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Alluring Luris, Denizens of the Zagros
In 1953, Cecil Edwards published his important book, The Persian Carpet (1). Edwards may well be single-handedly responsible for the modern assessment of Luri rugs. In discussing the rugs of the Fars region, he breaks down the output of rugs from this area as 15% Qashqai, 40% Khamseh, 44% Village Persian and 1% Luri
Of the Fars Mamassani and Hulagu Lurs he points out that they are mostly settled. “The output of these two tribes is insignificant.” “During my stay in Shiraz in 1948 I came across only two pieces – neither of which was of any particular merit.”
And as for the Northern Lurs, “The few rugs produced by the Kuhgalu and other Luri tribes which occupy the valleys southwest of Isfahan are hardly worthy of notice. The ouptut of the Lurs was never large, and it has dwindled to nearly nothing…as one of the tribal weaves of Persia, the Luri rugs are no longer of any importance.”
The name conjures up images of a harsh, isolated, mountainous terrain, proud and colorful people, ancient art and mysterious rituals. Luristan covers an area of 11,700 square miles. Scotland, a small country, is 30,000 square miles in size, nearly three times as large. Luristan has a relatively small population, 1.5 million in 1991, about half a million in the 19th century (not all Luri, but Kurd, Persian and others, too, complicating the attribution of the weavings). For comparison, the state of Vermont covers 9,650 square miles, slightly smaller than Luristan, and is only the 45th of 50 of the United States in size. It had about the same number of people (608,000) in 1991 as the 19th century population of Luristan.
The story of the Lurs is one of strength and beauty, courage and pride, discrimination and prejudice, humiliation and poverty. Yet the luster of their weavings shows through the mists of time, like the glint of precious gemstones from beneath a heavy haze of dirt and grime. Long neglected and marginally collected, the weaving of the Lurs can rightfully be claimed to be as elegant, colorful, timeless and striking as that of their better-known neighbors.
Luri weavings have often been mislabeled as Qashqa’i, Khamseh, Kurd, Baktiyari, Caucasian and Shiraz. And reasonably so, due to the infusion of Lurs into the Qashqa’i, Khamseh and other tribes and their dispersal to areas such as Veramin for reasons as simple as splitting up the tribe to reduce their power or providing government defense against other unruly tribes.
Lurs have occupied territory in Iran as long as any other peoples living there today. Their culture, language and art have survived thousands of years of turmoil, change and decay.
A footnote in the new book, Antique Rugs of Kurdistan (3), James Burns notes: “They (Kurds) do, however, show similarities with the work of the Lors and Bakhtiari. These peoples were historically Kurdish in origin, but had become separate ethnic groups by the sixteenth century.” In the Appendix to the Burns book, Mehrdad Izady states: “The only noteworthy events are the disappearance of Kurds of the southern Zagros through their assimilation into the Lors (Luri)…” These two comments may be about two different groups of Lurs, but they seem to contradict on the issue of whether Lurs were Kurdish in origin or if Kurds were absorbed into Luri tribes.
In Oriental Rug Review (volume 12, number 4, April/May 1992 (4)) there is a Letter to the Editor from Jeremy Anderson. He says: “… Luri or Lohri is derived from the word Loha, meaning iron, indicating a professional name for ironworkers or blacksmiths - metallurgists. Luristan then was named, as a province of the Zagros, after these Lurs or Luris, hence Luristanis. However, this is a trade name and the ethnical dual name is Mammasani, which is probably much older but has been recently relegated to semi-secretive discretion in usage, obviously because of its pagan (kaffir) connotations. In eastern Iran, Seistan, and in Baluchistan, they call themselves the Mohammed Hassani, as a Muslim tribe of the Baluch, on the one side, or the Brahuis on the other. Mammasani means “people or followers of the Great Mother Goddess,” and is therefore obviously not acceptable in Islam … Both in Iran as well as Seistan and Baluchistan the Lohris are associated with the Kurds, but now and for the last three decades at least the Kurds have become thorough Mussalmans or Mohammedans, whereas earlier many were schismatists … In the traditional caste system of this area, the Lohris are regarded as low caste unfit for intermarriage, despite the adoption of the name Mohammed Hassani. Most tribal peoples of the area regard them as being of Assyrian Tazi origin, which might relate them to Kassite origins…”
Mydictionary.com (5) provides this definition of a term related to the word “kaffir” used by Jeremy Anderson:
n. Islam A nonbeliever; an infidel.
[Alteration of obsolete gower, gour, from Turkish gâvur, from Persian gabr, infidel, Zoroastrian, from Arabic kfir, infidel, from kafr, village, from Aramaic kapr; see kpr2 in Semitic roots.]
A Zoroastrian connection is not unlikely. A website, Zoroastriankids.com (6), shows some history of Zoroastrianism and one page showing a Luristan bronze.
Groundbreaking research by James Opie tantalizingly theorized that some of the ubiquitous motifs used to this day in west and southwest Iranian weaving are derived from ancient bronze work found in Luristan. If the connection is one of direct lineage, or whether the originators of the bronzes were contemporaneous with or predated the Lurs is unknown. The similarities between the millennia-removed likenesses are, however, uncanny. Some of his findings are described in an article in Oriental Rug Review, Volume 11/3 (7).
From Tribal Rugs (2), by Jenny Housego, page P14: “It may not be too fanciful to suggest a source of (Luri weaving) inspiration that stems from an extremely ancient culture in this remote mountainous area, of which the famous bronzes of Luristan are a part.”
From Kilim, The Complete Guide (8), comes this: “They are one of the few ethnic groups to have lived in their native land of Iran for at least three thousand years, and so can be called, along with the Kurds, one of the original Iranian people. ... Very little is known about the history of the Luri tribes apart from the fact that a very strong and artistic culture must have existed at the time of the manufacture of the Luristan bronzes.”
From The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic Cultures (9), comes this assessment: “The dates assigned to the bronzes vary from 1500 to 700 B.C.; some scholars would even include the span of the seventh century B.C. in the time during which bronzes were produced in Luristan. Among the people who were supposed to have created the bronzes are the Kassites of the sixteenth to twelfth century B.C. and the Cimmerians of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.”
Oriental Rug Review volume 11, number 5, June/July 1991 (10), includes an article by the late Don Wilber, Luristan Bronzes, in which he documents the origin and manufacture of these enigmatic entities. A few of the interesting details include:
Very little is known about the ancient smiths. It is tempting to try to trace them back to Cain who bore a mark that made him safe from revenge for the slaying of Abel, to his descendant Tubal Cain, smith and worker of iron, to the smiths of Arabia who bore a brand on their forehead that enabled them to move safely among hostile regions because their special skill was respected by all….Their technical skills, so unrelated to any aspects of nomadic and settled life, clad them with an aura of mystery. In early times metals were thought to have magical properties and the smiths were regarded as magicians.
And from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001 (11): “Lorestan or Luristan (both: lrstän´) (KEY), province (1991 pop. 1,501,778), c.11,700 sq mi (30,300 sq km), W Iran. The chief cities are the capital Khorramabad and Borujerd. The region consists mainly of forested and pastured mountain ranges; the highest point is c.13,000 ft (3,962 m). It has large petroleum deposits. Agriculture, however, is the chief industry. Crops include grain, cotton, fruit, vegetables, and oilseed; there are industries in cotton ginning and food processing. The inhabitants are mainly Lurs and Bakhtiari. From Lorestan came (18th cent. B.C.) the Kassite conquerors of Babylonia. The noted Lorestan or Luristan bronzes, found in the province beginning around 1930, include cups, horse bits, daggers, and shields, ornamented with animal motifs, checkerboards, wavy lines, and crosses. They were probably made in the 8th and 7th cent. B.C. by local metalworkers for Scythian, Cimmerian, or Median nomads.”
Carl Strock, in an article in the Oriental Rug Review, Vol 14, No. 6 (Aug/Sept, 1994)(12), suggests an even earlier, 2500 B.C. Mesopotamian origin for these mysterious images. It is available on the New England Rug Society web site.
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