Makhunik, Iran’s isolated Lilliput

January 14, 2006 - 0:0
TEHRAN -- About 140 kilometers southeast of Birjand, near the Iran-Afghanistan border, there is a remote village with small adobe houses.

With 120 families and a population of about 600, inhabitants of Makhunik village are almost completely isolated from modern civilization, the Persian service of IRNA reported on Friday.

Unusual architecture has been employed, and there are no square or rectangular-shaped houses in the village.

The dwellings are built next to each other. The houses are less than two meters in height and each covers an area of 15 square meters. The doors of the houses are less than one meter in height.

The mosque plays a central role in village life, and all the streets lead to the house of worship, which is located in the center of Makhunik.

The residential units are called "Khoneh Neshast" or "Khoneh Adami" and have bedrooms, a kitchen, a sitting room, a workshop, and a barn.

Everything needed for a simple life, like quilts, mattresses, cooking ware, small and large baskets, and clothes, as well as onions, potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables, are arranged around the room, with some things hung on nails driven into the walls.

The remarkable characteristics of the village have made it one of the country’s most amazing places.

The inhabitants of Makhunik gradually left their dwellings dug into the mountains and started building huts on the mountain slopes in recent years.

The village has specific regulations for construction, with the most important one being the affinity principle, which requires clans to stay together. For instance, no one is allowed to build a house in a neighborhood who is not a member of that district’s clan.

There are regulations for areas used for agriculture and stockbreeding and for barren land.

The agricultural regulations are formulated by the oldest or wisest person in the village, who is called Sarzendeh.

People are involved in various occupations such as trade, farming, stockbreeding, mining, and carpet weaving, but most people are farmers. Those who own more land and have greater access to water enjoy a higher social status.

However, due to the current shortage of water and arable land, many villagers have begun working in the surrounding granite mines.

Mostly women weave the carpets, but men do it in their spare time.

Makhunik's earthenware is unique in terms of style, form, structure, and color.

The village is truly a living museum of cultural anthropology.

Outsiders visiting Makhunik believe they have passed through a time warp to an era one thousand years ago.

The craft of pottery making was forgotten long ago, but some of the villagers’ handmade earthenware has survived.

An outstanding example of earthenware found exclusively in Makhunik is “palishan”, which is a container with a handle and tube used for transferring yogurt into a goatskin, where it is stored.

An inscription bearing images of a goat and a cedar tree found near the village indicates that the area was inhabited almost 3000 years ago.

Unfortunately, there are no old buildings which experts could use to estimate the antiquity of the village except a tower, which is said to be 300 years old.

Makhunik resident Ahmad Makhuniki said that he is 77 years old and lives in a house he inherited from his ancestors.

In the past, a piece of eucalyptus wood was used as a door, with no nails or door handles, he explained.

The village headman still has the final say. The village council established after the Islamic Revolution only plays an advisory role.

There are written regulations for the agricultural, stockbreeding, and housing sectors. People who violate the rules are banished.

Villagers store their agricultural products in a place called a “kanik” or “kandu”.

The kanik is dug into the heart of the surrounding mountains and covered by mud and stones.

A variety of products, including beets, turnips, wheat, barley, and walnuts, as well as dishes and important documents like marriage certificates, are stored in the kaniks, which are divided among the heirs when a resident dies.

There is also a “baneh” (shelter) near the houses where beets and turnips are dried.

The chickens are kept under the baneh in summer.

Despite their extreme poverty, Makhunik’s inhabitants still try to become educated. Most of the villagers have attended traditional schools where they learned to read the Holy Quran.

The village’s seminary was built in 1986. The primary school was established a year later and afterwards a middle school was built. A high school is currently being constructed.

Makhunik’s inhabitants are all Sunni.

None of them have moved to other parts of the country because they love their hometown so much.

The anecdotes about the small height of Makhunik’s inhabitants make the village an interesting destination for travelers.

The villagers are often called Lilliputians.

The old people are very short, but health officials have recently tried to increase the average height of the villagers by prescribing iron pills for pregnant women and iron drops for babies.

This is certainly good news but will inevitably cause the architectural symbol of the village, the short adobe ceilings and walls, to be replaced by high iron walls and ceilings.