, handkerchief dances, weaving klims and gabbehs, spinning wool, horseback riding, cooking food, rebellion, war, and peace among the tribes, nature, local animals, and rain prayer ceremonies in which a designated person with beard and moustache (often artificial) would lead the prayer and sing:
I’m the bride’s drum.
I’m the golden horn.
I bring the wind, I’ll bring the rain.
I do not want anything in return.
I want only some sweet.

The sweet he requests is wheat flour that people would give him willingly. They believe that God would listen to him and send them rain. But, more than anything else…

Love and loving is a different story. Whenever is on top of the mountain, next to the valley of Khosrow and Shirin, such as a ghazal, golden and silky, running under the light of sun or moon, the natives believe to be the Lady of Ladies, the daughter of the chief, with strings of rubies and safire and Kahroba, and delrob on run.

We do not know where and when Bijan Khan and Iran Banoo bound their heart together, but we know Iran Banoo was a rider of the Chariot of Wind.

We do not know whether or not Bijan Khan, when he met Iran Banoo riding on the back of Badjani(4) said in his heart: “You dark-skinned tribal girl, do not boast of your skin color, tell me what you have in your bosom? Is it clove and rosemary that takes away from you the sweat of sowing, weaving, knitting and milking?

But we know for sure that if Iran Banoo would have asked Bijan Khan, “You, young man, what do you have in your leather arms?” Bijan Khan would have answered without hesitation: “I have my paintings of our tribe.”

Not only are his paintings the images of Iran Bibi, but of all those women who have born Iran Bibis, those who themselves were born on the road, sometimes during the migrations and sometimes while fleeing from an enemy, the women who have ornamented the harsh tribal life with the colorful rainbow of their womanly love and wisdom.

I like wedding scenes. I remember my own wedding. I wore pants and a jacket. Iran Banoo had worn local dress. But I don’t know why I never painted our own wedding. In Qashqai’s weddings other tribes would get invited and the celebration would take a week to twenty days. The guests participate in the wedding by bringing lambs and rice as gifts (to help them out). They would play music, young men would dance with sticks and women with colorful kerchiefs and do kel (a joyous sound women make in weddings). Everybody would be happy. Men would shoot and exhibition riding and other sports. In all events, men and women would all be together and never separate, never. The bride would ride on a horse along with a little boy on the saddle as a sign of good omen and good luck. At nights they would set some stones around to make a fire. Every day they would feast, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with tea and yoghurt drinks in between. Of course there are some unfortunate times that wedding turns to mourning… I have painted them all not to get lost.

One of the memorable stories in Qashqaii tribe is the tale of Gureily: The bridegroom went to the mountain to hunt an animal to offer to his bride as a gift, in accordance with tribal custom. While he is setting his traps for his hunt, he is attacked by a tiger. He kills the tiger but at night, fearing an attack by other animals as well as the mountain cold weather, he hides himself inside the tiger’s coat/skin and sleeps there to return to his tribe the day after. At dawn his friends and relative, worried for him, go to the mountain looking for him. A strain of blood leads them a sleeping tiger. Thinking the tiger had killed him, they shoot the tiger. When they get closer, they scream loud enough to shake all the mountains. The bride with her colorful wedding dress climbs the mountain and when she finds out about her husband’s death, she cries and sings heart-rending hymns. A song is composed based on this story which is called Grielly or “Leily’s Crying”(5)

Bijan Khan did not paint this story but he draws plenty of wars, peaces, and quarrels between the tribes which have caused painful divisions or joyous marriages among the young lovers in the tribes.

“Iran, tell them that I hunted a tiger too.”

“Yes, it was in the Spring.”

“I think it was five or six years ago.”

“Five or six? It was thirty or forty years ago!”

Bijan Khan has no intention of getting old… In the cool shadow full of love and affection of the wise and capable women of the tribe there is no way to become old… He expresses his wishes childishly to his wife Iran Bibi and to us as:

“I wish I had a forty foot length of paper on which I could draw the life of our tribe and its beauties.”

Images, color, colorful paintings of life, tales of happiness and woe, struggle and patience, defeat and victory … Bijan’s paintings are filled with the colorful spring rain drops in the meadows and the plains of Fars and the blissful hands of the women that have places these drops one by one in his loom.

If one looks carefully at the tribe’s women, one can find Jahaneh Bibi Kashkooli, who has been an innovating designer and the colorist of the tribal carpets and an innovating expert in agriculture and animal husbandry.

Khadijeh Bibi Kashkooli was the famous wife of the chief of the tribe who was, like her husband, a brilliant fighter. According to an anecdote, Reza Shah had said we have to give this women an honorary army medal … One of the tribes’ popular tales says of her that after her husband was killed by one of the Reza Shah’s men, when she received her husband’s body, she sent a message to the Shah saying, “ Oh kind and just King, I received your honorary military award.”

Bijan Khan still talks about the tribal women and paints them, although he knows that today’s tribal life does not have the color and sound of the past. But he continues painting lest nothing is lost and he sing the song:

Oh, the tall mountain, may I sacrifice my life to your soil and rocks,
Give me a signal until like an eagle,
I fly to your arms
To reach to your peaks,
And gaze on my tribe from your heights.
Where is that massive Qashqai tribe?


(1)“Wind Painter” was the title exhibits of the painter in 2005, in Netherland.

(2) Ashayer Iran, Nasrolah Kasra’ian and Ziba Arshi, Mo’alef publication, 1373.

(3)If there were no Ghareh ghach, Bahman Beigui, Novid Shiraz publication. 1381


(5)kouch ba Eshgh-e Shaghayegh, Manouchehr Kiani, Kian Nashr-e Shiraz Publisher, 1377

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