Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Qashqa'i Nomads of Iran (Part I): Formal Education (1)

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Qashqa'i Nomads of Iran (Part I): Formal Education (1)

Article excerpt


A key question in research on the Middle East, and on Iran in particular, has been the relationship between the state and its resident tribes, especially nomads, during the past decade. Use of force by state officials to control tribal and nomadic groups is fairly well documented. Less well known are the state's apparatuses for ideological control and the ways that tribal and nomadic people respond to them.

On 6 September 1993, I began a twenty-four month research project (2) to investigate a state-supported formal education program provided to the Qashqa'i, a predominantly nomadic, pastoralist, Turkic-speaking (3) Shia Muslim community of more than a half a million (Gharakhlou n.d.: 39), living in southwestern Iran. The result was a doctoral dissertation focusing upon Qashqa'i schoolteachers: the roles they played in the processes of formally educating Qashqa'i children, the ways they prepared their students for new roles within a changing Iran and the extent to which they enculturated them with values held by earlier generations. The discussion presented here is based on these data, and focuses mainly on the impact of formal education on Qashqa'i culture and vice versa.

State-induced political centralisation among the Qashqa'i emerged in the late eighteenth century when state rulers encouraged tribal leaders to perform dual functions: to control local and internal problems and to mediate between the tribally organised nomads and the state. This resulted in the formation of the politically centralised and economically independent Qashqa'i confederation. The confederation was divided into six large tribes, some smaller tribes and many subtribes. People were connected through commonly shared political figures, cultural symbols, sentiments and memories. Despite some differences (minor variations in accent, vocabulary and, the ways different sub-tribes used colours), there has been a repertoire of customs, values, worldviews and practices--all linked through the Qashqa'i language--that can be called `Qashqa'i culture'. Qashqa'i tribespeople migrated seasonally and in groups of households. The activities involved in migration provided meanings for cultural symbols, sentiments and memories. Qashqa'i youth were not subjected to many non-Qashqa'i cultural experiences. Two major events--the forced settlement of nomads in the 1930s and the introduction of a locally initiated, but state-supported formal education program in the 1950s--were, however, to alter the cultural experiences of the Qashqa'i people.

In the 1950s, a formally educated Qashqa'i man, Mohammad Bahmanbaigi, built on an existing literacy plan and convinced Iranian state officials to support his literacy program for the Qashqa'i. The program had a dual purpose: to prepare Qashqa'i youth for a role in a developing Iran and to integrate Qashqa'i into the larger Iranian society. The program had produced more than a hundred thousand Qashqa'i students by the late 1970s. The Iranian revolution in 1979 interrupted this `Literacy for Nomads' (amuzish-i 'ashayir) program, but created fertile ideological ground for self-reflection and an opportunity for formally educated Qashqa'i to reflect upon their cultural assumptions, their `Qashqa'i-ness', and their current and future roles and activities in their own and the wider Iranian society. After 1979, socio-economic changes and schooling intensified contacts between the Qashqa'i and other Iranians. Increasingly, Qashqa'i asked themselves who they were and how they were different from non-Qashqa'i when they came into close contact with others. Not only is `Ethnicity ... the outcome of interaction between groups and not the result of a tendency to isolation' (Mach 1993: 215), but sharply defined ethnic identities are the consequence of intense struggles between groups over control of power and resources.

Many scholars have suggested that schools reproduce the existing class structure or distribution of power in society (Althusser 1972, Bernstein 1977, Bourdieu 1979, Bourdieu and Parson 1973). …

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