Talysh - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The basic means of livelihood for the Talysh is village agriculture, in which the major activity is rice cultivation ( chaltïk ); in the mountain-forest region wheat and barley are the main crops. Because of the mild climate of the coastal region, the main crops there are tea and citrus fruits (the latter being grown on the lemon and mandarin plantations in the Astaran District). In the unforested mountain zone (Zevaed, Parnaim, etc.) the Talysh subsist in part by growing grain and in part by raising cattle; some of them—the Alars and Orands—lead a seminomadic form of life linked with animal husbandry. In the summer they tend their crops; at the onset of autumn some of them descend into the lowlands, where, until spring, they prepare logs and canes for the breeding of silkworms. Others remain in the villages to clean the rice. Because the Talysh region is well forested with valuable types of trees, the main commercial activities are silk production and the timber industry. For the Talysh of the lowlands, vegetable growing, the cultivation of melons, and other kinds of gardening have particular significance; they trade their produce in the towns of Iran and Azerbaijan. They cultivate garlic, onions, pumpkins, watermelons, peas, pomegranates, quinces, and grapes. More recently introduced crops include tobacco, maize, and tomatoes. In the Talysh forests there are very many gardens that have gone wild, and grapes, apples, pears, and nuts, are gathered there. Among the significant achievements of contemporary Talysh are the building of a network of roads and railroads (220 kilometers from Osmanly to Astara) and the creation of the base for a commercial subtropical economy.

Clothing. The costume of the Talysh is distinct from that of the Azerbaijanis. Male attire consists of a shirt ( shay ), pants ( khoma - shavlo ), trousers ( shavlo ), a short caftan, and a chokho, a type of cherkeska. Women formerly went out into the streets dressed in a white Muslim veil ( ruhend ) with two openings for the eyes; the lower portion of the veil was a net of silk threads. They were enveloped from head to foot in a second veil of cotton. The head is covered with a pilyandï, or shawl. Ordinarily a woman wears a cotton or silk tunic-shaped blouse and wide trousers, sometimes belted, and jewelry. Some Talysh women now wear urban clothing. The custom of putting on the veil when going out in the street has been abandoned by Azerbaijani Talysh and today is seen only in isolated cases.

Food. Bread is baked in earthen ovens called tanyu, of a type widespread throughout the Near East and Transcaucasia. The food is basically boiled rice in the form of various pilafs ( plo ): yakhni plo (pilaf with boiled meat), sio-plo (with duck), laga-plo (with lentils), shivit-plo (with greens and meat), to plo (with chicken), kishmishï-plo (with currants), and so forth.

Industrial Arts. There are many Talysh artisans, the main crafts being silk production and the production of silk textiles, rugs, and felt, as well as tinworking, shoemaking, and jewelry making.

Division of Labor. There was traditionally a clear division of labor between men and women. The men were occupied with the preparation of the soil for sowing, whereas women were occupied with getting and processing milk products. The metalworking and woodworking trades were men's work; the production of silk carpets and textiles was the province of women. For the carpet trade and silk spinning, the men prepared the food for the silkworms and unwound the cocoons. Some male mountaineers found work as porters ( ambal ), woodcutters, and charcoal burners in the lowlands. In the Iranian part of the Talysh region, crafts were preserved better than in Azerbaijan, where the Talysh were drawn to a greater degree into contemporary industrial production and where their crafts suffered strong competition from cheap manufactured articles.

Land Tenure. Landownership was basically communal, but in the foothill regions, where rice cultivation was intensive, plots of land belonged to small families, who had the right to sell or bequeath them. In accordance with Sharia (Quranic law), women here had a share in the land, as well as in the remaining property.

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