Scared, hungry and beaten badly, Rohingya women fleeing an army crackdown in Myanmar recount harrowing tales of destruction and death: a father burned alive, an uncle slaughtered with a machete, a brother arrested and not heard from again. But huddled in makeshift refugee camps, dependent on food rations and the mercy of fellow refugees, they also carry something else: hope inspired by their newborn children, for whom Bangladesh is now home.
A strikingly dressed Bandari woman at her stall in Iran’s Panjshambe Bazaar. African and Indian influences are evident throughout the Gulf Coast region. Photo: Brook Mitchell
Each week, Panjshambe Bazaar attracts visitors from all over the region who come to experience the vibrant mix of African, Asian and Arab influences that make up the local tribes, known as the Bandari, which means ‘people of the port’ in Persian.
An Australian photographer captured these amazing images of Minab in Iran. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
Here, in stark contrast to the plain black burqas and niqabs seen elsewhere in the Middle East, the women are draped in colour and wear a decorative face mask — made of metal and covered in cloth. The mask dates back to the days of Portuguese colonial rule and was originally worn to deflect the attentions of slave masters, who were always on the hunt for the prettiest girls.
A Bandari woman in the Panjshambe Bazaar (Thursday Market). Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
Australian-born, Bali-based photographer Brook Mitchell was given the opportunity to document this remarkable place, in all its colourful glory.
“Each mask’s design is determined by the different tribal groups, and the wearing of it is considered a sign of a girl coming of age,” Mitchell told news.com.au. “It apparently helps in a dust storm as well — which are frequent in the area.
A Bandari women in the livestock section of the weekly 'Panjshambe Bazaar'. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
“It’s not considered by the locals as oppressive. It’s a legal requirement in Iran for women to wear the head scarf and full length clothing, though these masks are unique to the southern region and small pockets in other Gulf countries. As far as I understand it they have strong cultural significance.”
Sellers at the 'Panjshambe Bazaar'. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
Mitchell said Minab was becoming increasingly difficult for international travellers to access because of the current religious and political unrest in the region.
“Good people suffering under an oppressive government is what I think of my time there,” he said.
Goats aplenty at the 'Panjshambe Bazaar'. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
“People I met across the country were overwhelmingly open, friendly and curious towards me, especially in the south where tourists are not common. I hope things improve for them soon.
“It’s not so often as a photographer you get to visit a place so visually rewarding that’s also been little visited by outsiders, at least in recent times. I was pretty lucky to get in and see what I did.”
A local Bandari man. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
A Bandari woman wearing a distinctive red mask. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
A mural depicting local customs on the island of Hormuz, Persian Gulf. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
A Bandari woman in the weekly 'Panjshambe Bazaar'. After sharing a simple breakfast of fruit and tea with the photographer this woman was happy for her picture to be taken, something of a rare occurrence in conservative Islamic areas. The bright masks worn by the Bandari are unique to this part of Iran and are said to be a cultural adornment rather than a religious one. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
Even the local artwork captures the Bandari’s striking masks. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex
A carpet seller at the weekly 'Panjshambe Bazaar', Minab, Iran. Photo: Brook MitchellSource:Diimex