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  • Date :
  • 3/19/2006

Haji Firouz

The traditional herald of the Norouz

Haji Firouz with his blackened face begins to wander the streets and alleyways in his red costume weeks before the end of the year. The sound of his songs and the sight of his dance tell all that Norouz is in the air. Although the blackness of his skin has been the source of some racial controversy in Iranian intellectual circles, Haji Firouz"s intentions and spirit have always been well received and loved by the people.

Who is Haji Firouz?

Haji Firouz blackens his face, wears very colorful clothes, usually—but not always—red, and always a hat that is sometimes long and cone-shaped and goes from street to street singing and beating a tambourine on New Year"s Eve (which is also the eve of spring). He was usually accompanied by one or two other persons. His songs, quite traditional in wording and melody, are very short repetitive ditties. Typical of these songs is:

It"s Hâji Firuz/ [He"s] only one day a year.

Everyone knows /I know as well.

It is Norouz / It"s only one day a year.

The following song is usually sung with a traditional "funny accent" or a mimicking of a speech impediment:

Greetings my very own lord,

Raise your head my lord!

Look at me, my lord!

Do me a favor, my lord!

My very own lord, the billy goat,

Why don"t you smile, my lord?

Classical Persian as well as Arabic sources that mention many folk entertainers do not refer to Haji Firouz at all, nor is he mentioned in casual reference in poetry or prose of the classical period. There can be little doubt; however, that Haji Firouz has virtually replaced all the other New Year entertainers of the past such as Kusa, Mir-e Norouzi, Ghul-e biâbâni, Âtaš-afruz, etc.

In a paper originally published in 1983, Mehrdad Bahar opined that the figure of the Haji Firouz is derived from ceremonies and legends connected to the epic of prince

Siavash, which are in turn derived from those associated with the Mesopotamian deities of agriculture and flocks, Tammuz (Sumerian: Dumuzi). Following James Frazer, Bahar argued that Tammuz returned from the world of the dead every spring, and his festival, commemorated the yearly death and rebirth of vegetation. In some of these ceremonies during which people sang and danced in the streets, many blackened their faces. From this flimsy evidence, Bahar deduced that the Iranian Haji Firouz with his blackened face must be a survival of the Mesopotamian rite of darkening one"s face while participating in the festival of Tammuz (Bahar, 1995a, p. 226). Ten years later in an interview Bahar stated his original supposition more emphatically, and claimed that "Haji Firouz"s blackened face symbolizes his returning from the world of the dead, his red clothing is the sign of Siavash"s red blood and the coming to life of the sacrificed deity, while his joviality is the jubilation of rebirth, [typical] of those who bring rejuvenation and blessing [along] with themselves" (Bahar, 1995b, p. 231). In a later note written on Chapter 14 of theBundahishn, he speculates that the name Siyawaxsh might mean "black man," or "dark-faced man;" and suggests that the "black" part of the name may be a reference either to the blackening of the faces of the participants in the afore-mentioned Mesopotamian ceremonies, or to the black masks that they wore for the festivities. He adds that the Haji Firouz character may be a remnant of these ancient practices (Bahar, 1996, pp. 194-95). He fails, however, to substantiate his views, and they remain a series of speculations based only on analogies with absolutely no evidentiary support.

 

 Another scholar finds the Haji Firouz to be a continuation of a New Year"s tradition of the Sassanid period, during which black slaves, wearing colorful clothing and a great deal of makeup, would entertain the public with song and dance (Razi, p. 44). Jafar Shahri considers the Haji Firouz a more recent character, and related not to some ancient religious ceremonies but rather to black slaves who formed troupes of entertainers. He suggests that the red color of Haji Firouz"s clothes may represent happiness and the name Firouz (lit. "Victorious") must have been given to them as a good omen (Shahri, IV pp. 111-14). In a brief anthropological essay on Iranian festivals, two distinct characters, namely mir-e Norouzi (the Norouz prince) and Haji Firouz are unjustifiably mixed, with the suggestion that Haji Firouz is a remnant of the older character (Ruh-al-Amini, pp. 47-48). The Haji Firouz chant that is given by Mahmud Ruh-al-Amini is slightly different from what most sources provide (p. 48):

It"s Haji Firouz

It"s the Norouz festival

It"s only a few days a year.

Be that as it may, the Haji Firouz as a character of traditional Iranian minstrelsy has fallen on hard times in this age of religious governance, and may not survive the official piety.

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