It is estimated that 10-15 percent of people in Southern Iran are blacks.
During the Qajar dynasty in Iran, many wealthy households imported African women and children as slaves to perform domestic work.
This slave labor was drawn exclusively from Bantu-speaking peoples of the Southeast Africa, in an area roughly comprising modern-day Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi.
Most blacks who live in Iran today, are therefore descendants of the Africans who were sold into slavery during the East African Slave Trade. Hence some of these certainly originated from Nyasaland (Malawi).
Certain elements in Iranian culture today can trace their origins to the African slaves. As Mahdi Ehsasei noticed while listening to the chants of Afro-Iranian football fans, hints exist as to the influence of Africans in Iran, even if their historical legacy has largely been ignored.
The tradition of Zār is one example: the belief in various beneficial and malignant winds and spirits (and the use of exorcism) originated in East Africa, before spreading to Iran in the 19th century.
In some ways, the spread of Zār mirrors that of voodoo in the Western hemisphere. West African spiritual practices in turn influenced communities in the Americas, as colonial powers primarily sourced slaves from West Africa. Similarly, the Middle East’s reliance on East African slaves has led to the proliferation of Zār practitioners across the region.
Alongside the practice itself, the various names for spirits and winds have entered the Iranian vocabulary. Various terms for spirits including pepe, mature and chinyase have their roots in African languages (pepo and matari in Swahili and cinyase in Nyasa language of southern Malawi, respectively).