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Why Iran's nomads are fading away (nationalgeographic.com)
100 points by DoreenMichele 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

It's sad to see anything this old fade away. At the same time I definitely understand why the young people there are making the choice to move to cities. There is a romance to being a nomad, but I'm sure there is a lot of suffering involved as well.

Where I grew up there were significant roma gypsy populations (heartland agricultural region, plenty casual work available). Over time a fair few of them gave up the travelling life and move into fixed housing, sent their kids to school, started businesses etc.

That shift's been happening all over and I guess the trend continues - Here, 'urban maori' losing touch with their whakapapa is an challenging cultural issue.

That's actually quite positive story about gypsies compared to where I come from. Back home (eastern europe), communism forced everybody to settle and have a job, nomad or not, you would go to nasty jail otherwise. Kids were forced to go to school. This somewhat worked, with many other issues related.

These days, kids still have to go to school, but adults spend tremendous amount of time trying to screw the system, do petty crime and theft and avoid contributing anyhow to society, just taking social benefits. If they would spend the same amount of energy for some sort of job, they could be well off. Unemployment for them is 90+%.

No politician dares to tackle this in past 20 years. Simply because you can't fix it in 4 years, and no politician cares beyond that. EU tried, and failed. Free equipped apartments just given with no strings attached were completely destroyed in 1-2 years. Why on earth would somebody totally destroy the only place they live in?

I feel sorry for them, growing up in that environment sets you up for same lifestyle, parents being violent drug addicts, frequent inbreeding and family rapes. I wouldn't end up much better in that environment for sure. But I just don't see any democratic way out of that.

One example out of many [1]

[1] https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=lunik+9&source=lnms&tbm=is...

Like a lot of things, the romance only exists for those who are outside the lifestyle.

I don't see that much sadness in this. These people aren't zoo animals. They want to enjoy modern life and the things that come from it. Things like rights for women.

We lose knowledge, diversity, skills, and a link to our past. I understand why the people are leaving, I would probably make the same choice. But we shouldn't also act like there isn't a loss.

I guess whether this is a big problem depends on what you value. From some perspectives, knowledge and skills are not ends unto themselves, but only have utility in a specific context. For example, I care not that the skill of carving elephant ivory is basically a lost art at this point. Diversity? I can't say that the presence of nomads in the desert was really moving the needle on that very much in my daily life. A link to our past? Perhaps, but, as GP pointed out, only in the sense of a living museum exhibit. It is not like many people actually go to encounter this link personally, and in any case, even if they did, these are people.

I admit a certain amount of wistful nostalgia, but I personally don't consider nostalgia to be the same thing as sadness. Nostalgia is most often a delusion, not a genuine recollection of the good old days.

You're taking a very utilitarian view of these things. Nothing wrong with that. But many people enjoy knowing that there are still those who stick by their old ways without there being any tangible benefit to themselves or the rest of society.

While this is true, this process has also happened in our own culture, albeit a few hundred years ago.

In the UK the industrial revolution and agricultural mechanisation caused a huge migration from the countryside to the cities. Today, you can still see plenty of ruins of old settlements, cottages, churches, etc. which were abandoned and left to decay. In many parts of Scotland, you can walk to shielings, which were housing for herdsmen during the summer months. They would migrate there with their cattle and stay up in the hills, and migrate back down during winter when it was too inhospitable. They would have had a fairly boring and miserable existence. Living in relative isolation with no company but the animals, all food having to be brought in, and then long walks to the towns and cities to sell them. Today, cattle are kept in fields, fed with grass and cattle feed, and moved around in lorries. While there's a certain romanticism for the migratory lifestyle, and it might even be novel and interesting for a short while, I don't think the drudgery in the long term is something I could tolerate.

I think the larger concern people have with stories like this, is that it’s one part of all human culture becoming homogenized. And we feel something is lost when that happens.

As Terence McKenna put it:

“All culture is being destroyed, all culture is being sold down the river by the sorts of people who want to turn the entire planet into an international airport arrival concourse”

Easy for Terence McKenna to say when he isn’t the one living the life of a nomad, or any other culture where those in it want to transition to a modern lifestyle. “The sorts of people who want to turn the entire planet into an international airport arrival concourse” are largely the entire planet.

Actually, primal tribes had overally better women rights than centralised populations with different "-cracies" which sprang from the discovery of farming in the darkness of Neolithic.

You’re only half-right. It’s true that hunter-gatherer societies are traditionally much egalitarian than agricultural ones, but this does not apply to pastoral nomads, which is what the Bakhtiari, and other well-known nomads like the Bedouin, are. Nomads and hunter-gatherers aren’t the same thing and their societies look pretty different: nomads are about as patriarchal as you’d expect of traditional tribes.

Even saying that hunter gatherer societies were more egalitarian is only somewhat right. They were egalitarian in term of wealth, but that's vacuously true because such societies don't have any wealth in the traditional sense. However things like status and access to reproductive opportunities were very non-egalitarian. I recall reading studies that found that only about 40% of men in hunter gatherer societies produced descendants (due to widespread polygamy that increased reproductive opportunities to a select few men, while depriving it of many others), as compared to 70-80% in agriculturalist societies. Inequalities do exists, it just manifests itself differently because these societies don't have wealth in the way we usually recognize it.

how do we know this?

Actually, don't really see how that is relevant to this particular example.

I wonder whether people would be willing to pay for "museum nomads" to live a traditional life, like the museum Fremen in Dune.

Sad? Really? What is sad, is people grasping straws and holding up to the past. Fear of change, conservative laws, ridiculous "traditions" that have no connection with reality, these are the things it is worth to be sad about.

Change is life! World is moving forward! And you are sad about primitive cultures adapting, progressing and trying to catch up. Don't be ridiculous.

Sad from the perspective of pretty pictures providing 5 sec of entertainment for Bay Area interested parties making 100k+ per year.

Not from the perspective of the starving, abused people that choose a better life, no longer at the mercy of uncaring mother nature.

(cue someone coming in here pointing out how their privacy and nature walks far exceed anything they have in the Bay Area, and how natural living is the highest goal of all who live and breathe)

Whenever I go camping, I'm always glad to come home again.

I go camping a lot and sometimes I am ... genuinely sad to come home. There's a certain pain that comes with modern life in the city that's absent in the wilderness. The longing for the wilderness becomes a creeping desire - a desire that will start to haunt you when you do things like ride the bus (that's always late and too crowded), or fight for a decent wifi connection at a coffee shop. You'll pick up some fish at Whole Foods to cook and think about what you caught, and ate, the previous weekend - and when you eat what you bought it just isn't the same.

I respect these nomads, and wish them well.

I found the article interesting in part because this is one of the largest remaining nomadic cultures in the world. It would be a little like if a Native American tribe were still traveling from summer camp grounds to winter ones while civilization sprang up around them without relegating them to a reservation.

I was an American military wife for a couple of decades. That is a form of modern nomad and the life is vastly different from that of most civilians, so different that it's hard to quantify and comprehend for those doing it, much less try to explain it to others.

Enlisted personnel don't have high salaries, but they have a package of rights and benefits, everything from housing to medical to free legal help and access to swimming pools and their own stores where no tax is charged. As a wife, I had those rights too in a way you don't see with civilian jobs and it's really hard to explain. When I got divorced, my sister made some comment about me being financially dependent on my ex and how vulnerable I was and what a fool I was. But it wasn't like that and she simply didn't understand, even though our father had also been career military. My package of rights made my situation fundamentally different from her experience of divorce. If my ex hadn't paid me, I would have written his commander and his pay would have been garnished. I would have been paid first, before him.

Nomads and settled peoples have a long history of friction. This remains true of the American military. If you are a military member or dependent, you can cash a check at any PX/BX because you probably have a bank in another state and locals don't want to cash your check. Spouses have high rates of unemployment, in part because locals don't want to hire them, in part because the benefits are so good that you can afford to live on one income.

Re women's rights and different cultures:

From what I have read, some tribal peoples are more egalitarian when it comes to sex. In a lot of settled cultures with more material wealth, female chastity and fidelity is emphasized because wealth is handed from father to son and men can't be certain it is their child the way women can be. Cultures that are matrilineal with less material wealth sometimes have traditions that ensure that children will be provided for in a way that makes paternity matter a lot less. In such cultures, women sometimes have sexual freedom of a sort that would be deemed shocking and scandalous to many settled peoples.

I read that there was a Black man that accompanied Lewis and Clark and all the Native women wanted to sleep with him because they wanted a Black baby. This is behavior that would be unfathomable for most White women of that era. You would be disowned, which was a potential death sentence for you and your child.

The article indicates the nomadic women don't inherit. But it also indicates they typically ride horses, own firearms and it says their faces are brown from the sun. It also shows pictures of their faces.

Iran is a Muslim country where women are expected to be veiled. This is not just a nuisance. Pakistan has high rates of vitamin D deficiency among girls because of the degree to which women are expected to be covered.

National Geographic is a Western publication. It doesn't mention this detail, at least not that I noticed. The author of the article probably thought nothing of the unveiled faces of the nomadic women because unveiled faces are the norm in Western countries. But women in Iran are still protesting the law requiring that they wear the veil. So it is something that women experience as very burdensome and restricting.

An awful lot of things that are normal for your own culture aren't things you think of as rights and you may not really think too much about the consequences of losing that option. You may not think it matters until it is irrevocably gone and has been gone long enough to see some of the consequences that weren't apparent when you chose to leave X thing for Y thing.

The first week, month or year of wearing a veil may not seem like a big deal as the price you pay for participating in this other culture. It may not seem like a big deal until you are diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and realize you can't readily fix it because you are required by law to cover everything, including your face.

I'm not suggesting that the nomadic women have it better than other Iranian women and will regret leaving this way of life behind. I'm only suggesting it is likely more complicated than they appreciate at first blush, and something total outsiders reading HN likely can't begin to fathom. Most of us just don't know enough about either of the cultures in question.

Pretty cool comment overall, though I'd like to offer one correction: Iran doesn't force women to be veiled.

They say women should wear head scarves, yes, but not a veil that covers their faces.

In fact, if you go to their capital city many of the women have just as much of their head covered as the nomadic women you saw in these pictures. (Note, in other, more religious areas women will tend to cover all of their hair, but that's the only real difference)

Thank you. I tried to confirm before posting. This was my source:


I can't manage to copy and paste the text, but a portion of it indicates that it is still state law, though it is enforced less strictly than it once was and not applied to foreign women, and women still protest it.

There’s not really a problem of Vitamin D deficiancy for women in Iran, and that is much more likely if they would move to and live in northern countries that get little sunlight during long winters.

Frequent Iran traveller here: indeed, Iranian women usually wear a headscarf "only". Their skin is about as exposed to sun as those of European men/women in Germany/Northern Europe (where you usually do not run around semi-naked due to the cold temperatures). Only very conservative Iranians cover more of the body.

Here in Europe, my Iranian wife with her natural darker skin color has indeed a Vitamin D deficit albeit wearing western clothes: the long, dark, cold winters that are mostly spent inside houses let her body not produce enough Vitamin D, so she takes supplements.

Global warming might have a hand in that, especially the droughts and sandstorms part.

Migrations and lifestyle changes will be even more drastic in the decades to come.

The same things happened with Beduins in Israel long time ago and in other countries around the middle east, it has nothing to do with global warming, they live in the desert anyways. It is just that being locked into a specific country and modernity in general make them more urbanised.

Yes, borders aren’t what they used to be.

I read this title as "Iran's monads..." - time for sleep!

hahaha, everytime there is an article about the Amazon in South America I wonder when the news about the Cloud service comes.

And here I thought it was about Iran's use of functional programming.

Yeah, I read it that way too. Been too long since every other article here was "how to understand nomads"...

I was thinking why are they fading, have they been replaced with Free Applicatives!

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