This week’s blog is with many thanks to Kamran Afshar – who also helped me make the contacts I needed to be able to walk the migration with a Bakhtiari family.
Kamran wrote to me of how: Those who have travelled to the land of the valiant, namely Chahar Mahal & Bakhtiari province in Iran, and have spent time living there with open eyes and open minds have most probably come across places in that area called ‘The Door of the Tomb’ or ‘The Old People’s House’
These are man-made caves in the highest mountains in the heart of the Bakhtiari tribal regions. The caves have doors (about 50 cm2) and some people say that the tribes put their seniors in these man-made caves as bait for wild animals. However, this is not the case: after all, the cave doors can be securely fastened from the inside to protect the person inside from carnivorous animals.
I’ve already written in the blog about how lions were common in Bakhtiari territories until at least 1840 – but there were also wolves and leopards.
Bakhtiari men who died in battle were usually commemorated with lion tomb-stones, but the men who survived to an older age also died as heroes, in the man-made caves. Kamran explains how, when it became “obvious that due to decrepitude such a man . . could no longer carry out his duties as a great man of the tribe . . in order to not be a burden to the tribe, on one of the tribes’ Winter or Summer moves he would gradually fall behind and remain [in one of the caves] . . this decision was first discussed and agreed upon with a younger member of the tribe, usually the oldest son. . [who] would leave enough food and water for the aged man in that house for a few days and say goodbye to him forever. For one or perhaps two nights the old hero would carry on living there until he was sure that the tribe was far away. He would then, mentally, prepare himself to die. Eventually, one night he would leave the door of the cave open to let the carnivorous animals attack him, and leave no sign of him. In this way, whenever he was thought of, a strong straight stature was pictured, one who worked hard for the comfort of his wife and children and never became a burden to others.”