Review by Peter Poullada

The Nomadic Peoples of Iran, edited by Richard Tapper and Jon Thompson, photos by Nasrollah Kasraian. Publisher: Azimuth Editions, London, 2002. 324 pages.

For those of us with an abiding passion for tribal nomadic textiles and the study of their history, ethnography and socio-economic background, this handsome coffee-table book by Tapper and Thompson is the ultimate Christmas gift. It is a labor of love that has consumed years of effort on the part of its editors, (see the introduction by Jon Thompson), but it was certainly worthwhile for it combines sumptuous display with scholarly content. It is literally packed with hundreds of photos by the distinguished Iranian photographer Nasrollah Kasraian as well as a definitive compilation of essays on the tribal peoples of Iran by a dozen of the top anthropologists who have conducted actual field work among the nomads. Thus the volume is happy conjunction of entertainment, enlightening photographs and scholarly text. All of it is pulled together in his usual sober and well-grounded manner by Richard Tapper, an anthropologist-historian from SOAS ( School of Oriental and African Studies-Univ of London) who has been one of the most cogent researchers and teachers on the subject of tribal nomads of the Middle East since the days of his early publications on the Shahsevan in the late 1960's.

The book is divided into a Introduction by Tapper, in which he summarizes much of what he has distilled from his three decades of writings on the tribal nomads, plus 16 chapters on specific tribal groups: Bakhtiyari, Luri -Buzurg, Boyer Ahmadi, Kurds of Azarbayjan, Kurds of Khurasan, Torkashvand, Qashqa'i, Afshars of Kerman, Shahsevan of Mughan, Turkmen of Gurgan, Talesh , Baluch of Sistan, and others. At the end there are three appendices including an excellent summary of the first ever complete population census of the tribes and nomads ( " il va Tayefeh ") by the Iranian government in 1987. The bibliography is probably the best and most complete on the subject of the tribes of Iran that I have ever seen.

Finally, and in some ways the second most important contribution to our knowledge ( after the stunning photos which detail every aspect of the life of the tribalnomads) , the front and back covers of the book present two maps of Iran, giving detailed information about the location of the tribal groups. Especially impressive to me is the frontspiece which, intricately and accurately marking the migration routes of each one of the tribes , showing both winter and summer pastures and their routes between them. Having attempted to produce a similar map for just the Bakhtiyari some twenty five years ago in my student days, I can honestly admire the effort and care that must have gone into creating such a record of human geography.

My critical comments for such a magnificent volume are muted and minor. I would have liked to see a good glossary for the hundreds of terms, both technical and in Persian and Turkish that are sprinkled through the texts. To be fair the authors have generally been considerate and offer many on the spot translations. Secondly, and for obvious reasons, some of the chapters are less scholarly than others, lacking full references and demonstrating limited appreciation of the historical record. However this may just be an historian's bias. Most are certainly within the scope and tone set by Tapper in his excellent Introduction and chapter on the Shahsevan. Thirdly, for a volume so complete with photos of textiles seen in their utilitarian context there is surprisingly little commentary on this cornerstone of " women's work ". Thompson, of course, in his chapters on the Yomuds and Seistan Baluch does bring up the subject of weavings. But in general the significance of the weavers' contributions to nomadic pastoral economy, traditions, ceremonies and and culture is slighted. Thompson does mention one fascinating and little appreciated fact which is that many of the Yomud and Tekke weavings that entered the European markets through the merchants of Baku actually derived from the tribute payments and punitive confiscations of property enforced by the Russians on the Turkmen after their defeats in 1873 at Khiva and 1881at Merv.

To close I cannot say enough about the photos, over 350 of them. They must be seen to be believed. They are the raison d'etre for this volume, all but 21 from Kasraian. There are simply too many outstanding shots to pick favorites. The photos alone recommed this book to all with an interest in nomadic tribal cultures as well as those who love textiles.