ʿAMALA (literally: workers, retainers), the retinue of a tribal chief, and the name of a number of tribes. The clan of a tribal chief or the tribe of the chief of a tribal confederacy often bears the name ʿAmala, since it is made up of individuals who serve the chief in various capacities. Because the chiefs generally pick their ʿamala from all of their subject clans or tribes, the resulting tribal unit is not a kinship group. When a local dynasty is overthrown or becomes extinct, or when a tribe or tribal confederacy disintegrates, the ʿamala of the chief sometimes retain their cohesion as a tribal group and become an independent tribe by the name of ʿAmala. Several of these have been important in recent Iranian history.

The ʿAmala of Lorestān. A Lur tribe, it comprised the retinue of the wālīs of Lorestān; the names of some of its clans indicated the type of work they performed: Āhangar (iron-smith), Mīrākᵛor (equerry), Jelowdār (groom), Qāṭeṛčī (muleteer), Sārbān (camel driver), Farrāš (pitcher of tents), Zīnbardār (saddle carrier; cf. Houtum-Schindler, “Reisen,” pp. 85-86). The ʿAmalas of Lorestān were established on the ancestral domains of the wālīs in the Pīš(-e) Kūh region: around Ṭarhān, Jāydar, Kūh(-e) Dašt and Qīlāb, as well as in the neighborhood of Ḵorramābād and Alaštar (Rabino, Les tribus, p. 28). Because they cultivated the lands of the wālī, they were exempt from most forms of taxation (ibid., pp. 28-29). According to de Bode, Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qāǰār moved them to Fārs; though most of them returned to Lorestān after his death, they were by then much reduced in number (Travels II, p. 289). Rawlinson, who traveled in the area in 1836, estimated them at 2,000 families (“Notes,” p. 107). Layard visited Lorestān some four years later and gives the same figure (“Description,” p. 99). De Bode, whose data is contemporary with that of Layard, writes that they comprised between 2,000 and 3,000 families (Travels II, p. 290). When Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah took away the Pīš Kūh from the jurisdiction of the wālī of Lorestān and confiscated his lands in that region (ca. 1840), the ʿAmalas continued to cultivate these lands on behalf of the crown (Layard, “Description,” p. 4). Meanwhile, the descendants of the last wālī of Lorestān (Ḥasan Khan) were left with only the Pošt(-e) Kūh region, where they became the wālīs and acquired a retinue of Feylī Lurs. As a settled people, the ʿAmalas of Lorestān gradually lost the cohesion which they had once enjoyed. By the end of the 19th century, the tribe had thoroughly disintegrated. Today, only a few of its clans, such as Amrāʾīs and the Čegenīs, still exist as independent tribes.

The ʿAmala of Ḵūzestān. A Feylī Lur tribe. After Ḥaydar-ʿAlī Khan (a son of Ḥasan Khan, the last wālī of Lorestān) was killed around 1880, one of his sons, Ḥosayn-qolī Khan (d. 1900), was finally able to succeed him as wālī of Pošt Kūh. Another son, Bāqer Khan, who was one of the losing contenders, left the region with three clans of Feylī Lur retainers and bodyguards, settled down in the Šūš region in northern Ḵūzestān, and formed an independent tribe by the name of ʿAmala; they were later joined by nine more clans of Feylī Lurs from Pošt Kūh and of Arabs from around Šūš (J. Qāʾem-maqāmī, “ʿAšāyer,” p. 21). Shortly after World War I, Wilson estimated their number at 800 families (cf. Field, Contributions, p. 189), and towards the end of World War II, Qāʾem-maqāmī estimated their number at 1,600 families (“ʿAšāyer,” p. 21). Today, they are sedentary, make their living from agriculture, and are found to the north and south of Šūš.

The ʿAmala of the Qašqāʾī tribe. A Turkic tribe of Fārs, it is the chief tribe of the Qašqāʾī tribal confederacy. These ʿAmalas were originally warriors and workmen attached to the household of the īlḵānī, or paramount chief; recruited from all the Qašqāʾī tribes they constituted the īlḵānī’s bodyguard and retinue. In 1918, their number was estimated at 2,000 families (Magee, Tribes, p. 71). During the reign of Reżā Shah Pahlavī the Iranian army attempted to crush the Qašqāʾīs and force them to abandon their nomadic way of life; as a result many of them perished and their īlḵānī, Ṣawlat-al-dawla, was killed. At the same time many small, isolated groups of Qašqāʾīs sought to save themselves by joining the relatively more powerful ʿAmala tribe, so in spite of its heavy losses, the tribe doubled in size. After Reżā Shah’s abdication in 1941, Nāṣer Khan, the new īlḵānī quickly reorganized the old confederacy. He extended his direct control by incorporating several of the member tribes of the confederacy into his own ʿAmala tribe—especially those tribes which had lost their kalāntars (leaders) under Reżā Shah’s harsh rule (ibid.). By 1956, the ʿAmala tribe comprised as many as 6,000 families (Oberling, The Qashqāʾi Nomads, p. 223; Kortum, “ʿAmala,” pp. 71-91). Two other groups of tribesmen in Fārs also bear the name of ʿAmala: A clan of the Darra-šūrī tribe of the Qašqāʾī confederacy and a clan of the ʿArab Šaybānī subtribe of the Ḵamsa confederacy.


A. Houtum-Schindler, “Reisen im südwestlichen Persien,” pts. 3 (conclusion) and 4, Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin 14, 1879, pp. 81-124.

H. L. Rabino, Les tribus du Louristan, Paris, 1916.

C. A. de Bode, Travels in Luristan and Arabistan, London, 1845.

H. C. Rawlinson, “Notes on a March from Zoháb . . . to Kirmánsháh, in the Year 1836,” JRGS 9, 1839, pp. 26-116.

A. H. Layard, “Description of the Province of Khuzistan,” ibid., 16, 1846, pp. 1-105.

J. Qāʾem-maqāmī, “ʿAšāyer-e Ḵūzestān,” pt. 1, Yādgār 1, 1323-24 Š./1944-45, pp. 20-25.

A. T. Wilson, “Tribes of Khuzistan,” in H. Field, Contributions to the Anthropology of Iran, Chicago, 1939, pp. 189-99.

G. F. Magee, The Tribes of Fars, Simla, 1948.

P. Oberling, The Qashqāʾi Nomads of Fārs, The Hague, 1974.

G. Kortum, “Zur Bildung und Entwicklung des Qašqāī-Stammes ʿAmale im 20. Jahrhundert,” Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, series B, nr. 40, pp. 71-100.

(P. Oberling)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: August 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 9, pp. 918-919

Cite this entry:

P. Oberling, “ʿAMALA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/9, pp. 918-919, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/amala-literally-workers-retainers-the-retinue-of-a-tribal-chief-and-the-name-of-a-number-of-tribes (accessed on 30 December 2012).