غول آباد؛ دانشنامهٔ مردمی یزد
مهمان گرامی، خوش آمدید! - قلعه -
Women of the desert city
\ Women of Yezd
1- Yezd city
Yezd is a true city of the desert, an enchanted town of glowing colors and beautiful architecture set among the great sandy plains of central Persia.
One might say its inhabitants live without moisture, as the air itself is exceedingly dry, while the only water granted for their refreshment is brought by primitive courses (1) from the snow of the distant mountains, and become in its wanderings so travel-stained and dirty that to see through it is often a matter of difficulty.
The most striking features of the town as one approaches it are the tall wind-shaft towers, one or two to every house, built to catch the desert breeze, if hot, still a breeze, which is driven down them usually into the sherbet pantry, (2) a very attractive place lined with bright tiles, and having a tank for goldfish in the middle. (3)
During the noontide heat people live in the cellars, and at night they sleep on the roofs in genuine oriental fashion, all the household work in the compounds being done early in the morning or in the evening. (4)
That any human beings should prepare themselves a habitation in such a barren and unpractical spot seems inconceivable folly, but legend relates that Alexander the Great erected the first building (5), a solid structure to-day, as a prison for his captives, and they and their warders were the original founders of the town of Yezd.
2- Yezdi women
Here one finds the east pure and unadulterated, the east with its primitive passion, its jealousy, its intense conservatism, (6) which may or may not, for prophecy is dangerous, yield to outside influences.
The women exist in their golden cages, (7) so poetical without, so sordid within, as they have done for generations back.
Their keenest emotions excited by a new fashion from Teheran, where there is rather a desire to adopt western notions in details of dress and manners and a big sale for Manchester finery. (8)
They never venture abroad except closely veiled, looking mere shapeless bundles with their large outside trousers (9), generally of a bright grass-green color, (10) drawn over their indoor clothes; and the higher the lady, the stricter her seclusion. (11)
If she rides into the desert on her mule, or journey to her summer residence among the hills, her muleteer walks in front with his back towards her, and should she speak, he does not turn his head to answer her as western civility would demand.
A princess of the royal blood was staying in Yezd. When she returned from an outing, a herald went in front to announce her coming. Immediately every man fled down a side street, and if any one among them was unable to escape, he threw himself on his face in the dust until the feminine procession had passed by. (12)
Every Persian house consists of two parts, the biruni (13) or without, the men’s quarter, and the andaruni (14) or within, the women’s quarter. No furniture of any kind is used, but the inside walls are covered with fine white plaster decorated with lovely mouldings.
Pretty little arches (15), such a feature of the graceful Persian architecture, are all round the place to be employed as tables, sideboards, etc., (16) and the ceilings are adorned with mirrors and more mouldings.
As all the windows in the women’s part are made of stained glass, the effect of the eastern sunlight filtering through them on the white walls is striking and beautiful.
The inmates of this oriental establishment sit on the floor, and nearly everywhere the Persian lady goes she is accompanied by a sort of thick quilt or thin mattress stuffed with cotton-wool, which serves either as bed or couch. (17)
She invariably sleeps in her clothes, (18) not very numerous, by the way, and as dusting and sweeping are unknown, the simple life can be studied in a Persian house to great advantage.
4- Yezdi girls
From the time when the girl is born, she is taught to submit to restraint. The small baby, for the first few weeks of its life, has its arms and legs bound tightly down by triangular pieces of cloth. (19) At a month old, its arms are set at liberty; at two months, it is permitted to move its legs.
The girls are sometimes sent with their brothers to a woman mullah for educational purposes. The word mullah literally means one who reads. (20) Though exactly what these imply is difficult to define, as most of the population cannot read or write. (21)
Very early, however, the little maiden is deprived of this slight liberty. She is kept exclusively in the women’s apartments, and prepared for her future destiny.
Her hair is braided and threaded with white cotton, in order to make it grow long by giving it a downward tendency. Well-to-do children have their locks twisted with colored silk and beads, and certainly the result seems satisfactory, as the Persian women possess beautiful hair of such length that most of them are able to sit upon it.
At 13 or 14, the parents of the child arrange her marriage. (22) The wedding festivities last six or seven days, the women assembling at the house of the bride, and the men at the house of the bridegroom.
Divorce in Persia is very easy. Any man can procure it for any reason at a cost of what in our money would be sixpence or sevenpence (23). (24) This causes the lot of the women of the poorer classes to be one of peculiar hardship, (25) as there are no factories or any other means by which they can gain a livelihood except under a husband’s direction. (26)
If it were not for occasional nuptial rejoicings among her neighbors, the high-born lady would have a very dull time. She is only allowed the society of her own relations, and the feminine pleasure of calling is hedged round by many restrictions. Her methods of entertaining, when she does do it, are not so very unlike those of her English sisters. (27)
As no men, except those of their own families, are allowed to see the women, it follows there are women doctors. These are generally ancient sibyls, who brew mysterious concoctions from herbs, and understand only too well how to play upon the fancies and superstitions of their parents.
According to our ideas, the habits of eastern women are not cleanly. The bath, which takes place about once a month, unless some special festivity demands a special effort, is a serious ceremony. (28)
The lady goes to the public hamum, or, if she belongs to a very wealthy family, to a private one, (29) attended by her maid, who carries a tray, on which are arranged a pitcher, a piece of pumice stone, and her mistress’s clean clothes. By the way, the bath is the important occasion when the garments worn night and day are changed. (30)
The bather is conducted into a room (31) where the heat is so great that the perspiration literally rolls off her. She is rubbed from head to foot by a woman washer with powdered brick or pumice stone. Soap is a rare luxury. Water is poured over her, and she is wrapped in an embroidered Turkish towel.
Her eyes, perhaps her forehead, are blackened with indigo, (32) her hair is washed and combed and braided into as many plaits as it will go, to last until the time of the next ablution, (33) and is dyed and brightened with henna, as also are the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet.
This practice of dying the hair with henna is very startling at first to strangers, until they have become accustomed to the spectacle of old men with withered faces, shaven crowns and brilliant red beards. Old women are seldom visible.
The Persian kitchen is very primitive, and consists of a number of pigeon-holes of earth in the side of a wall. If the cook wishes to bake anything it is placed in a pigeon-hole between two fires, and for each different dish a different fire is needed.
The usual fuel of the country is charcoal or wood, coal being burned only in Teheran, and, as chimneys are not dreamed of, the kitchens are always full of smoke, and the walls blackened with soot.
The staple food is a mixture of rice and meat. Thus, a chicken is served buried in cooked rice and oil. Knives are never used except by butchers, etc., and if a lady has a guest to dinner she will break off the wing of a fowl and hand it to her visitor.
The huge flat loaves of bread, the color of brown paper, are used as plates, (34) and the bones are thrown to the cats, which swarm in all Persian houses.
They are a fine race, mentally and physically, and their religion, the ancient one of Zoroaster -pbuh- (37), has not the same paralyzing effect on the brain as seems to be exercised by the Mussulman’s faith. (38)
The women are good looking and energetic, and appear tall beside the undersized Persians. They work exquisitely with their needles, and their wide trousers (39) are made of strips of different-colored silk, each strip finely embroidered in a special design, which generally depicts some sacred creature like the cock or the fish.
9- Final word
As yet western influence has had little effect on the fundamental principles which govern the lives of Persian women. The teaching of the mullahs of both sexes, who make such an excellent living by reading the Koran to ignorant believers, is steadily against the progressionist movement, and an old and effete race never takes so kindly to new ideas as a young and vigorous one. (40)
A few of the women have, however, contrived to become both clever and well informed, with consequences not altogether happy for themselves. Confined within the narrow limits of the harem, the developed mind is apt to render its possessor irritable and depressed and most of these pioneers eventually fall victims to hysteria, a malady absolutely unknown to their unintellectual and indolent sisters.