View Full Version : George N curazon's ethnological description of the feyli tribes

08-20-2015, 09:27 PM
George N Curazon was a british statesman travelled throughout asia. As a member of royal geographic society and as a politician. He has written a number of ethnological works and geo strategic and political analysises. In particular his accounts of Persia, are important in reconstructing the ethnological and political landscape of the time.

His accounts on lurs are arguably some of the most extensive that I've read from western geographers, diplomats, visitors, adventurers and ethnographers. In practicular his writing concerning the habitat, living conditions and tribal leadership of the feyli lurs of pushti-i-kuh(modern day ilam) who are one of the most understudied groups to date.

For those who have an interest in ethnography, practicularly our Iranian members, will find this intriguing. His work writing is very detailed, colourful. It is heavier on the political developments and history, but also touches on the ethnological and societal aspects in the later passages.

It is a rather long excerpt, so I will post it in 3 installments.
There are many pictures in the book that I'd have liked to add. But unfortunately I could not procure them.

George N Curazon: Persia and the Persian question, volume 2, pages 408 to 417

We come to a region of superior interest, because of greater obscurity. This district consists of the mountain ranges, with their intervening valleys, that extend in arduous and almost im penetrable succession from the right bank of the Kerkhah to the Turkish frontier. It is a remote and inaccessible country; and it is not surprising, therefore, to find that the tribes are entirely nomadic in character, and that their chieftain occupies a position almost independent of the central Government, a position, indeed, that still leaves some flavour of distinction to the title which he continues to bear, of Vali of Pusht-i-Kuh. Of the Feili Lurs whom he rules, I have only received lists so misspelt and inaccurate, that I am unwilling to publish them ; the more so as I am unable in any but the most fragmentary degree to reconcile them with the now obsolete lists of Rawlinson and Layard. The history, however, and the pedigree that I shall give of the ruling family have been derived from the Persian Governor of the adjoining province, and are correct.

In the old days Pish-Kuh and Pusht-i-Kuh ? and a considerable surrounding territory in addition, were united under the rule of the aforementioned Atabegs of Luristan. The only detailed account of their dynasty, known as the Khurshidi dynasty, 2 is contained in the Sheref Nameh. They ruled from 1155 A.D. till the beginning of the seventeenth century ; and their dominion was counted by Marco Polo as one of the eight kingdoms of Persia. At this early period ,the Lurs had already vindicated for themselves the unenviable reputation as thieves and bandits which their successors have diligently maintained. Mangu Khan the Mongol, when commissioning his brother Hulaku Khan to the government of Iran, gave him particular instructions to make things uncomfortable for the Kurds and Lurs, in revenge for their plundering on the high roads. Timur marched against them,because they could not keep their fingers from the caravans of the Mecca-bound pilgrims, and took both Khorremabad and Burujerd in 1386 A.D). The last of the dynasty was the famous Shah Verdi Khan, Mir of Wirkond, who, by his position and power, excited the jealousy of Shah Abbas the Great, by whom he was seized and put, to death. The title of Atabeg was suppressed; but the vacant office,was conferred, with the new title of Vali of Luristan,’ upon one Husein Khan, who had risen to some distinction in the service of the defunct ruler. My Persian informant declares that the family of the promoted Husein was Arab in origin, being descended from a chief of the Rubaia tribe, on the west side of the Tigris, who had quarrelled with his countrymen, migrated to Luristan, and there intermarried with the Feilis. However this may be, the dynasty thus promoted has retained the office ever since, and its present incumbent is, as the accompanying pedigree will show, a lineal descendant of the protégé of Shah Abbas.

08-20-2015, 09:32 PM
I am not aware that a single English or even European traveller ever penetrated into the Pusht-i-Kuli before Captain Grant, the explorer of Beluchistan, and Lieutenant Fotheringham, who were among the band of brave young officers sent out by Sir J. Malcolm as his pioneers in 1810. They were mur-dered at Khorremabad, by Kelb Ali Khan, a chief of the Vali’s family, under circumstances which were related thirty years later by an alleged eye-witness to Sir H. Layard. 1 The next visitor was Major (afterwards Sir H.) Rawlinson, at that time an officer in the Persian army, who marched through the Feili country with a detachment of Persian troops in 1836. 2 A few years later he was followed by Layard; 3 and the joint record of their experiences and researches, together with the remarks of the Baron De Bode, a Russian diplomat, who travelled in the adjoining regions contemporaneously with Layard, 4 have remained ever since the sole text-book upon the subject. In their time Hasan Khan, a very old man, was Vali, and was at constant war with the Persian Government, though once ejected by whom he managed to return, and ruled as an almost independent prince till his death, soon after 1840. He was succeeded by his three sons, who disputed the titleand fought with each other. The youngest of these, Haider Ali Khan, under the patronage of the Shah, ultimately prevailed, and it is his grandson, Husein Kuli Khan, who now holds the office. With an account of him, therefore, I shall bring my notice of the Feili Lurs up to date.

08-20-2015, 09:33 PM
Husein Kuli Khan, the present Vali of Pusht-i-Kuh, of whom, together with his son, I present a likeness, is a Persian vassal, and an Amir-i-Toman, or major-general in the Persian army. Nevertheless, his status approaches more nearly to independence than that of any other subject of the Shah, with the possible exception of the Amir of Kain. His summer quarters are at Dehbala, a secluded valley, very difficult of access, and easily defensible by a small number of men, at the foot of a lofty mountain, known as the Manisht Kuh. Here he was found in 1888 by Captain Maunsell, residing in a square stone fort, loopholed and bastioned, and clearly constructed for purposes of defence. In the interior, however, were a courtyard and chamber, fitted with some luxury, and containing European appointments. The retainers ofthe chief, numbering some 2,500, were camped around in tents and booths; his armed force consisting of 700 horsemen, well mounted and armed, and of 2,000 infantry, provided with Martini-Peabody rifles, that had been looted from across the Turkish border. The Vali seldom leaves this position, or places himself in contact with the Persian authorities, and has evidently very little intention of falling to any decoy. He is a fine-looking man, with commanding presence, and a flowing beard, which has procured for him the appellation of Rish-i-buzurg, or Longbeard. He is also known as El Feili, The Feili, and from his cruel and murderous propensities as Abu Kadareh, orFather of the Sword. The latter title testifies to his character and rule, the severity of which has driven many of his people across the Turkish border, and has made him unpopular with his subjects. Though only fifty-five years of age, he is considerably broken down through drink. His son, Reza Kuli Khan, a young man of twenty-eight, is a sertip in the Persian service, and was for some time kept as an hostage for his father’s good behaviour by the Zil-es-Sultan in Isfahan. He is a handsome young fellow, and a keen sportsman, and is reported to have a less tyrannical and moreamiable disposition than his parent. If the Vali and his people move from their quarters, it is in the direction of Turkey rather than of Persia that they shift their tents. Their winter domicile is at Huseinieh, at the foot of the Pusht-i-Kuh, just within the Turkish border; it is with Baghdad via Kut-el-Amarah, on the Tigris, that the Vali trades; it is upon Turkish territory that he makes his raids, constant disputes occurring about the occupation by the Lurs of Ottoman soil; 1 and his sworn and inveterate enemies are the Beni Lam Arabs, who are Turkisk subjects. He is probably the bestliving representative of the old style of Border chieftain, and is said to be able to call out 80,000 fighting men. Nowhere is the peculiar physical conformation of south-west Persia, analogous, as I have elsewhere remarked, in its features to that of north-east Khorasan, more observable than in the mountain abodes of the Feili Lurs. The ranges run in parallel files, inclined from north-west to south-east, projecting steep and craggy masses of limestone, which are frequently sawn at right angles to their own trend by the tengs or cañons through which the streams or rivers force their way. 2 In the narrow intervening valleys opening out into occasional plains, and abundantly watered, there is rich fodder for the flocks and herds of the nomad tribes. In sheep and goats their principal wealth consists; and they provide the towns of Khorremabad, Burujird, Kermanshah, and Hamadan with mutton, curds, and butter. On the hillsides is a somewhat scanty growth of dwarf-oak 1 and mountain shrubs, the former bearing gall-nuts, which are an article of commerce. The timber is but little respected by the Lurs, who cut it remorselessly for fuel, and supply the aforementioned towns with charcoal. El Feili himself has a splendid breed of mules which he exports through Turkish territory, and which are reputed to be the finest in Persia. The great river of North Luristan is the Kerkhah; just as Central Luristan has the Ab-i-Diz, and Southern Luristan the Karun. Three parent streams, rising in the neighbourhood of Hamadan and Burujird, unite in the plain of Kangavar, and, under the title of Gamasiab, flow west to near Bisitun. Here the Ab-i-Dinawar flows in from the north, and the augmented stream turns south-west and south, receiving successively the Kara Su, the Ab-i-Chenara, the Kashgan, and the Ab-i-Zal, until, after traversing the most magnificent scenery as it breaks the ramparts of the mighty Zagros range, it passes within ten miles of Dizful on the west, skirts the great mounds of Susa, and is dissipated in the Hawizeh marshes. Formerly the Kerkhah had two outlets into the Tigris, one by the El Khud bed at Amarah, the other a little below Kurnah into the Shat-el-Arab ; but these appear now, as a rule, to be dry. Though the Yali enjoys an authority which is but little interferedwith, he is responsible to Government for a fixed annual revenue, which is collected by the various tribal chiefs and heads of families upon a rough scale determined partly by the number of tents, partly by the pastoral wealth of the particular clan. His subjects have a bad reputation, in the main inherited, but sustained by the plundering habits of the Sagwands in particular, who are a sub-division of the Bajilan tribe. Fifty years ago these confirmed freebooters were yaghi, i.e. in rebellion; and, along with the Dirikwands before mentioned, they are still the terror of thepassing caravan. Colonel Bell in 1884 marched with a section of this people, whose chief, Haji Ali Khan, tried to rob him, and worthily sustained the tribal reputation. 1 Nevertheless Colonel Bell formed a favourable opinion of the Lurs as a whole, beingstruck with their decorum and obedience in camp, with their modest and frugal habits, and with their natural simplicity. They are a lighthearted people, much addicted to singing and chanting; and their rebellious and thieving propensities are more probably due to the life of semi-outlawry which the suicidal policy of the State has compelled them to lead, and to the licence that is born of a self-acquired freedom, than to any ineradicable taint of vice. The Feili Lurs are smaller in stature than the Bakhtiaris further south, and dress in brighter colours. Polygamy is the fashion among them,the extent of the harem depending upon the wealth of the lord and master. Colonel Bell’s rascally host, for instance, possessed the respectable total of twenty-five wives. Their religion is of the most nebulous description. Most are Shiah Mohammedans, but they entertain very little respect either for the Prophet or the Koran, and have pirs or Holy men of their own, whose tombs are regarded as sacred places, and the chief of whom, Baba Buzurg, or the Great Father, is buried in their country. Traces of Judaism have been detected in their worship, and have excited those amiable theoristswho ride the outworn hobby-horse of the Lost Tribes; and there are also to be found among them Ali Illahis, of which sect I have spoken in my chapter on Azerbaijan. The females, after the fashion of all the Lur tribes, are unveiled, and in youth are as well-favoured and comely as, at an age when a western woman is at her prime, they become shrivelled and decayed. Their costume is a loose shapeless dress, with little or no underclothing. They lead a hard life, tending and milking the flocks, churning the milk in suspended skins, and clarifying the butter, assisting to pitch andstrike the tents, and weaving carpets and the black goats’ hair tents in which they dwell. These are of all sizes and shapes, being supported by poles and partitioned by carpets or matting into separate chambers for the women, the kitchen, and the stables, a large diwan-khaneh or reception chamber being the first or outer compartment. In settled villages, mat or mud huts take the place of the tent. The men lead a life of robust but careless ease, sowing and reaping the crops where tillage is possible, cutting wood for charcoal, robbing andfighting when the chance occurs, or smoking in contented idleness at the tent door.