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addressغول آباد / مقاله‌ها / Women of Yezd / Women of the desert city

Women of the desert city

\ Women of Yezd

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tree Women of the desert city

2- Women of Yezd
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Mary Boazmanwriter Mary Boazman

«Miss Mary Boazman» was a British journalist and writer in the early 20th century. She was feminist and advocate of women’s rights. A number of articles written by her have been published in newspapers and magazines between 1900s and 1920s.
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Prospect of Yazd
Travelers arriving in Yazd.
H. R. Sykes

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)

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Ziaeie school and twelve imams tomb
Alexander’s prison or Ziaie school in the foreground and Davazdah Imam tomb or dome in the background in Fahadan district of Yazd in the years of 1905 and 1970.
Mary Boazman / Ruth Harold

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.

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Yazdi women
The Muslim washerwomen in the left side and the Zoroastrian rural woman in the right side, are two examples of women of Yazd.
Mary Boazman

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)

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Getting ready to go out
Persian woman has to wear chador and chaqchur and cover her face with long rubandeh for going out of the house.
Antoin Sevruguin

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)

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Resting on mattres
A Persian woman resting on the mattress in the verandah.
Antoin Sevruguin

3- Yezd’s houses

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.

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Yazdi sister and brother
Yazdi girl is going to mullah’s house with her brother.
I. R. Wiles

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.

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Family’s women
A family photo of daughter, mother and grandmother of a noble and Muslim family that was taken in Antoin Khan’s studio in Tehran. It was customary for women and girls to have long hair braided in several plaits.
Antoin Sevruguin

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.

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Persian hen party
Hen parties, especially those of upper social class, were boring.
Antoin Sevruguin

5- Difficulties of Yezdi women

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.

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Khan bath in Yazd
The chale-hose room of Khan bath in Yazd. This cool water pool is for swimming and water-sporting.
Craig Jenkins

6- Yezd women’s baths

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.

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Bathing equipment
Traditional bathing equipment in Yazd, donated by Mrs Aghdas Baghaie to Harvard University. In times past, women sit on the floor upon the bath tray for washing themselves in the bathhouse and placed the bowl of warm water and the handy tray in front of them and arranged the bathing tools on it. 1- Ordinary bath handy tray; 2- Luxurious bath handy tray; 3- Men’s bath bowl; 4- Women’s bath bowl; 5- Bath tray; 6- Bath mat; 7- Ordinary bath packing cloth; 8- Luxurious bath packing cloth.
Harvard University

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.

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Yazdi Kitchen
A sooty kitchen with three stoves and one burning oven in a traditional house in Yazd. These kitchens also have a woodshed.
Mahdi Khebradast +

7- Kitchens of Yezd’s houses

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.

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Zoroastrian bride
Zoroastrian young bride next to her mother and groom’s mother.
Antoin Sevruguin

8- Zoroastrians of Yezd

In Persia two distinct races live side by side, (35) and the commerce and industries of the country are mainly in the hands of the «Parsees» (36), who have their central organization at «Bombay».

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.

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Chaqchur & tir-o-sikh trousers
Outdoor trousers of Muslim women called chaqchur in the right side and outdoor trousers of Zoroastrian women called tir-o-sikh trousers, both belonging to the Qajar era.
Victoria and Albert Museum / Harvard University

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.

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footnote Footnotes

(1) Qanat.
(2) In Yazd’s architecture, sherbet-khaneh or hose-khaneh is not the only part of the house that is ventilated by the wind-towers. They may be connected to the orsi room, kolah-farangi room, talar and or cellar.
(3) Hose-khaneh is equivalent to sherbet-pantry. “Hose-khaneh is a covered area with central pool, usually elevated and lit trough the ceiling.” (Ganj-nameh; vol. 14, Yazd house; p. 11) A few miles from Isfahan, “The house was a small one, consisting of ... sherbet-house, where pipes, tea and sherbet were prepared.” “Most houses have a so-called kahvah-khaneh or coffee-house, or a sherbet-khaneh or sherbet-house, in which the samovar and kalyan are prepared and washing up done.” (Persian women; p. 41 and 173)
(4) Many of the housework that is done in the kitchen nowadays, apart from cooking, was carried out in the yard or on the verandah back then. “Persians are very fond of sitting out of doors, and the women do most of their work on the verandahs or in the compounds.” (Persian women; p. 174)
(5) «Alexander’s prison».
(6) Yezd “possesses all the regular attributes of a Persian town to an exaggerated degree.” “A few years ago Yezd had the reputation of being one of the most bigoted of the towns of Persia.” (Five Years; p. 1 and 44)
(7) The idioms «like bird in a gilded cage» or «be in golden cage» in British English mean be in a pleasant situation but suffering a loss of freedom.
(8) “A year or two ago, when an Isfahani Sayid came and preached in the Yezd mosques against painted trays, «Manchester» cottons, bank-notes, and Bibles, the Yezdi Mussulmans gave him the cold shoulder.” (Five years; p. 53 - 54) In Persia’s bazaars “there are special patterns in muslins and silks, printed in «Manchester» and elsewhere for the Persian market, flowers on gay backgrounds, such as red rosebuds on a pink ground, or blue daisies on a yellow ground.” (Persian women; p. 193)
(9) These trousers are called chaqchur. “The chacchur, or over-trousers, which are worn out of doors, … are made with tight-fitting feet, into which the very full trouser leg is gathered, and they are excellent for keeping out the dust.” (Persian women; p. 164)
(10) “When the chacchurs … are new, they may be bright blue, green, mauve, drab or black, but the coloured ones very quickly look the worse for wear.” (Persian women; p. 164) Women’s trousers were dark blue and sometimes violet; and if the woman is a seyyed, who is a descendant of the prophet of Islam, then they would be green. (Se sal dar darbar-e Iran; the Persian translation of Trois ans a’la cour Perse; p. 117)
(11) “The women of the highest official class are kept very close in Yezd, perhaps only going out once in six months, except to the bath; but the merchants’ wives have considerably more liberty, and the commoner women go about freely.” (Five Years; p. 179)
(12) “Royal ladies … never go out except in a closed carriage with a eunuch on the box. In passing through a town the blinds or shutters of the carriage will generally be drawn, but riders often precede it, crying out: ‘Men, Turn your eyes away!’” (Persian women; p. 39) “When the harem was passing a street, the servants would run along the carriage and drive the men away shouting ‘look away, get away’. ... The street would be filled with the shouts of ‘look away, get away’”. (Khaterat va khatarat; p.92)
(13) Persian word meaning exterior.
(14) Persian word meaning interior.
(15) Taqcha.
(16) Yezdis place the following things upon the house’s taqchas: a pair of lalas which are spring candlesticks with globe, lamp, Persian hookah or qalian, a pair of European vases or Continental oleographs, looking-glass, covered glass vessel with a long spout containing rose-water, etc. (Five Years; p. 25 - 26)
(17) “In the place of honour, furthest from the door, is a mattress stuffed with cotton, covered with some sort of chintz or cretonne, and furnished with one or two very large round bolsters.” (Five Years; p. 22)
(18) “You must remember that Yezdi never removes his clothes for the night.” (Five Years; p. 27) “Going to bed and getting up is a very easy matter for a Persian; it merely involves taking off and putting on the outer garment.” (Persian women; p. 167)
(19) “All the Persian babies are swaddled.” “The poor baby is put to lie on a large square of print; one corner of this is turned in, and is placed just below the shoulders. The little arms and legs are then pulled down straight, and another corner of the wrapper is turned up over the feet, and the rest is tightly wound round the body, the finished bundle being tied up with braid or tape or even a strap. The binding is so tight that a week-old baby may be put to stand against a wall.” (Persian women; p. 124)
(20) The word «mirza» means one who can both read and write.
(21) “Only 0.3 per cent of Persia’s women are literate.” “About three per cent of men and boys are literate, but education in the towns is going ahead, and before long things will improve.” (Persian women; p. 92 and 107)
(22) In Yezd, “girls are sometimes married extremely young, for instance at nine or ten, but there is a growing feeling that to marry a very young child is not altogether respectable, and some of the better class merchants prefer not to let their girls be married before fourteen.” (Five Years; p. 178)
(23) Penny is the smallest denomination within a currency system of Britain, equaling one one-hundredth of a pound sterling. 6 or 7 pence from 1905 would be worth approximately 7.3 pounds in 2017.
(24) “If she proves intractable, or fails to please her husband in her work and ways, if she loses her good looks, or, most serious offence of all, if she fails to present him with a son, she is threatened with divorce. If for any reason she suggests divorce, she will lose her dowry, which is only paid when she is divorced by her husband.” (Persian women; p. 91)
(25) “How can there be the rest and satisfaction of a real home when the wife knows that for a small reason she may be divorced and sent adrift, and then perforce must marry again? The only way to make home life is to raise the position of women.” (Persian women; p. 51 - 52)
(26) However, there were women who worked for low wages, earning the living of themselves and their families. “When you know the women, you realize how many of them must support themselves. … There are so few occupations open to them.” (Persian women; p. 221)
(27) “Ladies have often complained to me of the dullness of their own entertainments. Nothing but drinking tea and eating sweets and nuts, and smoking the kalyan, and gossip! The younger women and girls are expected to be very demure, and to listen to rather than join in the conversation.” (Persian women; p. 200)
(28) “Visits to the hammam, or public bath, are among the most exciting happenings in the lives of Persian women of all classes. Besides the regular weekly or monthly visits, there are the special occasions on which they go, the chief of these being before betrothals or weddings, and in preparation for the New Year festival.” (Persian women; p. 200)
(29) Only a few of the wealthy had exclusive baths in their own house.
(30) “Indeed Yezdi only removes his clothes or washes his body when he goes to the public bath. The fee for admission is a mere trifle, but people do not go to the bath unless they have an absolutely clean set of clothes to change.” (Five Years; p. 27) “The time for changing clothes is when the public bath is visited, when, after the bath, everything must be put on fresh. … It seems as impossible to have a bath without clean clothes as to put on clean clothes without going to the bath!” (Persian women; p. 167)
(31) Garm-khaneh.
(32) “The women of the court drew thick and connected eyebrows on their faces with indigo or dye and henna. Sometimes they would draw a little mole between their eyebrows.” (Yaddasht-hai az zendegi-e khosusi-e Naser ad-Din Shah; p. 44)
(33) A Persian girl’s hair braided “in ten or twelve plaits, which are rarely replaited.” In the public bath, bride’s “hair will be treated with henna, and plaited in the finest plaits possible over the top of her head and down her back.” “The hair at the back is done in a number of plaits, which hang down, often below the waist.” (Persian women; p. 139, 140 and 166)
(34) “Implements are seldom used, and plates are replaced by long thin cakes of bread. Large helpings of rice are put on this bread, pieces of which are torn off and dipped into the curry or stew, so that the plate is gradually eaten.” (Persian women; p. 172)
(35) Other religions and ethnicities also existed in Yazd that the author has overlooked.
(36) The Zoroastrians who emigrated to India.
(37) «Zoroaster» or «Ashu Zarathushtra» is the ancient prophet of Persia. Despite many researches, there is no consensus on his place and time of birth. However, it is usually considered some place in the northeast of Persia and time between 1500 and 500 BC.
(38) Both of the divine law and human intellect are resources and reasons of religious precepts. Europeans say that the Yazd’s Muslims usually act according to the divine law and the Yazd’s Zoroastrians usually act according to the human intellect: About the system of Islam, it can be said, “most Yezdis have grasped as an integral whole;” however, in Zoroastrianism, “there is a strong tendency amongst its professors to deny revelation altogether, and to become simply rationalists.” (Five Years; p. 110 and 113)
(39) Tir-o-sikh trousers.
(40) In Yezd “even those who have superadded a certain degree of knowledge, have, in almost all cases, retained the majority of their preconceptions. Persians are very slow in seeing a contradiction.” (Five Years; p. 42)
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Lady’s Realm; volume 22; issue 144; October 1908resource Lady’s Realm; volume 22; issue 144; October 1908

The «Lady’s Realm» was an illustrated monthly British women’s magazine, published from 1896 until 1916 in «London». This feminist magazine was popular and sold reasonably well in «United States», «United Kingdom» and «Canada».

The magazine was including articles, photographs, poems, fiction, fashion trends, enlightened ideas on women’s life and columns by popular authors such as Marie Corelli, Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett, Jack London, and Herbert George Wells.

Its end may have been due to the «First World War» in 1916; and its history and archive was destroyed during the «London Blitz» in the «Second World War» in 1940 and 1941.
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