Home > Ethnological News > Series of talks between Miras-e-farda and lecturers and researchers of social science & Interdisciplinary studies

Series of talks between Miras-e-farda and lecturers and researchers of social science & Interdisciplinary studies

Part one- interview with the director of the project “Ritual healings in southern coasts and islands of Iran”  

Interviewer : Sorayya Lashkari

sadegh deghati inside of Issa father ghaderi Salakh village - January 2010 Photographer: Jalal Jafar pour

sadegh deghati inside of Issa father ghaderi
Salakh village – January 2010
Photographer: Jalal Jafar pour, MirasFarda Archive

Miras-e-farda Institute is a known name in the field of anthropological and ethnological studies in Iran with about 200 researcher members who collaborate with the institute.

Within seven years, since the start of Miras-e-farda, a lot of research schemes have been carried out by the institutes’ researchers in rural, urban and tribal societies, three documentary films have been produced, several congresses and exhibitions have been held and different educational courses of Mythology and ethnographic documentary making & photography  have been run. The year 2012 was the year of some publications and visual works’ release by the institute.

Among all works and projects conducted by Miras-e-farda, there are some multipurpose and important projects that stand out. The ones which are so vast and difficult that raise the question “how could they successfully be carried out and what motivations were behind them”?

To find the answer to this question encouraged us to have an interview with Mohammad Sadeq Deghati Najd, the institute’s managing director and the head of the project “Ritual healings in southern coasts and islands of Iran”. It can be viewed as follow.

As the head of this project, can you please explain about the project of southern healers in Iran? When did you start this project and what was your motivation and objection?

Initial studies were started in 2007, however, a year earlier when we had started field studies on Turkmen healers, we had no plan of doing any research on other ritual healings. When we went to Turkmen Sahara, it took us three years ( 2005-2008 ) to gather information and shooting documentary evidence where we came to the conclusion that ritual healing in Iran is a vast area of research including important points about traditional ethnic beliefs, customs, myths and it is somehow linked to Shamanism in a way.

While working, I came up with the idea of focusing our research of ethnic and ritual healing in four different parts of Iran with particular specialty. These regions were: “Turkman Sahara”, “Southern coasts of Iran”, “Sistan-o- Balouchestan”, and “Kurdistan”.

As it was a demanding task which called for a huge amount of time, effort and cost, so we had to schedule and seek sponsorship and patronage.

In Turkman’s healing approach, there’s a kind of healing called “porkhani” which will be dealt with later. But let’s get down to the ritual healing in Southern coasts of Iran called “Zar” or “Red wind[1]“.

According to their belief “Zar” is a kind of wind, among different other winds; each causing a different mental illness and has its own healing method with a relevant musical ritual.

Ahle-hava healing rite - Lengeh seaport - June 2010 Photographer: Mansour Mansouri, MirasFarda Archive

Ahle-hava healing rite – Lengeh seaport – June 2010
Photographer: Mansour Mansouri, MirasFarda Archive

I’d rather refer to this ceremony as ritual healing of “people of the air” (ahl-e hava) instead of Zar ceremony.

So, we started our second stage of work on this national project by doing a documentary research which was followed by exploratory research in December 2009 , then field study was carried out in the region for six months with our team of anthropologists and ethnologists.

The third stage of the project is planned to cover “Sistan-o-Balouchestan up to southern khorasan.

The diffusion of Shamanism and ritual healings in Eastern Iran up to the southern coasts in Iran as well as their correlation has always been intriguing and interesting in our studies.

Among Balouchs ( people from Sistan-o- Balouchestan), we can see the similar belief about winds. Based on their view, there are different winds such as Gwati, each affecting a particular social class. For instance, upper class has their own winds and subsequently their own diseases, so does the underclass have their own. However, in the south of Iran, winds are not classified the way they are treated in Sistan-o- Balouchestan.

Finally, as the fourth stage of our project, we will focus on Kurdistan and will study healing methods of Dervishes as well as Kurd’s ritual healings. We have planned to do documentary and exploratory study in summer 2013 and to carry out field study after the project of the South and Sistan-o- Balouchestan are completed.

These four projects will yield a lot of results in the form of books, Ethnographic films & photos, exhibitions and conferences. The important points in these studies are: to get to know the connection between healing approaches and social environment, traditional patterns, myths and tribal belief, as well as the connection between these methods with one another and with Shamanism, what hidden indigenous knowledge lies in them, how they affected the lives of tribes and what kind of changes each went through within the course of time.

What is Shamanism and how it approaches healing diseases?

Shamanism is the incipient religious approach that was formed in primitive human tribes, going back as far as hunter gatherer age in human history.

Animal totems ( a tribal symbol of a particular animal spirit) which is regarded as a conduit to Shaman to take him to spirit world in addition to guardian animal spirits who support shaman , both belong to this era.

In ancient civilization and primitive tribes, Shamans were preserving religion, culture, rituals and somehow were referred to as a religious figure in their tribes.

Their duties were not solely healing, but included predicting the future, offering a solution and remedy for people’s problems and illnesses. Shamans could communicate with spirit world and superficial beings in that culture and help people with their problems.

Animal spirits were very important for Shamans to get help from. The totem of each tribe was its symbol. It can be claimed that one of the main conduit for a Shaman to travel to spirit world for hunting was animals’ spirit.

Hunting is one of Shaman’s qualities. They have one main spirit which is their totemic spirit and is called ‘supportive spirit’ in addition to other spirits they get help from called ‘guardian spirits’. The more powerful a Shaman is, the more guardians he can get to help him.

Regardless of common qualities in Shamans, they have their personal view in different tribes and may at times apply different techniques. We have tried to illustrate this point in the film “turkman’s porkhan” which was produced by our Institute.

In shamanic view, the world is divided into three parts: high, middle and low. The high world is the place of good spirits, while the low world is where the evil spirits reside; the human being lives in the middle world which is an arena for struggle between good and evil.

This division can be seen, with a little difference, among some tribes such as: “Kusu”, “Celt”, “Turkmen Oguz” and also in some other tribes with Shamanic origin.

Going up to higher worlds is not that difficult for Shamans, whereas coming down to lower ones is not what every Shaman is capable of. This journey can be so hard and dangerous that carries the risk of death for a Shaman. Only those Shamans can travel down to the lower worlds who are strong enough to confront with evil spirits, at times it happens that a Shaman can tame the evil spirits and bring them under his control.

Although some examples of Shamanism can be seen in eastern societies, northern Europe or even in black people of Africa and red Indians of America, but the north of Mangolia is known as one of  the main origin of Shamanism from where it has spread to the tribes residing up to polar latitude, northern Europe, Norway and Finland.

The expansion of Shamanism to Iran was due to the migration of Mangols and Tukmen’s oguz to north-east of Iran. In fact, the word ‘Shaman’ itself is an Altaic word. (Altai is a mountain valley located in the north-west of Mangolia and is regarded as the birthplace of Turkmen Oguz.

Altaic culture and language was expanded as a result of Oguz’s migration and Mangolian’s invasion of Iran and Anatolia.

Shaman in Tungusic language, one of Altaic language family, means “absorbed” referring to a person who is so fascinated that he’s absorbed.

Of course, it is likely that Shamanic rituals or some aspects of it have been introduced to Iranian plateau via Aryans who migrated from cold regions of Siberia to Iran, but due to ancientness of Aryans and their historical & cultural changes , no trace of it is left. Maybe in southern regions and east of Iran, some traces can be found, but it still has to be mentioned with great caution.

In general, there are different views about concept and origin of Shamanism in researchers and mythologists like Iliad, Wilbert, Tissot and others, among whom Iliad’s views are more credible.

To what extent do you think the issue of ritual healings is important and how can knowing about them help us?

In my view, ritual healing is an indigenous knowledge. An indigenous knowledge is the result of thousands of years experiment, trial and error through which people have learned to make stability and balance in their lives and the world around them. This is something we enormously need today.

The indigenous knowledge that lies in these rituals is so rich that not just in ethnology, but in other sciences such as: physics, medicine, psychology, mythology and even in religions it has drawn attention. Unfortunately, due to simplistic approach as well as putting layers of superstition over the genuine ritual layers, our understanding of this indigenous knowledge is not enough.

Our goal of carrying out this research was to record and register the rituals that are being forgotten, the role of environment, Geography and birthplace in shaping the beliefs of a tribe, also analyzing these knowledge and getting to know how they could solve people’s problems and heal their illnesses.

How is your project funded?

When we were about to start the project of south in 2009, we didn’t have enough funding to start up as we had planned to cover four southern provinces. So we managed to get 50% funding from Mr. Farajollah Farazi, a benefactor, for this project.

Due to vastness of geographical area, depth of the study required and escalating costs, we only managed to carry out six months research in “Hormozgan” province, whereas our original proposal was aimed to cover coasts and islands of four southern provinces, hence, we devised a four phase plan of which the first phase was “Hormozgan” province.

I would like to refer to the benefits of these research which are long lasting and will advance our knowledge. Field studies as vast as this which involves considerable number of researchers has not been carried out in anthropology and ethnology studies in Iran for a long time. Universities and research centers in this field have more inclined toward archive research which will result in undermining researchers and students.

Miras-e-farda is in fact trying to revitalize anthropological & ethnological studies in Iran not only in indigenous (rural and tribal) communities, but also in urban areas.

At times, the cost of carrying out these  research outweighs the budget allocated as we require to go over every detail with a fine-tooth comb. If there are any incomes, it will be diverted into further studies and carrying out other projects such as: the project of Talesh, Turkman, South, etc.

I hope the Iranian patriots and educational centers and universities would notice how important projects are being conducted in our Institute with the aim to work for the betterment of our society.

Although we have no concern with profit making, we are open to collaborate with any organization interested in our work.

Your research scope included which geographical areas of Iran?

The connection between ritual healings in South and its environmental conditions restricted the geographical territory of the project to the southern coasts and islands, so we decided to focus on these areas and not to extend our studies toward North where only few examples of ritual healings of “people of the air”(ahl-e hava) can be found.

There are 16 islands in Persian Gulf some of which like Greater Tunb and lesser Tunb are inhabited.

So, the coasts of studies included Abadan in Khoozestan province up to Chabahar and Govater in Sitan-o-Balouchestan province.

The first phase of our study in Hormozgan Province was carried out in four islands: Hormoz, Larak, Qeshm and Hengam as well as coastal areas from Gavbandi in the west to Lirdaf in the east of Hormozgan.

What was the central premise of your study based on which you conducted your research?

We mostly focused on gathering information and biography of “fathers” (baba) and “midwives” (mama) , People of the air ( ahl-e hava), their beliefs and ceremonies, winds and their types, diversity of ritual healings, healing methods, healing stages, healing tools, healing music, healing performance, diseases and diseased, beliefs and suppositions, symbols and signs, and etc.

All these information gradually provided us with a recognition base so we could learn about cause and effect relationship of our collected data such as the connection between culture, environment and ritual healings.

We usually had a sitting after each research with our team in the place of research, discussing and analyzing our findings which in the end led us toward interesting analytical achievements.

I should add that in our south project, along with working on ritual healings, we also carried out a research on some other particular healing approaches and a few examples of physical healings.

In addition, a group of our researchers simultaneously carried out an ethnographic research on three different parts of Hormozgan province including: “Salkh” village in Qeshm island, Hengam island, and “Tombanu” village in Minab. These three places are very different in terms of culture and their ethnographic study could provide us with precious information which is considered as a great help in understanding and analyzing ritual healings.

What advantages does this kind of field study have?

Carrying out field study is very useful for the students of anthropology and ethnology as it gives them the opportunity to practice field study as a practical experience along with theoretical studies they gain in university.

Unfortunately, most students of this field are exposed only to theoretical studies, while in carrying out a practical research; the researcher can come up with an understanding and a critical thinking that can be obtained solely through experience. Despite the difficulties, the researchers of such project feel satisfaction for getting the chance of understanding the true concept of anthropology.

I have been surprised many times, seeing some of our researchers have come up with a highly precious theory after carrying out a field study for a few months. Such theories can never be achieved through theoretical study of anthropology as by participating in the community, understanding the connections is possible and the information about the community’s culture, beliefs, economical conditions and their effects on people’s life is accessible.

To be continued,….

[1] Wind: according to People of the air (ahl-e hava), ‘wind’ is an invisible being or force which can attack a human and afflict him with an illness. Winds have three forms: human, animal and jinn.

A wind usually becomes infatuated by a person, enters his body, possesses him and will not leave him until he dies.

(In Persian language, “wind” is sometimes used as a synonym for “air”. In fact, there is no such thing as wind or air that afflicts its target, but by wind, they mean an invisible cruel being).


People of the air (ahl-e hava) – are indigenous people who have been possessed by a kind of wind, they can be simply called air possessed people. These people usually turn to “father” (baba) or “midwife” (mama) to draw out the wind from their body.

Each “father” or “midwife” should organize a ceremony where afflicted people come together.  During the ceremony, the winds will come under control and the sufferer will be released and will join ahl-e hava.

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