by Philip Carl Salzman
It is my happy office as Chair of the Awards Committee to announce that the IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples presents its first ever "Lifetime Achievement Award" to Professor Fredrik Barth for his contributions to the study of nomadic peoples. Through this honorific presentation, the Commission, on behalf of all students of nomadic peoples, wishes to express its appreciation to Professor Barth for his astute, imaginative, and powerful portrayals and analyses of nomadic peoples, and for his ground breaking theoretical conceptions and formulations about their lives and circumstances.
Each student of nomadic peoples will have his or her own reasons for being grateful to Professor Barth; each will in her or his own way have a debt to his work. I am confident that my colleagues will share in my enthusiasm for honouring Professor Barth. However, in these remarks about Professor Barth's work, I speak for myself out of my own experience, and each colleague will have to add his or her own perspective of appreciation.
It is quite true that Professor Barth's work on nomads strongly influenced and inspired subsequent ethnographers of nomadic peoples (although clearly not in the way suggested by Street 1990; cp. Salzman 1995). In the mid-1960s, when I was a graduate student, I read Nomads of South Persia and various of Professor Barth's articles, and drew on them--explicitly and implicitly, consciously and unconsciously--in my own research, as did my coevals and those who followed.
"Ecologic Relationships of Ethnic Groups in Swat, North Pakistan" (1956), Nomads of South Persia (1961), "The Land Use Patterns of Migratory Tribes of South Persia" (1960), and "Nomadism in the Mountain and Plateau Areas of South West Asia" (1960), offered the reader with enlightening accounts of several, ground-breaking themes: first, understanding nomadic peoples in terms of their ecological adaptation; second, appreciating the role of ethnicity in ecological specialization; third, placing nomadic peoples within a wider social and political context, and especially in their participation in a complex society involving markets and state institutions. These works went farther, demonstrating the interplay between ecology, ethnicity, and complex society, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, social, political and economic organization among nomadic peoples.
At the time of this research and writing by Professor Barth, a particular image and a model of nomadic peoples dominated anthropology. This representation (e.g. Beatty 1964: 185; cp. Kroeber 1948: 276-77), drawn heavily from East African cases, especially the work of Herskovits (1952) and Evans-Pritchard (1940), characterized nomadic peoples as livestock-loving, subsistence-producing, independent, autonomous, egalitarian, decentralized warriors, organized acephalously by means of segmentary lineage and age-set systems. In contrast, the Basseri of South Persia were shown by Professor Barth to be virtually polar opposites of the dominant pastoral paradigm:
Rather than being subsistence producing, livestock lovers, the sheep-herding Basseri were market-oriented and instrumentally-minded in their pastoral production.
Unlike the independent and autonomous tribes of East Africa, the Basseri were part of the Khamseh Tribal Confederation, which itself was tied to elite, urban merchants; furthermore, the Basseri and the Khamseh were subject to the claims and capacities of the Persian state apparatus, which deemed these tribal peoples within its realm of suzerainty.
Far from being egalitarian and decentralized, the Basseri had a hierarchical political structure topped by a powerful chief, who made important decisions for all members of the tribe, and was socially stratified into an upper class consisting of the wealthy chiefly family and a low class of ordinary tribesmen.
Unlike pastoral tribes in East Africa, in which most men barring a few ritual specialists were warriors, or else there was a special age grade of warriors, and mobilization for raiding or defence were common, among the Basseri the norm was peaceful relations with other nomads through avoidance, peaceful relations with settled people through exchange, and peaceful relations with urban elites and state agencies through collaboration and coordination with tribal chiefs and recognition of tradition rights.
Rather than being defined and united by common descent and organized by a segmentary lineage system of balanced opposition, the Basseri openly acknowledged the distinct origins of various sections and were unified as a tribe through their common recognition of the Basseri khan as their leader, as they were organized by the hierarchical structure of chiefly authority.
Professor Barth's illuminating account of the Basseri challenged the dominant anthropological paradigm of pastoralism and demonstrated convincingly, by implication and also in comparative discussions (1960b; 1961: Ch. X), the great diversity of culture and organization among nomadic peoples, and some of the factors which underlie this diversity. A footnote to Professor Barth's contribution, if I may be excused a further personal reference at this point, is the inspiration that I drew from this vision of variation among nomadic peoples in preparing my master's thesis and first professional publication (Salzman 1967). If we can judge by citation and reference in comparative analyses, Professor Barth's work on the Basseri has provided a reference point and font of information for ethnographers who followed (e.g. Bates 1971; Beck 1986; Bradburd 1989; Irons 1972; Salzman 1992; Tapper 1979, 1997) and for historians drawing on Basseri ethnography to construct models and build interpretations (Tapper 1997:18-24).
The influence of Professor Barth's contributions to nomadic studies does not rest solely upon the elegance of his ethnography and the interest of his topical syntheses. As well, these studies were guided by, and exhibited the results of an original and powerful theoretical vision, manifested earlier in such works as "Father's Brother's Daughter Marriage in Kurdistan" (1954) and Political Leadership Among the Swat Pathan (1959), and explicated later in more abstract form in Models of Social Organization (1966). This processual and transactional theory--rejecting an overemphasis on custom and rule-based behavior, and searching for dynamics that could explain change--emphasized the decisions of individuals and the exchanges between individuals, and explained patterns of social organization by generative models, as resulting from aggregates of individual decisions. By using this approach in Nomads of South Persia, Professor Barth was able to show, among many other things, that the Basseri camp was constituted demographically by an aggregate of economic decisions by individuals (Ch. VIII), that the tribe maintained demographic balance with its environment through sedentarization (Ch. IX), that the herding camp as an operating social group was based upon negotiation and purposeful alliances (Ch. III), that herding groups were formed by means of utilitarian contract (22-23), that the Basseri tribe was a congeries of segments diverse in origin, ethnicity, and history brought together by conscious political allegiance to the chief (49-54), and that the "Arab" Khamseh Confederacy, of which the Basseri were part, was invented for instrumental purposes by powerful urban merchants and sealed by the provision of arms and other resources (86-89). In short, Professor Barth was able to demonstrate that "structural" features were generated by decision-making and transactional processes, and that these were based at least partly upon rational and strategic considerations. Professor Barth's processual, transactional approach would inform the research of subsequent researchers on nomadic peoples and many other subjects as well.
In my remarks, I have concentrated on Professor Barth's publications in the 1950s and 1960s, for the obvious reason that they dealt directly with nomadic peoples. The later work of Professor Barth has of course been of great interest to us as general anthropologists and students of ethnicity (Barth 1969), experience of culture (Barth 1983), cultural variation (Barth 1989, 1994), local knowledge (Barth 1975, 1993), and many other topics. But as a clear refutation of "presentism"--the assumption that only work done today is valid, and that publications older than five years can be safely ignored--as a refutation of "presentism", we could not find a better example than the long term, continued and continuing importance of Professor Barth's work on nomadic peoples.
Therefore, the IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples, on behalf of all students of nomadic peoples, thanks Professor Barth, and in recognition of his accomplishments, bestows on him its "Lifetime Achievement Award".