The Islamic Revolution and the Lutis of Iran
Prior to the Islamic Revolution, the Lutis of Luristan, southwest Iran, largely earned their income as entertainers. They performed at wedding celebrations, as well as at circumcision ceremonies and the New Year (Now Ruz) festivities.
Despite the fact that the majority of Lurs, Kurds and other non-Lutis enjoyed the Lutis' music and participated in the dances, the Lutis' activities were looked down upon by the non-Lutis. As far as the non-Lutis are concerned, the Lutis are naturally polluted (nejas) and considered an inferior race. They are treated as outcasts and ascribed the status "once a Luti always a Luti!"
Apparently, such an attitude was supported by various non-Lutis myths and nourished by Islamic supernaturalism. The Islamic clergy always opposed the performance of dance music and dancing but they had no power to prohibit the Lutis from such activities. Once they took control of Iran, however, they forbade the Lutis to perform music and dance on the grounds that such activities were not in accord with Islamic tradition. The Lutis were forced to abandon their traditional occupations - without any compensation or job provisions - and pursue new activities for which they were not skilled. Not only has this affected non-Luti ceremonies such as weddings and circumcisions, but significant numbers of Lutis remain unemployed.
Luti Ethnic Identity and Geographical Distribution
Until recently, little was known of the ethnic identity of the Lutis and other traditional musicians of Iran. It was generally taken for granted that they were native to the local population. Now, however, it is believed that the Lutis and the majority of other traditional musicians of Iran are of Gypsy origin.
The Lutis are thinly distributed in Luristan, as well as in Kurdistan, Kermanshahan and Ilam provinces. No statistical data is available on the Lutis' population; however, it is estimated that some 1500 to 2000 of them reside in Luristan. The Lutis of Luristan are divided into eleven lineages, which traditionally have been attached to various Luri tribes in rural areas.
In recent years, however, many of the Lutis have migrated to urban centers. Today, nearly one third of the Lutis live in Khorramabad, the capital of Luristan, as well as in Pol-i-Dokhtar and other towns.
The Wedding Celebration
Dowat, the wedding celebration, is the most important and the happiest rite of passage among the inhabitants of Luristan and Iran as a whole. It is a prelude to the establishment of a new household as well as the procreation and the continuation of genealogical lines. The celebration takes place at the residence of the groom, whose parents assume all expenses. Kinsmen, friends and neighbors all participate. The duration and the magnitude of the celebration depend on the social status and the amount of wealth of the groom's parents. Generally the celebration lasts from one to three days.
Dowat begins with the arrival of the bride, followed by the guests who are invited according to their status. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, when the wedding celebration was accompanied by music, dancing and singing, the Lutis were invited by the groom's parents. They were expected to perform dance music for the guests who participated in the dancing. In addition to their wages, they were provided with meals and lodging during the ceremony.
Overall, the wedding ceremony provided an opportunity for people to get together, to dance and to enjoy themselves. It was also an occasion for the young boys and girls to practice and learn dancing. Most importantly, it provided an opportunity for parents to find brides for their sons.
The musicians were organized into small bands (dasa) ranging from three to five members. The division of labor within each band depended on the training and the experience of the members in playing musical instruments. Lutis played several musical instruments including saz (wind-pipe), kamancha (a three string viol), dohol (big drum), and dombak (small drum). The saz and dohol were played for dance music, the kamancha accompanied vocal music.
The members of each band worked under the supervision of a band leader (sardasa), a person who had more experience playing musical instruments. When the Luti first arrived at a wedding ceremony, they began the entertainment by performing dance music. When they accompanied the party sent after the bride, they played saz and dohol and sang wedding songs all the way to the bride's residence. They continued playing once they arrived there and on their way back to the groom's residence. As soon as they returned to the groom's residence, they began performing dance music again.
Everyone, men and women, young and old, could participate in the dancing. One man or woman would lead the dancers, who held hands and formed a semicircle. The dancing continued from early in the morning until midnight with several intermissions. During intermissions, particularly prior to and after lunch and dinner, the musicians played kamancha along with tombak and sang songs. Generally, dance music was performed outdoors and vocal music indoors, inside the house or tent where the guests were seated.
The Entertainers' Wages
The Lutis were provided with a certain amount of cash in return for their services. In Luristan, the groom and his family paid the musicians very little; most of Lutis' earnings were paid by the guests. According to the local custom, known as gol, the guests were required to make contributions to the musicians as well as to their hosts.
The contributions were made openly after lunch and dinner. One of the Lutis would go directly to the most respected guest and set an empty tray in front of him. The guests were expected to make contributions according to their social status. Once the first guest had made a contribution, the tray was passed to the next guest. The procedure continued until all guests had made their contributions'. Then the money was counted in the presence of-one of the groom's relatives and handed to the band's leader.
The income that the musicians earned during each wedding celebration depended on the social status and the wealth of the groom's parents. Families of high social status and wealth afforded elaborate celebrations over a longer period of time. Such families also maintained a wider connection with more prominent people. Consequently the participation of larger groups of people for longer periods of time guaranteed more money for the musicians.
Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Luti also earned wages by performing at circumcision ceremonies and New Year festivities. The circumcision lasted for a day and was accompanied by music and dancing. The Luti musicians received a set amount of money from the children's parents and a meal as well as donations from guests.
Celebrations for the Iranian New Year begin on March 21 throughout the country and last almost a week. People visit each other, share meals and exchange gifts. Traditionally, Luti visited some members of their community and demanded aidi (New Year's gift) - cash or clothes. Luti also played music for tourists and others who simply desired musical performances. In return, musicians were paid in cash.
Other Means of Income for the Lutis
Traditionally, Luti were a landless people. Despite the fact that there was no restriction prohibiting them from farming or herding, they seldom engaged in such activities. Only a few families pursued farming and herding in addition to entertaining.
Even though the majority of Lutis did not own land and were not engaged in farming, the non-Lutis considered them members of the community and felt obliged to provide them with farm products during the harvest. In each community Lutis visited the farmers to collect grain and other products. In this way, the Luti managed to collect sufficient wheat for a year's supply of bread. Any surplus they had they sold in the town markets to obtain other necessities.
The Lutis also visited certain families within their communities throughout the year to request gifts of money, clothes, and farm products. This custom, known as hass (which means to demand), was an institutionalized form of begging. The musicians considered it their natural right to ask for gifts to the extent that they haggled about the quality and the quantity of the gift. They even refused to it was below their expectation. Normally people did not turn down the Lutis' request for gifts because they feared gossip. The Lutis composed satiric songs dishonoring those who displeased them.
Islamic Revolution Changes Lutis' Traditions
Although the clergy opposed musical performance and dancing prior to the Islamic Revolution, they were unable to prevent the Lutis from pursuing such activities. As the clergy took full control of Iran, however, musicians' activities were banned on the grounds that they were not in accord with Islamic tradition. Forced to abandon their traditional means of livelihood without any governmental provisions or compensation, the Lutis and other traditional musicians were left on their own. They had no choice but to pursue new activities. In 1983, Luti of Khorramabad city and the surrounding villages were engaged in the following occupations: farmer (1), temporary laborer (20), mason (2), plasterer (5), driver (3), shopkeeper (3), peddler (1), mobilization force (2), unemployed (30). Many Lutis are unskilled at these activities, however, and it is difficult to find employment. Today significant numbers remain unemployed.
In short, the Lutis have been forced to abandon their traditional activities without other recourse. Consequently they have faced unpredicted circumstances that entail not only financial difficulties but also require adjustment to uncertain conditions. Despite the fact that Luti have abandoned their traditional activities, their status remains unchanged. They are still treated as outcasts. The recent changes have also affected the wedding celebration. Now that wedding ceremonies are held without music and dance, the tradition of Iranian folk dances is also vanishing.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.