Wilfred Thesiger

A visit to the Yezidis in 1950/51

„It is impossible to give you an impression of them without showing you photos of them.“

Wilfred Patrick Thesiger was a British researcher and author of travelogues.

His portraits of different peoples around the world have earned him worldwide recognition as a photographer. Using a simple box camera which had belonged to his father, Thesiger began his photographic career during a short trip in Ethiopia in 1930.

In 1950 and 1951 he travelled to Iraq and visited the Yezidis in Sinjar and Lalish.

His photos of Yezidis are published on the Yezidi Photo Archive with the kind permission of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

Another oppressed people whom I met were the Yezidis. They were abhorred by their neighbours and by the Government and lived in villages round Jabal Sinjar and in north-east of Mosul. I met a Kurdish official who was administering them. I had known and liked him when he was in Halabja; now he horrified me by bursting out; These filthy people should be exterminated!

Once a year, in October, they assemble at Sheikh Adi and sacrifice a bull to the sun. On the doorway of the shrine is an embossed black serpent which the pilgrims kiss. I attended this festival but did not see the sacrifice. Booths had been set up among the trees, near the shrine, with its two fluted, pointed white cones, and the scene resembled a fair, crowd with happy, relaxed people. There was much dancing and singing, in which the women joined.

I was captivated by these much maligned people; I had visited most of their villages on the lower slopes of Jabal Sinjar before attending the festival. I would willingly have stayed longer among them, but time pressed.

Sinjari men, with their distinctive moustaches – outsized even for Yezidis –
with their long hair plaits and flowing robes,
are still spoken of as fiercely independent spirits. 

– Eszter Spät

photos of a wedding in fullscreen

Yezidis gathering and dancing at a circumcision and marriage ceremony in Sinjar, Iraq

photos of people in
Lalish valley

Portraits of  Yezidis taking part in the pilgrimage to Lalish, Iraq

I was much impressed by their good looks, their dignity and the cleanliness of their dwellings. They are extraordinary and very fascinating.

The young men and boys, many of whom were remarkably good-looking, dressed in long white shirts and coats, and their braided hair fell in plaits to their shoulders from beneath round felt caps. The older men, of the ascetic order of Faqirs, wore black shirts, black turbans round their felt caps, short white jackets and buggy trousers. Most had distinguished faces, enhanced by their long beards.

The Yezidis are among the best looking people I have seen. They gave me a feeling of paganism, of strange rites of the sacred groves type, and yet of a friendly ingenuousness. Their houses were spotless like monks’ cells. It is impossible to give you an impression of them without showing you photos of them. I took a lot. They are a people I have always wanted to see and they did not disappoint me.

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