Concluding remarks

Perhaps Durkheim has created a lasting influence on the anthropology of death by emphasizing that the individual grief experienced at the death of another human being is expressed collectively, in culturally prescribed ways of mourning. Grief may be a universal emotion of bereavement, as psychologists such as Bowlby have noted, but its social expression in mourning is culturally specific. [1] Therefore, Bakhtiari Gageriveh rituals should be understood in relation to other losses that provoke their personal and collective crises. Mourning for Bakhtiari women becomes then a social and psychological way to cope with any significant loss, for which death is the ultimate metaphor. Bakhtiari Gageriveh helps to draw female members of families, clans and tribes closer together and invigorates their weakened social groups. The foundation of Bakhtiari women’s Gageriveh is the impression of the loss which the clan feels when one of its members dies . This very impression, however, results in bringing individuals, especially women, together, in putting them into closer social relations with one another, in associating them all with the same mental state, and, therefore, in disengaging a sensation of comfort which compensates the original loss. Because Bakhtiari women weep together, they hold onto one another and the group is not weakened, despite the blow which has befallen it. Communicating in sorrow is still communicating, and every communion of mind, in whatever form it may be made, enhances social vitality.

I believe that Gageriveh becomes for the Bakhtiari women an avenue for social commentary on the larger world, rather than an instrument of restriction and isolation. To hear a lament improvised is not merely to hear one person sing, but to hear an entire social ensemble vocalize. [2] Further, I believe Gageriveh helps those women who mourn to resolve their grief by merging their voices into a deeper lyrical persona: others have known this pain; others will feel it in the future, too. Gageriveh’s rhymes and meters help Bakhtiari women to organise their words and discipline their deep and sad emotions. Most of all, poetry melds their visions regarding death, bravery and heroism. Gageriveh, then, enables the bereaved to distance themselves from personal grief, to admit the loved one’s death and to assert his immortality. It also reveals that, by means of lamentation (Gageriveh), Bakhtiari women can articulate their grief and locate their beloveds’ deaths in larger sociopolitical and tribal contexts – and so begin to reorder and renew larger social contexts. Women, by lamenting, singing songs of loss and emphasizing in their stories the intensity of their reactions to loss, as well as through their personal involvement in mourning, simultaneously assert the weakness of their faith and the greatness of their vulnerability and attachment to others.[3]

Funeral ritual of a male Bakhtiari (women’s Gageriveh, at home, Masjid Suleyman, Khuzestan, Iran, 2003)©P.Khosronejad

Bakhtiari Gageriveh should not be read only as a personal expression that allows us to evaluate the individual women who lament. As expressions of deep attachment, Bakhtiari Gageriveh and songs of loss share a deep relationship with folkloric and tribal symbols. These are fundamental to understanding the meaning and sociopolitical and cultural effects of Bakhtiari tribes’ discourses on death. I believe that through funeral ceremonies, as well as Gageriveh and its symbolic elements, Bakhtiari women represent the structure, norms, distinctive interests, or ideals of the societies that bind them – but with more or less success and with varying degrees of consensus. At the same time, I think, the symbolic forms of funeral ceremonies are conventionally assumed to be effective in reorganizing the understandings of the Bakhtiari. It may, of course, be that only Bakhtiari women are fully aware of what is being dramatised in lamentation performances and that men are enticed into participation because they are unaware of the implications of what they are doing. The men I talked to seemed to be as much aware as women of the meaning of Gageriveh performances and the symbols employed in them.

Yet, there is a rich symbolic repertoire of intense emotional and affective expressions in local and traditional Bakhtiari lamentations, poetry, song and folktales. Among the Bakhtiari, verbal art, often in the form of Gageriveh performed during funeral rituals, is used to indirectly express strong sentiments that otherwise cannot be expressed openly or directly.

Gageriveh rituals, then, provide the bereaved with a set of shared tribal symbols – what Lévi-Strauss has called a social myth – which enables them not only to organise their experiences of death in a culturally meaningful way but also to articulate it in a socially approved manner. [4] Bakhtiari women who sing Gageriveh are communicating in a symbolic language and in the context of tribal performance. The goal of a structural analysis of Bakhtiari laments is therefore to learn this language, in order to understand what is being said about death. Here, one of the important points is that the men were not able to continue the traditions of bravery and manliness, but the women have kept the memory of those triumphant days alive. This is what Gageriveh is about: the women keep these memories in their hearts and pass them on through the generations. Thus, today we know that the Bakhtiari tribesmen were once great warriors, the likes of whom no longer exist. In the absence of written history, oral traditions are one medium through which the Bakhtiari construct their past. Songs and ceremonies associated with funeral traditions have the larger importance of recording historical events and helping to reconstruct some part of the Bakhtiaris’ identity.

Funeral ritual of a male Bakhtiari (women’s Gageriveh mixed with southern traditions- Abadani-, at home, Masjid Suleyman, Khuzestan, Iran, 2003)©P.Khosronejad

For the Bakhtiari, death is not a personal but a social affair, in which the family and community are present at the deathbed, wake and funeral ceremonies. These rituals repair broken ties and reaffirm the continuity and solidarity of the community. Thus, death is ritualized and given great significance. Bakhtiari collective mourning helps to bring families and clans closer together and to strengthen the social group. The social function of mourning rites is not limited to the death of individuals. Indeed, mourning is a general expression of loss for a society under threat. These cultural practices produce a high level of emotion and reinforce the attachments that hold society together. They give the Bakhtiari a comforting sense of immortality, while at the same time reassembling the group that has been temporarily disrupted by the death of one of its members. Continued analysis of the contemporary funerary traditions in Bakhtiari society will create a rich structure of detailed ethnographic and anthropological evidence for anthropologists interested in nomadic life in Iran. This evidence includes information not only on the property, social status and prestige of the Bakhtiari but also on non-orthodox rituals and beliefs – and perhaps even on individuals, notably those who are being mourned.

[1] Bowlby 1980. [2] Seremetakis 1990, 506. [3] Abu-Lughod 1993, 189. [4] Lévi-Strauss 1962, 199.

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