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Qashqai Wedding

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

IRAN | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [456] | Scholarship Entry

A russet-haired, gamine child takes me by the hand, eagerly leading me to the women's tent. She grins mischievously at my bewildered expression at being plucked from my leisurely walk down a village street outside Shiraz, her aquamarine eyes glittering with a sense of occasion. At the foot of the undulating Zagros mountains of Iran, I find myself an impromptu guest of honour at a Qashqai tribal wedding. As I sit down on the floor of the open-plan shelter laid with a woven carpet of rich blues and ochres in geometric faunal patterns, a woman offers me sweets and tea, her face a beacon of welcome. I gaze inquisitively through the arch of bulbous pompoms festooned around the entranceway, to absorb the scene before me.

A group of Qashqai women are gathered in a circle, engaged in a rhythmic ceremonial dance. I'm dazzled by the brilliant hues of their sparkling embroidered dresses - violet, jade, scarlet, cobalt, saffron - all the more resplendent in the sunshine beaming down upon the barren earth. The dancers' skirts are voluminous, with many layers of sequin-studded panels and petticoats that swish as they move. They all clasp a kerchief in each of their hands, dipping and swaying their arms, making the little silk scarves flutter in unison. Nearby, one musician beats a hand-drum, and another plays the 'saz', an elongated horn, the shrill sounds of which stridently echo across the plain.

The Qashqai are a nomadic Turkic tribe who migrate between the Persian Gulf and the mountains outside the two magnificent shrines to Iranian culture, Shiraz and Esfahan. However, most have now settled permanently in cities, like Shiraz (the city of poets and nightingales) or Esfahan, the city lauded as 'Half the World' for its grandiose architecture. Yet the Qashqai still proudly hold firm to their own distinctive traditions.

As if in confirmation of this, suddenly a sprightly young Qashqai woman clad in a dress of burnished orange and a spangled lace veil billowing behind her, strides up to seat herself before me. She introduces herself as Aysuda, which she tells me lyrically means "moonlight reflecting off a lake at night" in the Qashqai tongue. She brandishes a hairbrush aloft, and with a smile, she proceeds to merrily comb and arrange my hair in the loose, brushed-forward style the Qashqai call 'zolf'. Once she is satisfied with her hairdressing handiwork, Aysuda declares "Beautiful!' in approval, and then guides me towards a commotion of people, beckoning for me to join them.

The wedding guests surround me, their acceptance of me evident in their expressions. The women fuss over me like a treasured daughter, adorning my head with an ornate magenta hat. All at once, the stark mountain-ringed valley is enlivened by a clamour of sounds: the women uttering exuberant ululations, the men boisterously firing rifles into the air, and different music starting, this time for a men's dance. I feel humbled and awestruck; long may the Qashqai culture survive!

Tags: #2011writing, esfahan, iran, qashqai, shiraz, travel writing scholarship 2011

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