Function of Gageriveh

Gageriveh is part of a longstanding oral tradition in which the literary concept of one authentic or correct version of a song does not exist. These traditional laments are composed, performed and transmitted orally. (1) Bakhtiari women are not in any sense professional mourners. They are unpaid, and in most cases they have become good singers and have learned many Gageriveh rituals because they have had much experience of death and funeral ceremonies. Contrary to countries (Greece, for example) in which – due to the rapid rate of urbanisation and modernisation – most younger women do not know the laments, and/or do not approve of them, young Bakhtiari women and even young girls can recite different versions of Gageriveh. Among the Bakhtiari, although several women have the ability to compose Gageriveh, the vast majority of laments sung are well known to most women. In such cases the variations involve the complexity and the degree of elaboration with which traditional themes are presented. The degree to which each performance is an original creation or composition varies greatly from one region to another – and, within any region, from one performer to another.

Funeral ritual of A. Jafar Quli Rostami (women’s Gageriveh, Sareh Shah, Lali Plain, Khuzestan, Iran, April 2004) ©P.Khosronejad

The Gageriveh ritual is carried out exclusively by women in a separate space from that of men. The older female family members, as the ‘owners of the death’, sit waiting for the guests. The female guests announce their arrival with particular screams (kikovak) (2) while scratching their faces and tearing their hair. Then they enter the women’s place that is prepared for them under the tent or in the women’s room.

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Figure 7 Funeral of one of the local chiefs of the Chengayi tribe, Lali, Khuzestan, Iran © Khosronejad 1999

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Figure 8 Funeral of A. Jafar Quli Rustami, Kuhrang, Chahar Mahal, Iran © CNRS Mission, Khosronejad 2004

Close female relatives of the deceased (grandchildren, nieces, cousins) rise, take the hands of the arriving women (dast-giri) [2] as a token of accepting their sympathy, and undo their mourning scarves (chador bazkardan), which have been tied behind their necks. [3] Then one older female leads a Gageriveh, and the others answer her in chorus. [4] Generally, in the beginning of the ceremon, singing is led by women who are less directly touched by the death. Wives, daughters, mothers and sisters of the deceased, those who are most moved by his death, do not usually lead the singing of laments, because they are too overcome by grief and sadness. They spend much of their time tearing their hair, sobbing, and calling out to the deceased. Later, priority is customarily accorded to close female agnates, but more distant kin, co-villagers and even women who are not related to the deceased can make claims of precedence, particularly if they are known to be skilled lamenters. I think that often the women who lead the singing are themselves in mourning and, through their singing, they express their grief and sadness for their own beloveds. As has been mentioned, not every Bakhtiari woman who laments is a relative of the deceased.

Funeral ritual of a male Bakhtiari (women Gageriveh, at home, Jamal Abad, Lali, Masjid Suleyman, Khuzestan, July 1999)©P.Khosronejad

However, even in these cases kinship is stressed because the lamenter instead invokes the closest members of her own immediate family, clan or tribe who have died, usually a father, a brother, or a husband. While performing Gageriveh, women may lose control. They often repeat certain words when deeply moved or in a trance, and the other women echo these words. While in this mental state, they have been known to scratch their faces, drawing blood with their fingernails, and to punch themselves in the belly and drum their chests with their fists; nearby women must hold their hands tightly to prevent them from hurting themselves.[5] After the singing of each verse of Gageriveh, there is a break during which women cry, sob or talk emotionally about the recent death and drink tea.

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Figure 9 Funeral of A. Jafar Quli Rustami, Kuhrang, Chahar Mahal, Iran © CNRS Mission, Khosronejad 2004

[1] A local female scream that is a signal of arrival at the funeral ceremony. [2] Literally, ‘taking hands’. [3] A sign of welcoming and respect. [4] For more information, watch: Khosronejad 2004. [5] For more information, watch: Khosronejad 2004.

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