Factional fighting: a Bakhtiari poem

This ballard describes brave men and a gorgeous woman who were also included in  Henry Layard’s account of his 1841 sojourn and fighting alongside the Bakhtiari – shortly before he discovered Nineveh/Nimrud (see www.soas.ac.uk/gallery/bakhtiari-kuch/eet/layard/ for more information and images).

The poem is about the battle between the Duraki and Behdarwand tribes.

Ja’far Quli Khan was chief of the Behdarwand (or Bakhtiarwand). He decided to make a night attack on the Duraki, another powerful Haft Lang tribe, whose chief Qalb ’Ali Khan, was then at Qaleh Khaja. Qalb ’Ali Khan, however, received warning of the impending attack and withdrew. Ja’far Quli Khan failed to find him and, exhausted by wandering about in the dark, retired with his forces to Kift-i Dirau, in the Andaka district. The roles of the two parties were now reversed; and Qalb ’Ali attacked the Behdarwand at Dirau, routing and plundering them. In this battle Qalb ’Ali was wounded, but two of Ja’far Quli’s principal champions, Saidal and Mandani, were killed.

After this, the Behdarwand, previously the most powerful of the Bakhtiari tribes, suffered a series of defeats. They eventually became completely subject to the Duraki, although Qalb ’Ali’s sons were all killed by some of his nephews.

Sitara was the daughter of Qalb ’Ali Khan and a wife of Ja’far Quli Khan. Many Bakhtiari marriages were about broadening alliances – making connections with other tribal factions – as well as following the traditional ‘parallel cousin’ pattern to strengthen intra-family alliances.

[Duraki speaks:]

Andaka ever springtime: the Kababi Spring [1].
I said, “The Son of the Drunkard
[2] will not fight”.
From the top of the cliff I look around: Bundun is in sight.
It is my horseman and slayer of horsemen, Isfandiar,

[Behdarwand speaks:]

From the top of the Diz I look around: the plain is level.
The wounded man (mounted) behind Nazar is the rider of the chestnut-with-a-blaze.
From the top of the Diz
[3] I look around: the plain is spacious.
The wounded man (mounted) behind Nazar is Uncle Masih.
Saidal Beg shouts out to Brother Mandini,
“At the first shot I have hit Qalb ’Ali”.
Saidal Beg shouts out, “Brother Mandini the lion-hearted!
Fight valiantly. The bullet is linked to fate”.
Baqir is behind the thorn hedge of (the shrine of) Ahmad Balad
Mandini put his horse to a trot, and went on and did not see him.

[Ja’far Quli Khan speaks:]

From nightfall to break of day, my (horse) Wazan wanders about.
My guide and night-attack leader, your wits have become blind.
My guide and night-attack leader clung to the skirt of the hill.
He had undertaken to make a night-attack on Qaleh Khaja
Saidal Beg and Mandini took oath on the Quran
They sought brothers from among three hundred horsemen.
0 my Khan, dismount from Baad
[5] and saddle the chestnut.
The Duraki are pressing us hard: Remove their seed (from the face of the earth).

[Duraki speaks:]

O my Khan, dismount from Baad: you have foundered the mare.
Your battle with Qalb ‘Ali is this that you have (just) seen.

[Behdarwand speaks:]

The wounded man (mounted) behind Nazar is the (rider of the) grey mare.
The Duraki will not withdraw from before us, until there has been a massacre.
Four horsemen, like fierce hornets, came out to meet the fire:
(They were) Saidal, Mandini, Farhad and Jun Bash.
Jun Bash and Sultun ‘Ali have bought their (wedding) garments:
I saw them with their heads cut off, on the field of battle.

[Saidal Beg speaks:]

Andaka ever springtime: the fountain beneath the jaz tree.
May a snake bite your hand! you master gunsmith
I have faith in my (horse) Baad, and my (long sword) Kaj Buland.
I came up with Qalb ‘Ali and shot him in the arms.

[Ja’far Quli Khan speaks:]

Sitara with the velvet tresses : there are pearls on her neck.
Agha Qalb ’Ali has carried her off and has not given her to anyone.
Sitara with the velvet tresses: she has pearls in her ears.
Agha Qalb ’Ali has carried her off. I fear that he will sell her.
Sitara with the velvet tresses and the pomegranate nipples.
None other like her was to be found among the Bakhtiari.
The bobtailed grey horse of ’Ali Taqi got up from its place.
It made for the gate: it halted not in the Diz.

[’Ali Taqi speaks:]

I love my bobtailed grey as much as my brother.
I ride it without pressing while it carries me out of the Diz.
I love my bobtailed grey as much as my brothers.
I ride it without pressing till it brings me to (another) Diz.

[Ja’far Quli Khan speaks:]

Saidal Beg and Mandini (with) the Frankish pistol:
They came up with A’ Qalb ‘Ali and wounded him in the arms.
The yellow lance of Uncle Masih (with its) three quarters (of a yard) tassel
Glitters like gold in the midst of the booty.
  1. The ‘Kababi Spring’ is a spring in a cool place, good for picnicking and cooking of kebabs.
  2. At a time when no other Bakhtiari drank wine, (H)asad Khan, Ja’far Quli Khan’s father was notorious for drinking, and drinking to excess.
  3. A Diz is a more or less natural stronghold. An ordinary built fort is called a Qaleh.
  4. ‘Ahmad Balad’ shrine may be the Imamzadeh of ‘Ahmed Bedal’, mentioned by Layard as lying on his route between the Diz-i Asad Khan and the small plain of Andakou
  5. ‘Baad’ means wind, and is an excellent name for an excellent horse
  6. This means: ‘You who made this rifle which didn’t kill, may a snake bite your hand’

With kind permission, from: Lorimer, DLR 1955 “The Popular Verse of the Bakhtiāri of S. W. Persia –II: Specimens of Bakhtiāri Verse”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 pp. 94-99