BŪQALAMŪN (in verse also būqalmūn), short for abūqalamūn, arabicized from Gk. hupokálamon (see Dozy, I, pp. 6-7, s.v. abūqalamūn), term applied to a variety of objects or animals exhibiting changing colors, such as (silk) fabrics, the gemstone jasper, the chameleon, and the turkey. The semantic evolution of the word in Arabic and/or Persian may be presented as follows.

The original sense in Arabic, corresponding to the Greek, is a cloth (ṯawb) that was made in Greece and showed various colors when “posed at different angles to sunlight, i.e., moiré (thus Yāqūt, IV, p. 166; see also Sīrāfī, quoted in Lesān al-ʿarab XIII, s.v. qalamūn). Probably imitating the moiré technique of abūqalamūn cloth, Egyptian weavers, especially in Damietta and Tennis, produced moiré carpets (al-farš al-abūqalamūn, Yāqūt, I, p. 882, s.v. Tennīs, or al-farš al-qalamūnī “in all colors,” ibid., II, p. 603, s.v. Demyāṭ), as well as multicolored cloths or garments (al-ṯīāb al-molawwana; ibid., I, p. 882).

In classical Persian poetry, farš-e būqal(a)mūn was figuratively used in the sense of “multi-colored or mottled carpet or spread” in the description of the spring pageantry, e.g., “The breeze has spread a farš-e būqalmūn under the shade of the garden’s trees” (Saʿdī, Golestān, ed. Ḵ. Ḵaṭīb-e Rahbar, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, p. 29).

By extension, the word in classical Persian came to signify Roman (i.e., Byzantine) multicolored silk cloth (dībā-ye rūmī) of changing hues (Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, s.v. būqalamūn, ed. Moʿīn, I, pp. 318-19; cf. the new notions of “Roman” and “silk” in Fīrūzābādī’s Qāmūs al-moḥīṭ III, p. 683: “Roman cloth with changing colors,” and in Šarṭūnī’s Aqrab al-mawāred II, p. 1035: “Roman silk cloth displaying various hues to the eyes”). The metaphorical use of this acceptation of būqal(a)mūn is frequent in classical Persian poetry, e.g., “In battle his sword is shiny and colorful like moiré silk cloth (dībā-ye būqalmūn)” (Manūčehrī, Dīvān, p. 65); “in the early spring we found better color variations (būqalamūnīhā) than [those of] būqalamūn” (ibid., p. 170).

The changing colors of the būqalamūn fabric led to another figurative use, referring to the unpredictable vicissitudes of times and changes of fortune, as an epithet for ʿālam (the world), ayyām (days, times), dahr (time, fate), sepehr (the celestial sphere, heavens), and the like in classical Persian literature (for examples, see Loḡat-nāma, s.v. būqalamūn, and especially Ḵāqānī’s expression būqalamūnbāf-e ṣobḥ o šām “the būqalamūn weaver of morns and eves,” referring to fickle Fortune, ibid., s.v. būqalamūnbāf).

In Arabic sources, abūqalamūn was later applied to a certain bird. Yāqūt (I, p. 885) quotes an historian of Tennīs as mentioning it among the numerous birds occurring there. The Lesān al-ʿarab (loc. cit.) quotes a report by Sīrāfī from an inhabitant of Egypt that abūqalamūn was an aquatic bird displaying various colors and that the abūqalamūn cloth was named after this bird. The identity of such a bird, with a shimmering or multicolored plumage, is not certain (cf. Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, s.vv. (a)būqalamūn; which just states that it is also the name of a bird). Qazvīnī (p. 269) equates it with the fictitious abū-barāqeš, described by him as a melodious bird as large as a stork, with a long neck, long legs, and a red bill; whose colors varied between red, green, yellow, and blue, and mentions that the cloths called abūqalamūn, which were brought from Byzantium, were woven after the color pattern of this bird. Damīrī, who often quotes Qazvīnī’s descriptions of “wonderful” animals, however, describes abū-barāqeš as a passerine bird displaying various colors (I, p. 229). Al-mawsūʿa (a modern Arabic encyclopedia of natural science), while equating the abū-barāqeš with the common bull­finch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula L.), the male of which has a multicolored plumage, makes abūqalamūn a synonym of zommat, the chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax L.), which has a very glossy black plumage with bluish glints, and red legs and beak.

In Arabic sources, jasper (yašb/yašf) was eventually referred to as abūqalamūn. According to Aḥmad Ḡāfeqī (6th/12th cent., quoted by Ebn al-Bayṭār, pt. 4, p. 209, s.v. yašf), jasper was believed by some to be a vari­colored (molawwan) Abyssinian ruby, called abūqala­mūn in the East (cf. Tonokābonī, p. 41, who gives abūqalamūn only as a synonym of ḥajar al-yašb/al-yašf “jasper stone”; in Borhān-e qāṭeʿ (ed. Moʿīn, I, pp. 318­-19) sang-pošt, properly the tortoise, said to be “called (a)būqalamūn by the Easterners,” is but a misreading of Pers. sang-e yašb “jasper stone”). Masʿūdī, too (Morūj II, pp. 437-38), mentions a variant of this term, namely al-bāqalamūn, as the name of a gem that changes color like the variable luster of peacock feathers and with which the bezels (foṣūṣ) known as al-bāqalamūn were wrought, whose colors vary between red, green, and yellow depending on the limpidity of the gem’s water, and on the observer’s angles of vision.

In Persian, the chameleon (q.v.) was also named būqalamūn on account of its ability to change color.

Lastly, the imported turkey was baptized būqalamūn in Persian. Domesticated turkeys, derived from their wild Mexican and North American ancestor (Meleagris gallopavo), were introduced into Europe about 1500 and thence into Persia in the mid-11th/17th century. The French traveler Tavernier (1605-89), who made several trips to Persia between 1632 and 1668, has described the first introduction of the turkey, which he calls poulet d’Indes “Indies chicken,” into Persia as follows (pp. 380-81; Pers. tr., p. 371): The first “India chickens” that he saw in Europe were brought from West India by the Dutch, who took the turkey first to Holland and then to other European countries. The Armenians of Jolfā, Isfahan, who went to Venice for trade, brought turkeys to Isfahan (these had been brought to Europe from the West Indies). The king (probably Shah ʿAbbās I or Shah Ṣafī) liked turkey meat so much that he ordered turkey eggs to be distributed to the wealthiest Armenians of Jolfā to take care of the breeding and to give him a certain number of turkeys annually; but the Armenians, noticing that raising turkeys would become a new imposition on them, like producing capons, neglected this job, and all the turkeys perished. Later the turkey was again introduced into Iran, this time probably from Russia via Azerbaijan. Russian provenience is indicated by Schlimmer (p. 366), and one may also compare the Turkish names of this bird in Iranian Azerbaijan, hendūškā (from Russ.), and particularly haštarḵān (toyoḡü) “Astrakhan (fowl)” and the obsolete Gīlakī name ūrūsī morḡ “Russian fowl” recorded by Maṛʿašī (s.v.).

The domestic turkey cock typically has an iridescent black plumage that is better displayed when it fans its tail and wings like a peacock, and its featherless head, front, and upper neck are covered with erectile caruncles that change color with the bird’s mood, going from red to blue and violet. These two features explain why it was called būqalamūn. The turkey in turn gave its name to the gol-e būqalamūn, the sweet William, Dianthus barbatus, various colors of which, according to Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana (I, p. 137), were introduced into Iran during the first forty years of the reign of the Nāṣer­-al-Dīn Shah Qājār (r. 1264-1313/1848-96) and which is sometimes confused with the (gol-e) qaranfol, China/rainbow pink, D. chinensis. The flower was probably called so because its small white to purple mottled or concentrically striped flowers with fringed petals and borne in roundish corymbs were fancied as the fanned tail feathers of a turkey-cock.

Other Persian names recorded for the turkey in some sources (including modern dictionaries, e.g., Handjéri, I, s.v. dindon) are: ḵorūs-e hendī “Indian rooster” (translation of Ar. dīk hendī, itself a calque of Fr. coq d’Inde), a misnomer no longer used today; pīrūj (sic; e.g., in Farhang-e Nafīsī, s.v. būqalamūn; alteration of Hindi pīrū/perū. Itself from Port. peru, an indication that very probably this bird was introduced by the Portuguese from America into the East Indies; see also Yule and Burnell, pp. 944-45, s.v. turkey); and fīl-morḡ “elephant fowl” (recorded, e.g., in the Dāʾerat al-­maʿāref-e Āryānā, p. 3258 s.v. būqalamūn), used in Afghanistan and probably referring to the snout-like fleshy outgrowth that hangs on the forehead of the turkey cock at the base of its beak like a small elephant trunk, especially when it swells its wattles and erects its feathers. Kurdish dialects are particularly rich in names for the turkey (Mokrī, pp. 22-23, etc.): alterations of būqalamūn, e.g., būqlamūn, baqlamūt, baqla (Sanandaj), qalamūna (Mokrī), būq/būqalam (Kalhor, Zangena); names indicating confusion about the provenience of the turkey: merīškā/merežkā meṣrī “Egyptian hen” (Kurdish dialects in Turkey), hendū “Indian” (Kur­mānjī dialect of Vān in Turkey); probably onomat­opoeic names: alīšīš (in Kurmānjī and the dialect of Qaṣr-e Šīrīn), alū-alū (in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon; cf. Eng. gobble-gobble and Fr. glouglou).

Turkey raising on a commercial scale is a rather new enterprise in Iran. It is carried out in a non­industrialized way mainly in the provinces of Mīāndoāb (in Azerbaijan), Mahābād, Sanandaj, and Kermānšāh (Mošīrī, pp. [4-5]). The common indigenous breed of turkeys is greatly degenerated and does not produce any significant quantities of meat and eggs; therefore turkey breeding for commercial purposes is not economical (Maljaʾī, p. 14).

Because of its relative scarcity and high cost the consumption of turkey meat has not reached a nation­wide level. In Iranian cookery turkey meat is considered an expensive delicacy; it is sometimes substituted for mutton in halīm or chicken meat in some dishes (e.g., pilaf).



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Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e Āryānā, Kabul, 1328- Š./1949-.

Kamāl-al-Dīn Moḥammad Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kobrā, 2 vols., Cairo, 4th ed., 1970.

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Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

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