Ethnology & Traditional Culture of Iran magazine
No. 3, 1977
his Social Role in Velyan Village, Iran
Mir Shokrai, 1977, Iran
Velyan is a village within the district of Savoj-bolaq
in Karaj, near Tehran. It is located 30 Km northwest
of the city of Karaj. The major productive activities
here are horticulture, animal husbandry and farming.
Horticulturists, livestock breeders and farmers
respectively constitute Velyan’s main top social
strata. Some members of each of these strata are
shopkeepers, too. One could also add to the above
three strata a forth stratum, the workers, who have no
ownership of any means of production.
Among the latter stratum, people like barbers, bath
keepers and shepherds, who because of the nature of
their job have more contact with people, have special
position. These people, who in local terminology are
referred to as tradesmen, are always chosen through
communal deliberations from among candidates, who have
little means and generally have no orchards or animals
and if they possess anything, it is nominal.
Among members of this group, barber, who has closer
interaction with people and their families, has bigger
role than an ordinary tradesmen. Until1957, village
barbers were not stationed in a shop, but in order to
conduct their work, they visited people at their
homes. Today still, those of high esteem and respect
and/or those unable to visit the barber, have barbers
attending their homes. Two of Velyan’s current
barbers are stepbrothers (of separate mothers), who
have received their job from 3 family generations
Barber in Velyan, like in most other Iranian villages,
also has traditional medical responsibilities,
especially as a dentist. In this way, he is similar to
those village old women, who perform traditional
Barber has also particular intimate
relationship with people and their families. An old
man from Velyan said: “Barber is the keeper of all
secrets. For instance, if my wife wanted a tooth
pulled, who else would be the job?” But another man
from Velyan said: “Barber is nosey and gossips and
therefore people discuss little of their personal
affairs with him.” Although these viewpoints are
contradictory, they nevertheless indicate the
barber’s close and deep interaction with people.
Till a few years ago, on one of the Norouz days (Norouz
is Iranian New year, which begins on 21st
March) or Sizdeh-bedar (13th day of every
Norouz), village tradesmen used to be chosen in a
carnival-like ceremony, with music, at Kadkhoda’s
house. There they make agreements with them for a
year. Barber’s wage is in cash or in kind, and it is
paid on a yearly basis.
The barber’s cash customers are more shopkeepers,
salary and wage earners; in general, those who have
more dealings with money.
A woman barber, which is also midwife, works in the
village, too. She knows how to perform “Hajamat”
and “Badkesh”. The woman barber’s
responsibilities, which are shaving and cutting the
hair of women and some medical practices, have
similarities to those of the male barber. But because
of being a woman and having fewer customers, her
responsibilities are not as diverse as those of the
“Hajamat” and “Badkesh” are two traditional
methods of medical treatment:
For “Hajamat”, an animal horn, open at both ends,
is placed at one end on the back, near the shoulder of
the patient and it is sucked at the other end; so that
the vacuum created causes swelling on the skin. This
act is repeated several times on spots near one
another, till a large swelling appears on the skin.
Then the swelling is cut at several placed, by a
razor, to release the blood collected under the
swelling. This treatment is used when, in popular
language, one’s blood gets infected.
”Badkesh” is a similar method, in which instead of
a horn, a cup is used. Burning a piece of cotton wool,
which is removed, creates the vacuum inside the cup
and a lid put on. No cutting or bleeding is involved
here. This treatment is used for the cure of muscle
and bone aches. These two methods of treatment were
used in the all villages and cities in Iran.
“Hajamat” was done once a year for every adult men
The barber’s other activities that gradually have
become part of tradition are: To invite, and
entertain; to see to people in wedding and funeral
ceremonies; to accompany the bridegroom to the baths;
and to oversee and act as an accountant in weddings.
In the past, and perhaps even today, people used to
visit the barber for treatment and the pulling out of
teeth. Washing people in bath is also another of the
barber’s activities. By using tools named “Mile”
and “Qamish”, he circumcises small boys.
In traditional medicine, belief in the existence of
harmless winds in the body has special place.
“Badkesh” used for removal of these winds, and
“Hajamat” or bloodletting are performed by the
barber. People also go to him for the treatment of
wounds. Apart from his medical activities, barber also
performs other works, including sharpening hammers and
knives and sometimes washing the dead.
In the past, the barber’s tools were a wooden comb,
a pair of scissors, “Qol-qolak” (a flash-like
container for holding water), “Sollab” (a leather
band for sharpening razors, a “Photeh” or cloth, a
mirror, a leather handbag and a metallic razor without
Tools used in other activities were a horn for “Hajamat”,
“Kalbatein” for tooth-pulling, lancet for wounds,
“Mile” and “Qamish” and a razor for
circumcision and a belt for knife sharpening.
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