BURBUR TRIBE, a Lor tribe dispersed throughout Persia, especially in Azerbaijan, Varāmin, northern Khorasan, Fārs, and Kermān; some sectors have become sub-tribes of the Afšār, Bahārlu, Baḵtiāri, Hedāvand, Ḵamsa, Qašqāʾi, Turkmen and possibly others.

Anthropology. An early settlement pattern, combined with gradual assimilation within several confederacies and their consequent bilingual or trilingual acquisition, has caused many scholars to bestow an erroneous genesis upon the Burbur tribe (Figure 1). Some have granted Turkish ethnicity (e.g., Qaṣṣābinežād), while others have suggested Kurdish descent (Chodźko, p. 295, who also mistakenly transcribes the name as Berber; Hourcade, 1977, pp. 43, 47; idem, 1982, p. 73; Amini, pp. 119, 122). They were misled by the fact that the branch within the Qašqāʾi are Turkish speakers, and those in the Varāmin region are Kurdish speakers. The Burburs are neither Turks nor Kurds, but Lors (Borbor, forthcoming).

Ethnonym. “Burbur” has been diversely associated with the lexeme bur < Pahlavi bōr either as a “(brand of) horse,” a certain color denomination “reddish-brown, bay (horse)” (Dehḵodā, pp. 4397 ff.; MacKenzie, p. 19; Rossi, p. 474) or “ten thousand; large number; numerous” (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, I, p. 44). Taking into account the widespread ancient and modern practice of tribal names being formed from numerals, combined with the tradition of the large original size of the Burbur tribe, the reduplicated ethnonym is likely to have had the connotation of “large number, countless, many,” cf. Av. baēvar-, Mid. West. Iranian bēwar “ten thousand, myriad” (MacKenzie, p. 18; Durkin-Meisterernst, p. 122; Borbor, 2002, p. 189-92).

Language. If one  judges by the location, the original language of the Burbur tribe belonged to the “Perside” southern Zagros group. Their current dialect is mostly Feyli, a traditional term used to denote northern Lori. Their proximity to Kurdish- and Turkish-speaking neighbors, and depending on the areas of their re-location, the Burbur tribe often became bilingual Persian/Kurdish or Persian/Turkish or trilingual.

Religion. The widely spread migrating and settled sectors of the Burbur tribe are Twelver Shiites, including the Kurdish speakers (author’s field notes), as opposed to the Sunnite denomination of most Kurds; this is an evidence of considerable importance concerning the non-Kurdish ethnicity of the tribe (Figure 2).  There are no reliable continuous census results on the Burburs either as an independent tribe, as migrating sub-tribes, or as settled groups.

History. A considerable portion of the Burbur tribe became sedentary in the fertile plains between Hamadan and Malāyer well before the 16th century, from where they controlled the strategic southern east-west route that passed between the Alvand and Čarāḵun mountains. Most of the estates in this province belonged to family members until recent times (ʿAbbās Mirzā; Nāṣer-al-Din Shah). According to tradition, Ebrāhim Āqā Burbur had two sons, Sāri Khan and Ḵaẓar Khan, who had differences which led to the division of the tribe into two separate parts, each headed by one of the brothers (Bourbour, p. 6). Ḵaẓar Khan is said to have fallen into bad terms with Nāder Shah Afšār which ended in unfortunate circumstances for him and his children (idem, p. 9). The eldest son of Ḵaẓar Khan was Ḥosayn Solṭān, who is said to have been deposed by the members of his estate of Rāhjerd/Rāhgerd (lat 34˚36′ N, long 49˚06′ E); this is believed to have happened sometime between the end of the reign of Āḡā Moḥammad Khan and the beginning of the reign of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah. At his death, Ḥosayn Solṭān had a daughter and two infant sons, Esmāʿil and Moḥammad.

From the beginnings of the 16th century onwards, many of the Burbur tribe members are recorded to have held important civil or military positions. Around the middle of the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsb I (1524-76), Ebrāhim Āqā Burbur was the commandant-general of the Qizilbash troops who fought against the rebellious Alqāṣ Mirzā, the brother of the shah, who had launched an attack against his sovereign brother on behalf of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman (Ṭahmāsb I, p. 58; Roemer, pp. 242-43). In the year 1077/1666, Najafqoli Beg Burbur is recorded as having been the (a)mir-āḵˇor (“royal marshal, equerry”; see ĀXWARRBED) to Ṣafiqoli Beg, the governor of Kermān, while his brother, Vāli or Vali Beg was a high standing officer in the Kermān governorate (Moširi, pp. 343-44). 

In the 17th century, we have evidence in Dargāhqoli Khan Ḏu’l-qadr who was a descendant of Ḵāndānqoli Khan of the Burbur sub-tribe within the Turkmen chiefs near Mašhad. He had emigrated to India in 1048/1638 (Āzād Belgrāmi, pp. 221-22; Kanbu, II, p. 246; cf. Malkāpuri, pp. 397-98). Ḵāndānqoli Khan’s great-grandson, also named Ḵāndānqoli, was Dargāhqoli’s father and the first of the family to enter the service of the Nizam rulers of Hyderabad. Dargāhqoli Khan Ḏu’l-Qadr Burbur, variously known as Moʿtaman-al-Dawla, Moʿtaman-al-Molk, Sālār Jang, and Khan-e Dawrān Nawwāb became one of the leading nobles of Persian descent at the Hyderabad court, having served with distinction under four Nizams.

In the mid-18th century, Karim Khan Burbur, an ally of Moḥammad Ḥasan Khan Qajar, was one of the trio who were the main contenders for power in western Iran, the others being Āzād Khan Afghan and Karim Khan Zand (Ḡaffāri, p. 58 and n. 28; Hovhanyants, I, pp. 318-19; Perry, 1979, pp. 198-99). The Zands were a pastoral tribe of the Lak branch of the northern Lors, ranging between the inner Zagros and the Hamadān plains, centered on the villages of Pari (for long periods in possession of the Burbur family members) and Kamāzān in the vicinity of Malāyer. Karim Khan (or Beg) Burbur is rightly identified by M. Bāmdād (n. 28; cf. Perry, 1979, p. 27) as being the same as Karim Khan Afghan who had been sent by Nāder Shah to command the Afghan contingent of the Fārs garrison. Karim Khan Burbur and his Afghan contingent subsequently joined at least one of the rivals of the Zands, but eventually submitted to and served Karim Khan Zand (personal communication with John Perry, 18 May 2012).

In the 19th and the 20th century, several members of the tribe held distinguished administrative and military offices in different parts of the country. Esmāʿil Khan Burbur fought in the Russo-Persian War of 1804-13. Having distinguished himself, he worked his way up to become sartip (lieutenant general) and the commandant of the personal guards of ʿAbbās Mirzā, and later of Moḥammad Shah. After the siege of Herat, he was appointed nāẓem al-ayāla (regional commandant-general) of the Kerman province. In the beginnings of the reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (1848-96), he was further assigned the post of regional commandant-general of the province of Fārs as well (Bourbour, p. 12); Ḥasan Khan Kordḵordi, who had apparently been involved in an uprising against the central government, was appeased by his appointment as aide-de-camp to the shah on the specific condition mentioned in the decree, that he denounced his anti-government activities (Nāṣer-al-Din Shah; Bourbour, p. 33). ʿEẓām-al-Molk Burbur was appointed to enforce law and order in parts of Lorestān and Hamadān and Malāyer. Mehdi Khan Qavām Homāyun was a distinguished officer who became the gunnery commandant-general of western Iran (Qavām Homāyun). He is reported to have been a member of the Majmaʿ-e Ādamiyat (Bourbour, p. 24; see FREEMASONRY i). Ḡolām-ʿAli Khan Burbur, Moʿtamed-al-Solṭān, who was a high-ranking officer of the army, was further honored with his father’s title of ʿEẓām-al-Molk as acknowledgment of his services. Ḡolām Ḥosayn Khan Burbur was one of the most prominent and influential local administrative officers of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (1930-54), congressman from 1954 (Iran Who’s Who, p. 113; Zāvoš, p. 102), and ambassador-at-large in international anti-communist conferences. He was a highly respected member of the Iranian freemasonry, a Past Master of the lodge of Mowlavi, and a founding member of the Grand Lodge of Iran (Zāvoš, p. 102). Cyrus Burbur (1929-2012) was a distinguished physician, Member of the College of Physicians (MRCP), UK, and professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Jondishāpur University (Iran Who’s Who, p. 113).

Innate and forced migration. Two key historical occurrences affected the later characteristics of the Burbur tribe. The first was related to the fact that a major portion of the tribe became sedentary at an early period around Hamadan-Malāyer and later Varāmin. The second was the result of the large scale of settlement, which considerably reduced and fragmented the migrating sector to such an extent that it could no longer function independently. Consequently, divisions or sub-divisions of the tribe gradually became integrated within other tribes or confederacies, including Afšār, Bahārlu, Baḵtiāri, Hedāvand, Ḵamsa, Qašqāʾi, Turkmen (see below), and possibly others. The primary ancient, innate displacements of the Burbur tribe were short-distance transhumances into the neighboring Kurdish- and Turkish-speaking territories. The second category of  innate migrations of many of the western central Zagros tribes, including the Burbur, were southeastward in the parallel geographical configuration of the Zagros range, to Fārs. This was a relatively easy, natural itinerary towards new pastures and warmer lands, leaving onomastic evidence on their way.

The forced migration of the Burbur tribe must have been made both independently and within other tribes mostly at the time of Shah ʿAbbās I, who displaced a large number of the tribes of the western central Zagros to northern Khorasan, and to a lesser degree by Nāder Shah and other rulers (Perry, 1971, pp. 205-8; idem, 1979, 18-21; Tapper, pp. 508-9). Forced and voluntary migrations of the Kurds and Arabs to Khorasan are amply illustrated as early as the 11th century or even earlier (Beyhaqi, tr. II, pp. 163, 626 and n. 1). This is likely to have also been the case for the Burbur tribe.

Independent migration. A short account of Burburs’ seminomadic tribal existence in the Varāmin region in the mid-20th century is given by ʿAbdallāh Mostowfi (II, p. 2206), who was not aware of the widespread nature of the tribe. Two tiny, semi-sedentary, independent, migrating Burbur tribes in the southern piedmont of the Alborz chain still survive (Figure 3). They winter in small villages with permanent one- or two-storied houses in various villages. They till the land and keep orchards, and entrust their flocks to Afghan shepherds (Hourcade, 1977, pp. 47-48; idem, 1982, pp. 79 ff.; author’s field notes) (Figure 4). One of these winters in Garmsār and summers in Poštkuh near Firuzkuh, and the other winters in Eyvān-e Key and summers in Lavāsānāt (Markaz, 1998, pp. 213, 224).

The remnant are either completely settled in western Persia, Fārs, Khuzestan, and Varāmin or exist as sub-tribes of confederacies. The settled Burburs in Varāmin (where they named their sedentary abode as Behnām-e Burbur) produce tribal carpets (see CARPETS xiv. TRIBAL CARPETS; Keyhān, II, pp. 86-111; Dehḵodā, p. 4399). The Burbur sub-tribes in the confederacies fall into the general economic situation of that tribe.

Amalgamations into other confederacies. Divisions or sub-divisions of the Burbur tribe have been integrated into other confederacies while preserving their ethnonym. There is no exact information either for numbers integrated or exact dates of incorporation. The overall numbers within the confederacies are very different. The largest number appears to have amalgamated into the tira (clan) of the ʿAmala of the Qašqāʾi confederacy, and the second largest perhaps into the Afšār tribe. Smaller numbers have joined the Baḵtiāri, Bahārlu, and the Jabbāra of the Ḵamsa confederacy (Fasāʾi, pp. 1578-80). Their overall tribal lifestyle may be classified as the typical long-distance nomadic culture that evolved in the Zagros range.

Among the Afšār tribe. The Afšār tribe was widespread and fragmented. A significant portion settled in Urmia and different parts of western Azerbaijan circa 1400. According to legend this was one of the earliest of Afšār tribe settlements, including a Burbur sub-tribe, which established an existing village of their own namesake on the western side of Lake Urmia. There is no evidence when the Burbur sub-tribe might have joined the Afšārs. The association of the Burbur sub-tribe with the Afšārs of Urmia appears in writing in the first half of the 17th century, where Sāqi Beg Burbur is mentioned as a member of the maʿāref (“learned persons”) and aʿyān (“nobles”) of Emāmqoli Khan Afšār’s entourage (Adib-al-Šoʿarā, p. 180), and Naṣir Beg Afšār from the Burbur family is said to have been a distinguished general who fought against Najafqoli Khan Donboli, the governor of Tabriz and Morād Khan Zand (idem, p. 217; Afšār Maḥmudlu, pp. 180, 217; Eskandar Beg, tr., pp. 959, 1142, 1229, 1239-41). Our earliest written evidence of the association of the Burbur sub-tribe with the Afšārs of Kermān is around the middle of the 16th century in the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp I, more or less concurrently with the main confederacy. According to Moširi (pp. 343-44), in 1077/1666 Najafqoli Beg Burbur, the (a)mirāḵˇor (“Royal Marshall” or “Equerry”), and his brother Vali Beg Burbur were already among the high ranking Kermān governorates. Presently, the Afšārs of Kermān winter in the plain of Ārzuya to the west and south of Esfandaqa in Jiroft and summer around Bāft and the villages of Fatḥābād Guḡar and Ḥošun (see ʿAŠĀYER).

Among the Bahārlu tribe. The Baharlus are believed to have come from Syria or Anatolia to Hamadān, which is likely to have been the point of contact with the Burburs. In 1933, the Bahārlu tribe of Fārs was comprised of 20 tiras, one of which was Burbur (Fasāʾi, p. 1578). Since World War II, they have become completely sedentary, settled mainly in Fasārud, Ḵosuya, Qariat al-ḵayr, and Dārāb rural districts (Keyhān, II, p. 86; Razmārā, VII, pp. 88, 165, 171).

Among the Baḵtiāri confederacy. A small group of the Burbur tribe has joined the Baḵtiāris (Sepehr et al., pp. 533-37). It is said that the Atābak tribe belongs to the Baḵtiāri Čahār-lang, and its dominion is at Burbur, near a certain Qālia mountain. Members of the section of the Burbur sub-tribe that has joined the Baḵtiāri confederacy as a semi-sedentary, independent tribe from the Qašqāʾi summer quarter near Semirom are known also as Burburun or Burburiān. They winter in Mir ʿArab, between Iza and Haftgel and in Abu’l-Fāres between Rāmhormoz and Āḡājāri, and they summer in the foothills of Sabzkuh, near the summer quarters of the Burbur sub-tribe in the Qašqāʾi confederacy (Raḥimpur, pp. 11-12; author’s field notes) (Figure 5). 

Among the Hedāvand tribe. Many of the Hedāvand of Garmsār in Semnan Province, including the Burburs, have become Kurdophone. The amalgamated Burbur sector is likely to have originated from the neighboring Varāmin. ʿA. Qaṣṣābinežād (pp. 512-13) gives the name of four clans from the Burbur tribe of Varāmin, namely Burbur-e Ṯābet, Burbur-e Ḥosaynbegi, Burbur-e Širazi and Burbur-e Ṣāḥeb-jamʿ without any details.

Among the Ḵamsa confederacy. Several sources allot the origin of the Burbur tribe wrongly to the Ḵamsa confederacy as a wing of the Bahārlu, and the Burbur as a division of the Jabbāra wing (Keyhān, II, pp. 86-87; Dehḵodā, p. 4399; ʿEmādi, p. 48; Fasāʾi, pp. 1578-80). These have indeed been small sectors of the Burburs that have amalgamated into the confederacy. 

Among the Qašqāʾi confederacy. Within the Qašqāʾi confederacy, a considerable sector of the Burbur tribe has merged into the Fārsimadān and the ruling ʿAmala (lit. “commander/director of work/tasks”). The ʿAmala are said to have been transferred from the Piškuh of Lorestān to Fārs by Āḡā Moḥammad Khan  (Rabino, 1912, p. 28). Keyhān (II, p. 82) has transcribed the name as “Borbor,” and Monteil (p. 130) has presented the oft-erroneous “Barbar.” In 1982, the summer population of the Burbur clan (tira) among the ʿAmala consisted of 396 persons in 54 households: 238 persons in 31 households were in Semirom Sub-province of Isfahan (Figure 6, Figure 7); the rest were in Fārs: 95 persons in 13 households in Eqlid, 37 persons in 5 households in Marvdašt, 16 persons in 3 households in Sapidān, and 10 persons in 2 households in Firuzābād Sub-province (Jahād, p. 9). The winter population consisted of 368 persons in 54 households, all located in Fārs: 357 persons in 69 households in Lār, 29 persons in 3 households in Firuzābād, 24 persons in 3 households in Jahrom Sub-province (Jahād, pp. 68-69). The migration route of the Burbur sub-tribe from the winter to summer quarter is the longest in Iran, comprised of more than 450 km (Figure 8, Figure 9, Figure 10, Figure 11). It starts at Čahārkuh and Šurkuh (near the village of Taḵta in Ḵonj), passes through 33 stations, and ends in Qaṭār Āḡāj in the Kamāna, west of Semirom. The names in the Qašqāʾi tribe and on gravestones are either Burbur or Borbor (author’s field notes).

Among the Turkmen. In this regard,  there is only one piece of evidence, in a certain Ḵāndānqoli Khan Ḏu’l-qadr of the Burbur sub-tribe within the Turkmen chiefs in the region of Mašhad in the 16th century (Āzād Belgrāmi, pp. 221-22; Kanbu, II, p. 246; cf. Malkāpuri, pp. 397-98).



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(Dariush Borbor)

Originally Published: November 12, 2014

Last Updated: November 12, 2014

Cite this entry:

Dariush Borbor, "BURBUR TRIBE," Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2014, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/burbur-tribe (accessed on 12 November 2014).