Codes of Pakhtoonwali

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Codes of Pakhtoonwali,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, May 19 2005 (

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Codes of Pakhtoonwali

Publishing Date: Thursday, May 19 2005

"I despise the man who does not guide his life by honour
The very word honour drives me mad".

"I girded my sword for the honour of Afghans
Honor-bound of the time I am Khushal Khattak".
(Khushal Khan Khattak)

The Pukhtoon social structure, which has attracted the attention of many a scholar is mainly governed by conventions and traditions and a code of honour known as "Pukhtoonwali". This un-written code is the keystone of the arch of the Pukhtoons' social fabric. It exercises a great influence on their actions and has been held sacrosanct by them generation after generation. The Pukhtoonwali or the Pukhtoon code of honour embraces all the activities from the cradle to the grave. It imposes upon the members of the Pukhtoon society four chief obligations. Firstly Nanawatey or repentance over past hostility or inimical attitude and grant of asylum, secondly Teega or a truce declared by a Jirga to avoid bloodshed between two rival factions, thirdly Badal or obligation to seek revenge by retaliation and fourthly Melmastiya or an open hearted hospitality which is one of the most sublime and noble features of Pukhtoon character. In a broad sense hospitality, magnanimity, chivalry, honesty, uprightness, patriotism, love and devotion for the country are the essential features of Pukhtoonwali.

The history of Pukhtoonwali is as old as the history of the Pukhtoons and every individual of Pukhtoon society is expected to abide by these age old traditions. The non-observance of these customary laws is considered disgraceful and may lead to expulsion of an individual or even a whole family. Pukhtoonwali, Pukhto and Pukhtoon have become almost synonymous terms.

Some useful vocabulary that signify individual or collective Pashtoon Tribal functions are given below, arranged alphabetically. These words are common to Pashtun society and language but some, have fallen into disuse in the Settled areas.


Itbar which means trust, or guaranteed assurance or is the arch of society which is governed by un-written laws or conventions. All business including contracts relating to sale and mortgage or disposal of property, is transacted on the basis of trust or Itbar. Such transactions are verbal and are entered into in the presence of the village elders or a few witnesses. The violation of Itbar is considered to be dishonourable act, un-becoming of gentleman and contrary to the norms of Pukhtoonwali.


To my mind death is better than life
when life can no longer be held with honour
(Khushal Khan Khattak)

Self-respect and sensitivity to insult is another essential trait of Pukhtoon character. The poorest among them has his own sense of dignity and honour and he vehemently refuses to submit to any insult. In fact every Pukhtoon considers himself equal if not better than his fellow tribesmen and an insult is, therefore, taken as scurrilous reflection on his character. An insult is sure to evoke insult and murder is likely to lead to a murder.

Badal (retaliation) and blood feuds generally emanate from intrigue with women, murder of one of the family members or their hamsayas, violation of Badragga, slight personal injury or insult or damage to property. Any insult is generally resented and retaliation is exacted in such cases.

A Pukhtoon believes and acts in accordance with the principles of Islamic Law i.e. an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and blood for blood. He wipes out insult with insult regardless of cost or consequence and vindicates his honour by wiping out disgrace with a suitable action. But the urge for Badal does not mean that he is savage, blood thirsty or devoid of humane qualities. He is kind, affectionate, friendly and magnanimous and forgives any one who kills his relatives by a mistake but he will not allow any intentional murder go unavenged. Proud of his descent, he becomes offensive only when an insult is hurled at him or some injury is done to him deliberately. He goes in search of his enemy, scans the surrounding area and hills, lies in wait for months and years, undergoes all hardships but does not feel content till his efforts of wreaking vengeance on his enemy are crowned with success. Those who fail to fulfil the obligations of Pukhto (self-respect) by wiping out insult with insult, lose their prestige in the eyes of their compatriots, render themselves liable to Paighore (reproach) and earn an unfair name. According to Nang-e-Pakhto or code of honour an unavenged injury is the deepest shame and the honour of the person can be redeemed only by a similar action. It may, however, be noted that "there is little if any random crime or violence" in the tribal areas as the stakes are too high and the retribution too certain to follow.

Many daring stories of Badal or retaliation are recorded by European as well as Asian writers but one such story showing Pukhtoons' strong urge for Badal has been related by Mrs Starr. She writes, "once an old man with a white beard and hair and eyes filmy with cataract came into the out patient hall, and when his turn came to see the doctor, he said "I am old but give me sight that I may use a gun again. `To the doctors' query he replied in quite a placid and natural manner: `I have not taken the exchange (revenge) for my sons' death sixteen years ago."

Another famous story of revenge, as told by T.C. Pennell, is that a Pathan girl who approached a court of law for justice but the judge expressed his inability to prosecute the offender for his imputed crime due to lack of ample evidence. This enraged the girl and she said in fit of anger, "Very well, I must find my own way". She went in search of the murderer of her brother "who had escaped the justice of the law but not the hand of the avenger". She "concealed a revolver on her person and coming up to her enemy in the crowded bazar, shot him point blank".

Sometimes a Pukhtoon becomes so sentimental that he vows not to take a meal with his right hand and sleep on ground instead of a charpaee (bedstead) until he has avenged the wrong done to him. Pukhtoon history is replete with many examples of Badal and there are instances where a child born a few months even after the murder of his father has, wreaked vengeance on his enemy after patiently waiting for many years.

The obligation of Badal rests with the aggrieved party and it can be discharged only by action against the aggressor or his family. In most cases the aggressor is paid in the same coin. If no opportunity presents itself "he may defer his revenge for years, but it is disgraceful to neglect or abandon it entirely, and it is incumbent on his relations, and sometimes on his tribe, to assist him in his retaliation". When a Pukhtoon discovers that his dishonour is generally known, he prefers to die an honourable death rather than live a life of disgrace. He exercises the right of retribution with scant regard for hanging and transportation and only feels contented after avenging the insult. Badal resulted in blood feuds and vendetta in the past, but now due to the prevalent peaceful conditions in the tribal area and with the spread of education, the incidence of Badal are few and far between.


Badnarr which means the imposition of a ban closely resembles Tarr both in spirit and essence. The only difference between the two is that the scope of Tarr is vast and it includes any matter unanimously agreed upon whereas Badnarr is specifically used for a ban on cutting wood from hills. Anyone violating Badnarr renders himself liable to the payment of a specific amount of fine. Tribesmen immediately approach him for extraction of fine and he is obliged by this tribal custom to pay Nagha (fine).


An armed party escorting a fugitive or a visitor to his destination, is called Badragga. Badragga is a guarantee for the safety of a man who is either hotly pursued by his enemies or there is an apprehension of his being killed on his way home. An armed party accompanies such a man as Badragga or `escort' to ensure his safe return to the place of his abode. Badragga is never attacked by the second party because of fear of reprisals and the blood feud that is sure to follow if an attack is made on it. The Badragga convoy can be depended upon only within its own geographical limits; beyond it, the people of other tribes take the charge to convoy the traveller.


Balandra or Ashar can be best described as a village aid programme under which a particular task is accomplished on the basis of mutual cooperation and assistance. At the time of sowing or harvesting, the villagers lend a helping hand to the man who seeks their help. They take out their pair of bullocks to plough his fields at sowing time and assist him in reaping his crops at the time of harvest. The man, thus obliged, by the fellow villagers holds a feast in their honour in the evening.


Baramta like Bota is resorted to when the grievances of a party are not redressed or a debtor adopts delaying tactics in respect of payment of a debt to the creditor. The word Baramta is derived from Persian word Baramad which means recovery or restitution of property etc. Under Baramta hostages are held to ransom till the accused returns the claimed property. The Pukhtoons consider it an act against their sense of honour and contrary to the principles of Pukhtoonwali to lay their hands on dependent classes such as blacksmiths, tailors, barbers and butchers etc belonging to the debtor's village.

Bota and Baramta in the tribal areas have often given rise to inter-tribal disputes and blood feuds. The British Government in India often resorted to Baramta in the event of hostilities with the tribesmen. When the Government failed to cow the tribesmen by force, it used to resort to this coercive method by seizing cattle, property, men and women in Baramta wherever they happened to be in settled districts.


The word Bilga is used for stolen property. According to tribal custom, a man is held responsible for a dacoity, theft or burglary if any of the stolen articles are recovered from his house. In such a case he is obliged to make good the loss sustained by the afflicted person. He, however, stands absolved of Bilga if he discloses the source or the persons from whom he had purchased the stolen articles.


Bota means carrying away. It is a sort of retaliatory action against an aggressor. For instance, if a creditor fails to recover his debt from the debtor, he resorts to Bota by seizing his cattle or one of his kith and kin. The creditor keeps them as hostages till his dues are fully realised or the debtor has furnished a security to make payment within a specified period to the creditor.


Chalweshti derives from the number forty and means the tribal forcewould implement the decision of the jirga. Every fourtieth man of the sub-sectionwould be a member. In Kurram this force is called shalgoon which derives from the number twenty and means that every twentieth member will be part of the force.


Chigha means a pursuit party. The Chigha party is formed or taken out in case a village is raided by armed bandits with the object of lifting cattle, looting property or abducting an inmate of the village. Composed of armed persons, the Chigha party goes in pursuit of the raiders to effect the release of the cattle etc or recover the stolen property.


Gundi is a classic case of balance of power in tribal areas. It is derived from Pashto word Gund, meaning a political party but it is used for an alliance. As modern states enter into bilateral agreements for promotion of trade, cultivation of friendly relations and mutual defence, similarly various sections of a tribe align themselves in blocs or Gundis to safeguard their common interests. Gundi is entered into defeat the aggressive and nefarious designs of a hostile neighbour. In tribal fighting the Gundi members espouse their mutual interests against their common enemy and act as a corporate body with all the resources at their command.

The history of the Pukhtoons provide many instances of long blood feuds spreading over several years. To quote an example, a quarrel of a few blacksmiths split up the Zarghun Khel section of the Adam Khel tribe into two warring factions in 1922 and the hostilities continued for over five years in which the tribesmen of different villages arrayed themselves on one or the other side. The member of a Gundi maintain constant liaison with each other, exchange views on matters of common interest and hold mutual consultations to meet critical situations. They invite each other on festive occasions, help each other in the hour of need and share each other's joys and sorrows.


The word Hamsaya in Persian and Urdu stands for a neighbour but in Pashto it applies to a man who abandons his home either due to poverty or blood feud and seeks protection of an elder of another village. In this way the latter becomes his client or vassal. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the protector to save his Hamsaya from insult or injury from any source.

In some cases the Hamsayas till the lands of their protectors and render them help in other vocations. But it has no marked bearing on the Hamsayas' social status and they are treated at par with the other inhabitants of the village. Barbers, cobblers, butchers, blacksmiths, carpenters etc can live as Hamsaya.


Hujra is a common sitting or sleeping place for males in the village. visitorsand unmarried young men sleep in the hujra. Expenses are usually shared by the village.Almost every hujra has a mosque adjacent to it in the village structure.

The Hujra, which represents the sociable character of the Pukhtoons, is a useful institution and it plays a pivotal role in their daily life. It serves as a club, "dormitory, guest house and a place for ritual and feastings". It is a center for social activities as well as a Council Hall for the settlement of family and inter-tribal disputes. It is used as a male dormitory where bachelors of the village sleep. It is a guesthouse where guests are jointly entertained by village folk and a community center for betrothals, marriages and social functions. Even condolences are offered in the Hujra on the demise of a person and here sympathy is expressed with the bereaved family. It is a place of public resort where village elders and youngsters get-together in their leisure hours to discuss tribal, national and international affairs and matters of mutual interest. "The guests and strangers are fed and sheltered free of all charges in the village Hujras".

The Hujra and Jirga are interring related. It is not only a meeting place of the villagers but it is also used as a platform for the Jirga's meetings where important decisions are made and family quarrels and tribal disputes are amicably resolved. In some places the Hujra happens to be the property of one man but in tribal areas it is a common property. Hujra, Hubble bubble (Cheelam) and Rabab (String instrument) and an earthen pitcher are inseparable and are considered its part and parcel. Though the hubble-bubble still retains its old place yet the music of Rabab with the accompaniment of the pitcher is vanishing and their place is being taken up by radio, transistor and television sets.

The Hujras are generally well fortified. They have one or two towers with a loopholed parapet for the purpose of defence of the village and firing down and along the wall in case of an outbreak of hostilities. The youngsters of the village in general and bachelors in particular sleep in the Hujra to guard the village in case of blood feuds. The Hujra usually consists of two or three rooms with adjacent veranda and a courtyard. A number of bedsteads or charpaees, pillows and quilts and praying rugs available in Hujra for the guests.


Jirga is an assembly of tribal elders called for various purposeswhether waging war or composing peace, tribal or inter-tribal.

"A mass meeting of the elders of the whole of the Afridi tribe, for instance, would correspond very much to the old `Shiremote' of the Saxon heptarchy; and, indeed, there is more in the simile than one would expect at first glance, for the democratic spirit that is so characteristic a feature in the gradual growth of English customs finds its counterpart in the spirit of liberty and right of free action that is one of the most cherished prerogatives of the Pathan tribesmen, be he ever so humble".
(The Hon. Arnold Kepple)

Democracy is not alien to the genius of the Pukhtoons, as they are carrying on their typical and rudimentary form of government on democratic principles since times immemorial. A unique feature of tribal life is the Jirga system, a council or assembly of tribal elders, which closely resembles the Athenian democracy of the City States of ancient Greece. The Pukhtoons practiced this participatory sort of democracy long before Locke, Rousseau and other eminent philosophers expounded their theories about democracy.

Pukhtoonwali is the code of ethics of the Pukhtoons, the Jirga their Parliament or National Assembly and intrepidity and frankness an essential trait of their character. An atmosphere of equality pervades in tribal area and even a poor man dressed in rags considers himself equal to his adversary or his rich compatriot. This spirit is well reflected in their Jirga system, which, like the ancient Greek democratic institutions signifies their love for democracy.

The Jirga of today also plays an important and constructive role in solving the tribal matters. It is an authority for settling disputes and dispensing even-handed justice to all and sundry irrespective of their social status, influence and wealth. All matters including the question of peace and war within tribal limits fall within the purview of the Jirga. It consists of the leading Maliks and tribal elders. There are no hard and fast rules for the selection of Jirga members. All tribal elders Speen Geeri or (grey-beards) are considered eligible for its membership and each one of them has a right to speak and freely express his opinion. However, Jirga's generally consist of persons known for their honesty and integrity. The Jirga exercises both executive and judicial roles and settles all disputes pertaining to the distribution of land, property, blood feuds, blood money and other important inter-tribal affairs on the basis of tribal conventions, traditions and principles of justice. It performs judicial functions while settling a dispute and discharges police functions when a threat to peace and tranquility or danger to the life and property exists within tribal limits.

The Jirga usually deals with inter-tribal affairs and serves as an instrument for dispensing speedy and cheap justice. After careful consideration, the Jirga decides the disputes on the basis of available evidence.

The Jirga assembles in a Hujra or a village mosque or in an open field outside the village under a shady tree. The Jirga members usually sit in a circle without any presiding officer. This Round Table Conference like a meeting without a chairman clearly reflects their love of democracy and principle of equality irrespective of birth, wealth etc.

The Jirga conducts its proceedings in a simple manner. It interviews both the parties, gives them a patient hearing and examines witnesses to ascertain the facts of the case. After searching enquiries, the Jirga makes every possible endeavour to find an impartial and acceptable solution of the problem. The Jirga's decision is generally based on Shariat, local traditions, and justice and fair play. In serious cases the Jirga asks a party to clear itself of the imputed charge by an oath on the Holy Quran. This seals the issue once for all, as the religion is an extremely strong a force. It announces its decision only when the majority of its members reach an agreement. But Jirga members deem it prudent to obtain the consent of both the parties before making its verdict public. This practice is known as WAAK or IKHTIAR (Power of attorney). It is through the instrument of Waak or Ikhtiar that the Jirga commits both the parties to abide by its decision. The Waak also gives a binding force or some sort of legal cover to the Jirga's verdict and it becomes incumbent upon the parties concerned to honour its verdict.

The Jirga reprimands the party, which refuses to accept its award. In popular parlance this refusal to abide by the verdict of Jirga is called MAKH ARAWAL (lit, turning of face) or expression of disapproval over the party's behavior. In such a case the Jirga also resorts to punitive measures for enforcement of its decision, which includes fine in money and burning of the houses of the recalcitrant members. It is because of such stringent action that no one dares violate a Jirga's decision after customary approval in the form of Waak or Ikhtiar. The Jirga does not interfere in small and petty family disputes until a formal request is made by a party to intercede on its behalf. Moreover in cases of grave concern and serious nature, the Jirga assembles on its own and persuades the parties concerned to submit to its award.

The Jirga meeting usually lasts for a day or two, but in some complicated cases, its deliberations are prolonged to three or four days. It remains, however, the utmost endeavour of the Jirga to settle the dispute amicably as early as possible.

It is also one of the functions of the Jirga to ensure law and order and lasting and durable peace in the area. Here the Jirga can be likened to the General Assembly of the United Nations. As all peace loving nations can become members of the General Assembly, similarly the Jirga is composed of such elders who have stainless characters and spotless records. As no decision is taken in the United Nations without a majority vote, likewise the majority opinion prevails in the Jirga. But here the similarity ends. The Jirga is more powerful as compared to the General Assembly. It can easily enforce its decisions through a tribal lashkar and the erring party or the dissident group is promptly punished.

Karhai (Teega)

Kanrrey or Teega is another custom among the Pukhtoons, which stands for cessation of blood-shed between contending parties. Teega (lit. putting down of a stone) in other words means a temporary truce declared by a Jirga. The word stone is used figuratively as actually no stone is put at the time of the cessation of hostilities. Once the truce is enforced, no party dares violate it for fear of punitive measures.

When hostilities break out between two rival factions and firing starts from house tops and surrounding hills, a tribal Jirga intervenes to restore peace and prevent blood-shed. In case of firing, there is no security of life and property and death hangs over the feuding factions like the sword of Democles. The Jirga, consisting of local tribal elders and religious divines, declares a Teega after full deliberations and in consultations with the parties concerned and declares a truce for a specified period on pain of a Nagha or fine. Nagha is paid by the party which violates the truce. The objective underlying Teega is to restore normal conditions by holding the feelings of enmity in abeyance, cooling down tempers and providing an opportunity to the two sides to settle their dispute amicably through tribal elders on the principles of justice and fair-play. The parties generally, strictly adhere to the terms of the truce. Any one of the contending parties which commits a breach of the truce is punished with a heavy fine.

If the party guilty of violating the truce declines to pay the prescribed amount of fine, the Jirga proceeds to recover it forcibly. This may be in the form of burning of the houses of the rebel group, its expulsion from the locality or banishment from the tribe. This task is accomplished with the help of a tribal lashkar, composed of armed tribesmen. No one can, therefore, violate the truce because of such stringent action. Here the Jirga's action resembles U.N. General Assembly's action against any rebel government. The General Assembly applies economic sanctions against a defiant government, which may be in-effective because the General Assembly has no authority to enforce it or compel member countries to abide by its decision, but orders of a Jirga cannot be ignored or side-tracked in any form or manner.


Lakhkar (widely known as Lashkar) is an armed party which goes out from a village or tribe for warlike purposes. The Lakhkar may consist of a hundred to several thousand men. The Lakhkar assembled for Jehad (Holy War) is usually very large. The decisions of a Jirga, if violated by a party, are enforced through a tribal Lakhkar. The Lakhkar thus performs the functions of police in the event of a breach of tribal law.

Lokhay Warkawal

Lokhay Warkawal literally means `giving of a pot' but it implies the protection of an individual or a tribe. Lokhay is generally given by a weaker tribe to a stronger one with the object of ensuring its safety and security. It is accepted in the form of a sacrificial animal such as a goat or a sheep. When a tribe accepts a Lokhay from another tribe, it undertakes the responsibility of safeguarding the latter's interests against its enemies and protects it at all costs. The custom of Lokhay is common among the Afridi tribes of Khyber Agency and Orakzai tribes of Tirah.


Lungi means the allowances given by the polticial authorities to individual maliks.


Meerata means complete annihilation of the male members of a family by brutal assassination. This is not a custom but a criminal act. Under Meerata, the stronger member of family used to assassinate their weak but near relatives with the sole object of removing them from the line of inheritance and gaining forcible possession of their lands, houses and other property. This kind of cold blooded murder is seriously viewed by the tribal law and persons responsible for such an in-human and ghastly act cannot escape the wrath of Pukhtoons. The Jirga immediately assembles to take suitable action against the culprits. The penalty is usually in the form of setting on fire their houses and other property and expulsion of the culprits from their area.


"It goes waste if you feed yourself alone;
It gives satisfaction to have your meal in company"
(Khushal Khan Khattak)

Pukhtoon have been described as one of the most hospitable peoples of the world. They consider Melmastiya or generous hospitality as one of the finest virtues and greet their guest warmly with a broad smile on their faces. A Pukhtoon feels delighted to receive a guest regardless of his past relations or acquaintance and prepares a delicious meal for him. "Each house," says Mirza Agha Abbas of Shiraz, "subscribes a vessel of water for the mosque and for strangers". Dilating on the subject Mr. L. White King says that "Pathans regard dispensing of hospitality as a sacred duty, and supply their guests with food according to their means". Guests are usually entertained in a Hujra (village meeting place), where guests are entertained and routine meetings of the elders are held. Each village contains at least, one Hujra. The host kills a fowl if he cannot afford to slaughter a lamb or goat and prepares a sweet dish (Halwa) to satisfy his sense of hospitality. Guests are not only looked after but also respected. "A rich chief", says T.L. Penall, "will be satisfied with nothing less than the slaying of the sheep when he receives a guest of distinction. A poorer man will be satisfied with the slaying of a fowl".

Pukhtoons feel happy over the coming of the guests and greet them with traditional slogans, "Har Kala Rasha" and "Pa Khair Raghley" and "Starrey Mashey" i.e. may you often come, welcome and may you not be tired. He also exchanges such courtesies with the guest as "Jorr Yai" (are you well) "Kha Jorr Yai" (are you quite well) and "Takrra Yai" (are you hale and hearty). The guest gratefully acknowledging these forms of welcome by saying "Pa Khair Ossey", (may you be safe) "Khudai de mal sha" (May God be with you) "Khushal Ossey" (may you be prosperous and happy) and "Ma Khwaraigey" (may you not be destitute). This way of greeting full of friendly gestures reflects the warmth with which the guests are received. The arrival of the guest in Hujra is immediately followed by tea and later the guest is served with a rich meal consisting of Halwa (a special sweet dish), Pullao (rice dish) and other seasonal dishes. When the guest sets off on his journey he is bade farewell in these words "Pa Makha De Kha" (may your journey be safe and happy).

The guest of an individual is considered as the guest of all and he is jointly entertained by the villagers in the Hujra. A variety of dishes are prepared and the elders of the family lunch or dine with the guest on a common piece of cloth (Dastarkhwan) spread over a carpet, drugget or a mazri mat. It is one of the cardinal principles of Pukhtoon's hospitality to request the guest to sup or take a few morsels with the village folk even though the guest may have had his meals but the etiquette enjoins upon the guest to oblige his hosts by taking a few more morsels. After they have partaken of a meal the company prays to Allah to give the host riches and prosperity and power of entertaining more guests.

Giving a vivid description of Pukhtoon hospitality, Sir Olaf Caroe writes "The giving of hospitality to the guest is a national point of honour, so much so that the reproach to an inhospitable man is that he is devoid of Pakhto, a creature of contempt. It is the greatest of affronts to a Pathan to carry off his guest, and his indignation will be directed not against the guest who quits him but to the person who prevails on him to leave. This, or something like it, was the reception accorded to the outlaws from British justice who fled to the hills."

Another example of Pukhtoon hospitality is recorded by Dr. Pennel who served in Bannu and the adjoining tribal areas as a missionary doctor for a number of years. He writes "on one occasion I came to a village with my companion rather late in the evening. The chief himself was away but his son received me with every mark of respect and killed a fowl and cooked a savoury Pullao". He adds, "Late at night when the Khan returned and found on enquiry that the Bannu Padre Sahib was his guest, he asked if he had been suitably entertained. To his dismay he heard that only a chicken had been prepared for dinner. Immediately, therefore, he ordered a sheep to be killed and cooked, so that his honour might be saved." To their minds, Says another English writer, "hospitality is the finest of virtues. Any person who can make his way into their dwellings will not only be safe, but will be kindly received."

Mila Tarr

Mla Tarr, which literally means `girding up of loins' denotes two things. Firstly it is used for all such members of a family who are capable of carrying and using firearms. If for instance, some one says that "A" has a Mla Tarr of ten men, it would mean that "A" can furnish an armed party of ten men usually consisting of his sons grandsons or close relatives. Secondly, it means espousing the cause of a man against his enemies and providing him with an armed party. The tribesmen resort to Mla Tarr when a person belonging to their village or tribe is attacked, mal-treated or disgraced by their enemies.


Mu'ajib means the yearly or half yearly fixed allowances paid by the politicalauthorities to the tribe and its various sections.


Nagha is a tribal fine decided by the council of elders and imposed upon the wrongdoer. It is extracted if necessary by force (i.e. the mobilization of a lashkar)and the wrongdoer may have his house burned or broken down.


Nanawatay derives from the verb to go in and is used when the vanquished party is prepared to go in to the house or hujra of the victors and beg forgiveness. There is no nanawatay when the dispute involves tor or injury to women.

Some European writers define Nanawatey as grant of asylum to fugitives or extreme hospitality. An experienced British administrator who served as a Political Officer on the Frontier for a fairly long time describes it "an extension of the idea of Melmastia, (Hospitality) in an extreme form, stepped up to the highest degree". But the grant of asylum or sanctuary is only one aspect of Nanawatey while its exact definition and true spirit seems to have been ignored. As a matter of fact, it is a means to end longstanding disputes and blood feuds and transform enmity into friendship. Under Nanawatey a penitent enemy is forgiven and the feuding factions resume peaceful and friendly relations. Thus it creates a congenial atmosphere for peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding through eventual reconciliation.

When a person feels penitent over his past bellicose postures and hostility and expresses a desire to open a new chapter of friendly relations with his foe and live in peace and amity with him, he approaches the tribal elders, Ulema and religious divines for intercession on his behalf for a settlement. In this regard the Jirga's efforts are always countenanced with favour and the very presence of the suppliant in the enemy's Hujra creates a congenial atmosphere for resumptions of friendly relations. The host, who used to scan the neighbourhood in an effort to avenge his insult, exercises patience and kindness and gently pardons his opponent for his past misconduct. This is followed by slaughtering of a buffalo, cow, or a few lambs or goats provided by the suppliant. A feast is held in the Hujra and with it the enmity comes to an end.

The customs relating to Nanawatey are more or less identical throughout the Pukhtoon society. In some parts of the tribal areas, however, there was a custom according to which the suppliant used to go before his enemy with grass in his mouth and a rope round his neck as a mark of humility (this custom no longer exists). Sometimes women bearing the Holy Quran over their heads would approach the enemy's house to plead their family members innocence in any given case. The tribesmen, like Muslims all over the world, have a deep faith in the Holy Quran and they, therefore, regard it as a sacrilegious act to deny the favour asked for through the Holy Book. Besides, the women are held in high esteem by Pukhtoons and therefore, a favour solicited through them is seldom denied. Sometimes a man manages to reach his enemy's hearth and stays there till his request for Nanawatey is acceded to. However, if some obstacles lie in the way of acceptance of a Nanawatey then the suppliant bides his time for an opportune occasion such as occurance of a death in his enemy's family. He hurries to his enemy's village, joins the funeral procession, tries to be one of the pall-bearers and announces his desire for Nanawatey. This evokes a spontaneous feeling of sympathy and the relatives of the deceased readily concede to their erstwhile enemy's desire. It is, however interesting to note that no Nanawatey is accepted in which the honour of the women is involved.

Any one who gains access to a Pukhtoon's house can claim asylum. He is protected by the owner of the house even at the risk of his own life. Under Panah which is a subsidiary element of Nanawatey one can take shelter under the roof of a Pukhtoons' house irrespective of caste, creed, status or previous relations. Though it would seem paradoxical yet Pukhtoons on several occasions have provided sanctuary to their deadly enemies. Panah is best illustrated by a story which, according to Mr. Claud Field "is often told on the Frontier". Once a quarrel between a creditor and a debtor resulted in the death of the creditor near his village. The debtor made an un-successful bid to run away, but he was hotly chased by the deceased's relatives. Having failed to escape the assassin approached a village tower and sought refuge in "Allah's Name". The chieftain of the tower, after enquiries from the fugitive realised that he had slain his brother. Instead of avenging his brother's death on the spot, the chieftain calmly said to the fugitive, "you have killed my own brother, but as you have asked for refuge in God's Name, in His name I give it." He was forthwith admitted to the tower and the pursuers sternly forbidden to approach. When they departed, the chieftain gave the refugee an hour's grace to leave the premises and be gone. The refugee made good use of the grace period and escaped death on that occasion, at least.

Another example of asylum, as recorded in books, is that of an old Pukhtoon woman. It is said that once a gang of dacoits raided a village. The villagers, including the two sons of an old woman, came out to challenge the dacoits. Soon a fierce fight ensued between the two parties in which besides others both the sons of the old woman were also killed. The dacoits having found all escape-routes blocked, sought shelter in the house of the old woman. The pursuers, who were close on their heels, felt delighted that the dacoits were now in their grip. But on approaching the old woman's house, they were deeply annoyed to find their way barred by her. Displaying traditional Pukhtoon courage she determinedly said that she would not allow any one to lay hands on them. "You don't know" the pursuers angrily said, "they have killed your two sons". "That may be so", she calmly replied, "but they have come Nanawatey to my house and I cannot see anyone laying his hands on them so long as they are under my roof".

The obligation of asylum frequently brought the Pukhtoons into conflict with the British during their one hundred years' rule on the Frontier. The government, under various treaties and agreements entered into by the tribesmen with the British and under the principle of territorial responsibility, often insisted that tribesmen should refrain from harbouring outlaws, but the Pukhtoons considering it as an act against the canons of Pukhtoonwali, often refused to oblige the authorities inspite of threats of reprisals and severe punishment. The tribesmen's obduracy in this connection, on many occasions, led to despatch of military expeditions and economic blockades by the British. They braved all sufferings, bore the brunt of the enemy's attack and suffered losses both in men and material but gallantly refused to hand over the guest outlaws. "In common with all Afghans", writes Claud Field, "the Afridi exercise a rough hospitality and offer an asylum to any fugitive endeavouring to escape from an avenger, or from the pursuit of justice and they would undergo any punishment or suffer any injuries rather then deliver up their guest". The denial of protection, says Sir Olaf Caroe, "is impossible for one who would observe Pukhto, it cannot be refused even to an enemy who makes an approach according to Nanawatey."

Ajab Khan Afridi, the hero of the famous Miss Ellis drama took refuge with Mullah Mahmud Akhunzada, a religious divine of Tirah Orakzai after the abduction of Miss Ellis. The British government brought enormous pressure on the Akhunzada to surrender Ajab Khan and his accomplices but he refused to deliver them on the ground that they had taken asylum under his roof and it was contrary to the norms of Pukhtoonwali to hand them over to the government.

Similarly a few outlaws took asylum with the Jowakis, a clan of the Adam Khel Afridi tribe, in 1877. The government demanded their return but the Jowakis refused to comply with such a request. Ultimately their intransigence over this question brought them into armed clash in which more than 5000 combatants were engaged. According to George B. Scott "every glen and valley of the clan was occupied, every tower destroyed, many cattle died, the families suffered in the wintry cold, only then did the chiefs come into camp and ask for terms. These were a fine in cash, of course but a small fraction of what the expedition had cost ____ the surrender of a certain number of rifles and other weapons in Peshawar ____ and the surrender of two noted outlaws for murderous raids. The chief of the tribe replied "we will pay the fine, we will surrender our arms, but those two men have taken refuge with us. We will not give them up. You are in possession of our country. Keep it, we will seek a home elsewhere, but those men we will not give up. Why will you blacken our faces"? Another example of asylum has been quoted by Major Herbert B. Edwardes, who says that "Raja Heera Singh, when Prime Minister of Lahore, sent an offer of three thousand rupees or 300 pound to Malik Sawab Khan Vezeeree, if he would give up Malik Fatteh Khan Towannuh, who had taken refuge in his mountains, the offer was rejected with indignation."


Nang is composed of the various points below that a tribesman mustobserve to ensure his honour, and that of his family, is upheld.


Nikkat derives from the noun nikka which means grandfather. In the tribal areas,Nikkat means the specific distribution of profit and loss that each tribe and subtribe has to bear. It thus takes on the meaning of hereditary rights and obligations, or hereditaments. This distribution is not based on current population figures butwas fixed some generations ago and may therefore appear unbalanced and unfair in the lightof the present population.


Qalang is taken by a landlord from his tenants. It is in this conextthat I have used the word, which is common among the Yusufzai, although there may be othermeanings attached to it elsewhere


Rogha means settlement of a dispute between warring factions.


The word Saz is used for blood money or compensation in lieu of killing. Under the custom of Saz a person who feels penitent after committing a deliberate murder, approaches the deceased's family through a Jirga and offers to make payment of blood money to end enmity between them. All hostilities come to an end between the parties after acceptance of Saz. Sometimes the payment of compensation takes the form of giving a girl in marriage to the aggrieved party. It is also called Swarah which binds together the two parties in blood relations and thus helps in eradicating ill will and feelings of enmity.


In tribal society the tarboor or father's brother's son has aconnotation of agnatic or cousin rivalry and enmity.


A mutual accord between two tribes or villagers themselves with regard to a certain matter is called Tarr. For instance, after sowing wheat or any other crop, the people of the village agree not to let loose their cattle to graze in the fields and thus damage the crop. The man whose cattle are found grazing in the fields in violation of this agreement has no right to claim compensation for an injury caused to his cattle by the owner of the field.


As has been suggested earlier that Pukhtoons are sensitive about the honour of their women folk and slight molestation of the women is considered a serious and an intolerable offence. The cases of adultery and illicit relations are put down with iron hand in and no quarter is given to culprits either male or female. Casting of an evil eye on woman is tantamount to imperil one's life. Both sexes, therefore, scrupulously avoid indulgence in immoral practices.

If a Pukhtoon discovers that a particular person is carrying a liaison with any female of his house, then he neither spares the life of the female nor that of her seducer. This is called Tor in Pashto (literally meaning black but used for public disgrace and defamation) or stigmatization of both male and female who are found guilty of illicit amour on sufficient evidence. Both the man and woman are put to death according to the customary law and this type of notoriety, abuse and slander is wiped out with the blood of the culprit. Besides adultery, death penalty is also prescribed for elopement which also falls under the purview of Tor. In cases of Tor murder is not accounted for and the woman relatives are justified by the tribal law to kill their female relation as well as her paramour. In case any of the persons guilty of adultery succeeds in absconding, the heirs of the female have every right to kill him/her whenever and wherever an opportunity presents itself. Otherwise the matter remains Paighor (reproach).

Tor has two aspects. If a woman is criminally assaulted and raped by force by a man with whom she had no previous illicit relations, then the woman is spared because of her innocence and the guilty man alone is put to death. According to the tribal custom, the accused is handed over to her parents, or her husband, if she is married. If the culprit's family refuses to hand him over to the Jirga or the relatives of the violated woman, then the adulterer's family is forced to abandon their village and seek refuge outside tribal limits. In such cases the relatives of the woman have a right to wipe out the insult by killing the accused himself or his brother or father. Not only the husbands but even brothers consider themselves bound to wipe out the insult.

The second aspect of Tor is that if the infidelity of a woman or the alleged involvement of adultery of both male and female is proved, then both are put to death. It is because of such deterrent punishment and ignominous death that both the sexes dare not indulge in fornication.

Tor can only be converted to Spin (white) by death.


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Codes of Pakhtoonwali,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, May 19 2005 (