The Bakhtiari tribe, which numbers more than 800,000, inhabits an area of approximately 67,000 sq. km (25,000 sq. mi) that straddles the central Zagros Mountains in Iran. Although only about a third of the tribe is nomadic (the rest are settled agriculturists), the nomads embody the Bakhtiari cultural ideals. They specialize in producing meat and dairy products and migrate seasonally with their sheep, cattle, or goat herds from high plateau pastures, where they spend the summer, west of the city of Esfahan, to lowland plains in the province of Khuzistan for winter herd grazing. Their migration is among the most spectacular known among nomadic paternalists anywhere. They are obliged to cross mountain passes at about 3,050 m (10,000 ft) and therefore have to time their movement with extreme care in order to minimize the danger of early snowfall, flooding mountain rivers, and lack of grazing. Traditionally these dangers took a heavy toll, but in recent years the government has helped the migration by building bridges, improving the route, and setting up fodder supplies en route.
The Bakhtiari speak a dialect of
Persian called Lori and are Shiite Muslims. Politically the tribe used to form a
confederacy under a chief appointed by the shah, but this position has now been abolished.
The confederacy was most effective in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the
Bakhtiari played an important role on the national level in Iran's constitutional
movement. More recently many tribesmen have left the traditional way of life for
employment in the oil industry in the cities.
Metz, Helen, Iran: A Country Study, 4th ed. (1989); Moss, W., Peoples of the World: Mid East, North Africa (1992).