Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1924)

Filmed on location between Turkey and Iran, Grass is an amazing first ethnographical account of nomadic Bakhtiyari people. The subjects of this film later also were revisited by landmark documentaries like the “Harvest of the Seasons” episode of the Charles Bronowski’s Ascent of Man series in 1973. Similarly, Akira Kurosawa’s 1975 film Dersu Uzala, centered around an aboriginal Nanai tribesman and Werner Herzog’s Happy People (2013) are productions in this tradition.

The film is contemporary to Robert Flaherty’s Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) capturing scenes of great ethnographical value. The filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and his team were not aware of Flaherty’s Nanook by that time. Both films were selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

No matter how much it sounds poetic nomadic way of life is very tough. Grass captures the hardships extremely well. Climate is a major force affecting precipitation and plant growth. Nomads therefore must be on the move constantly following grazing grounds. When we examine human cultural evolution animals were domesticated at a much earlier time compared to plants. Nomadic way of life is ancestral to that of sedentary.

Climate fluctuations caused reversions in human survival strategies. Agriculture may have evolved perhaps much earlier than we thought. At least the prerequisite for agriculture in the form of collecting seeds were ripe much earlier. There’s evidence of food processing as far back as 105 thousand years ago where thick coats of sorghum starch were found on grinding stones in Mozambique. However, nomadic or hunter-gatherer way of life became more profitable at hard times and agricultural sedentary societies collapsed. Take Anasazi of the Chaco Canyon or Maya of the Central America.



  1. Fawaz Salam says:

    is the background music originally part of the documentary? if so incredible!

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