A screening last night at the Chestnut Hill Library of the "Bakhtiari Alphabet," a documentary about the tribe of nomadic pastoralists living in Iran. The film was preceded by a PowerPoint presentation, which highlighted the demographics and geographics of the Bakhtiari people and their range.
I met the film-maker, Cima Sedigh, who told me a little about how she came to make the movie. Ms. Sedigh came to the U.S. before 1979, and now teaches in the Department of Education at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. She traveled bck to Iran over a period of seven or eight years, usually in the winter, and the project was hindered by various mishaps, stolen footages, impassable wintry roads, etc.
Yet she persisted, perhaps because she believed that the Bakhtiari tribe and way of life has an important message for the world, because she wanted to educate Americans about Iran, and because she believes in peace. She is also an educationalist, and part of the film - its second half, actually - describes the educational aspects of life of the nomadic Bakhtiari. There are more children of the tribe being educated today - both boys and girls - yet the common theme and complaint was that the urban and modernist focus of contemporary education has little relevance to those who are growing up in a nomadic and pastoralist life. "You've never seen a traffic light," as one teacher points out to a little boy in his class. They are looking at a textbook picture of a truck, or other examples of modern urbanism. The little boy certainly doesn't look deprived. Indeed, the Bakhtiari - young or old, have a glowing vitality, perhaps accentuated by their gorgeous and colorful dress.
What a different world from the joyless modernism that has become our daily crust. We are surrounded by the wealth of things and technology, the fruits of human ingenuity and history, and yet we we are being herded - with a more relentless and less merciful hand than the Bakhtiari do their sheep and goats - to an ever-narrowing range of creativity and action.
One of Cima Sedigh's best insights occurred after the documentary, when she commented that the Bakhtiari, although they have little, are producers - whereas we, who have so much, have become mere consumers. It was a welcome relief from daily witness of American shipwreck to consider the Bakhtiari. I liked what the narrator said about Bakhtiari women - that they were proud to raise their sons to be generous and honorable.
I recall the late Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari, the head of the Iranian Oil Company, and how important "Roots" were to him. He wrote an essay by that title. Now that I've seen some of his tribal roots, I can better understand.
I have re-posted the essay I wrote a few years ago about Mr. Bakhtiari in "The Green Deal" website -- here.
See also: "From the Catacombs" -- Nov. 24, 2007.