Pashtun Customs Related to Weddings

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Pashtun Customs Related to Weddings, Azim Afridi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (

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Pashtun Customs Related to Weddings

Azim Afridi

Publishing Date: Monday, November 11 2002

Wadah as a general rule, is arranged by parents in Pukhtoon society and the boy and the girl themselves do not play any role in the negotiations. This is because of the fact that Pukhtoons are conservative by nature Their conservatism coupled with strict segregation of sexes makes it impossible for a suitor to select a girl of his own choice even though they may have soft feelings for each other. "The Pathan, in sentiment, will sympathise with lovers in poetry and fiction, but lovers in real life pay for it with their lives". The Pukhtoon society frowns upon any one, who expresses his likeness for any particular girl. But now this trend is gradually undergoing a change.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries several peculiar customs were prevalent among the Pukhtoons, particularly the Afridi, about betrothals. Some of them are:-

  • Laman Shlawal (Literally Tearing Skirt)
    Any woman who was first in tearing the swaddling cloth of the newly born girl could establish her claims on the infant. However, marriages under "Laman Shlawal" used to take place among the relatives, but with the spread of education this old custom is fast vanishing.
  • Neewaka (Literally to Catch)
    Neewaka can be interpreted as an assertion of claims. This is another custom under which marriage can be solemnized even against the wishes of the girl's parents. Public claim through Neewaka debars others from making overtures to the girl's family for her hand. Marriages under 'Neewaka' often take place among relatives, especially the first cousins. This custom is also disappearing with the passage of time.
  • Kwezhdan (Bethrotal)
    As is common everywhere, the parents cherish a desire to get their sons married to pretty and virtuous girls of respectable families. But in the tribal areas more importance was attached to the strength of arms and family influence of a girl's parents than beauty or other attainments of the bride-to-be. With the ushering in of an era of peace and tranquility this trend has however, undergone a drastic change. The boy is now also consulted while selecting a girl and his views are given due weight in educated families.
Customary overtures for betrothal commence with a visit by the mother or sisters of the boy, to the girl's parents. Negotiations for matrimony are undertaken either by the parents themselves or by friends and relatives. Asa precautionary measure the girl's parents make searching inquiries about the character, education, occupation and other attributes of the prospective son-in-law After an informal agreement has been reached, the boy's parents approach the girl's parents in a formal way i.e. a Jirga consisting of relatives and village elders calls on the father or elder member of the girl's family. Similarly a female party calls on her mother on the day of public proposal. The Jirga settles terms and conditions regarding ornaments, clothes, Mehr (dowry) and Sar (brides price or head money). The ceremony is rounded off with distribution of sweats among the people in the Hujra.


Walwar or head-money, which forms part of the negotiations, is also determined at the time of engagement. In accordance with the Jirga's decision the suitor's parents agree to pay in cash the stipulated amount to the girl's parents on the day of marriage. A part of the payment, is made on the spot The rest of the money is paid on the marriage day. The dowry is usually meagre.

The practice of head-money or bride's price has sometimes been criticized as a sort of business transaction or selling out of the girl. This criticism is based on ignorance of problems of the tribesmen. The head-money does not mean that the girl is sold out like a marketable commodity or she is an"economic asset". The idea underlying is to provide some financial relief to the girl's parents while purchasing gold or silver ornaments, clothes, house-hold utensils etc for their daughters. If viewed from the Pukhtoon point of view, the head-money is a matter of honor for them. The more the bride's price the more she commands respect in her husband's family. Even wealthy and prosperous parents, who otherwise do not stand in need of the head money, reluctantly have to accept this for preservation of honor of their daughters in her in-law's circles

In spite of the medical opinion that marriages among close relatives have the risk of congenital defects in the off spring, the practice of cousin marriages, particularly with first cousins is a common phenomenon. An exchange of betrothals, particularly cousins is also generally effected The Pukhtoons feel reluctant to marry their daughters outside the family or tribe and they, therefore, prefer marriages among blood relations. Preference is given to girls of one's own tribe or sub-tribe, in case no girl is available within the family. There is no fixed age for betrothals and they usually take place a year or two before the marriage. In some cases engagements are contracted in childhood.

Pakha Azada

Pakha Azada or Pkhay Artha means free visits between the fiance and fianc's families. These calls upon each other begin a few days after the betrothal. The prospective bridegroom's parents pay a visit to the girl's house and present her with a gold ring or a pair of silken clothes. They also send her presents on Eid and other auspicious occasions This is called Barkha or the girl's share. Once the girl is engaged, she starts observing purdah from her would be in-laws, both men and women.

Wadah (Marriage)

Marriage ceremonies usually take place on Thursday and Fridays Marriage festivities commence three days before the scheduled date of the actual marriage. At night village maidens assemble in the bridegroom's house and sing epithalamia called Sandaras to the beat of drums and tambourine Three or four respectable but elderly women visit the house of the bride a night before the marriage for dying her hands and feet with henna and for braiding her hair into three or more plaits. The braiding of hair is generally entrusted to a woman with several male children. The bride's   Jorra or special bridal dress and ornaments etc are normally sent a day before the marriage. The bridegroom serves two meals to his own guests as well as the bride's villagers. Usually the feast is given on the wedding day.

Janj (Marriage Party)

The bridal procession is called Janj. On the day of a marriage, the village of the bridegroom wears a happy look. Old and young alike, wear their best clothes. The marriage party or Janj generally starts for the bride's village at noon time with musicians leading the procession The Wra or female marriage party starts from the village to the sound of drums and the male participants let off their guns.

Naksha Wishtal (Target Shooting)

The Pukhtoons are fine shots. Target shooting is one of their favourite games and a fascinating feature of the marriage ceremonies. The bride's villagers invite the bridegroom's party to target shooting competition. The challenge is accepted by the others to show their mettle. The target is generally placed in a cliff, a rocky defile or at a place where it hardly comes in the range of the bullet. It is also one of the tribal customs that the Janj does not leave the village without hitting the target. The man who hits the target first receives a Lungi (a turban) as a prize for his accurate marksmanship. Targets can be practiced with bows and arrows, or guns.

Nikah (Wedlock)

The target shooting over, friends and relatives of the bridegroom assemble in the village mosque for Nikah, by the Pesh-Imam or the religious leader. On this occasion the bride proposes the name of bridegroom's brother, uncle or any other near relative as her Nikah Father (Attorney). It becomes the moral duty of Nikah Father to give paternal love and affection to the bride and treat her at par with his own children

The Pesh-Imam repeats the names of the bride and bridegroom three times and seeks the approval of the bridegroom in the presence of two witnesses and some village elders. After this he recites a few verses from the Holy Quran and declares the couple wedded to each other. The Imam is given some money for this religious service.


At the time of Nikah, friends and relatives of the bridegroom contribute money to lighten his financial burden. This is called Naindra. It can be likened to a debt of honor or some sort of financial help repayable to the donors on a similar occasion. A proper record of the subscriptions is maintained and the names of the subscribers are entered into a note book for future reference.


While men remain busy in target shooting, the female party gives a display of its skill in singing and folk dances. Divided into two groups they sing in the form of a duet. Sometimes they form a circle and dance and singing a chorus. This is called Balbala. After this the parents bid farewell to the bride.

The bride is handed over to the bridegroom's relatives in a solemn ceremony. One of her younger brothers conducts her to a Doli or a palanquin and a handful of money is showered over the Doli. The bride accompanied by the marriage party is led to a car or bus. The   doli is carried on the shoulders if the distance is less than a mile. On the way back home one can witness scenes of merry making. The female party sings happy songs and men fire crackers and volleys of shots in the air.

On arrival at the village, the village youths carry the doli to the bridegroom's house. They do not place the doli on the ground till they are rewarded. After this the bride is made to sit on a decorated cot. All the women hasten to see her face. The mother-in-law or sister-in-law take the lead in un-veiling her face and other female relatives follow suit. This is called Makh Katal. The bride is presented with some money on this occasion. The record of such donations is also kept for repayment on a similar occasion. Thus the marriage ceremony comes to an end with the transfer of the bride from her natal to marital house and distribution of sweats both in the Hujra and the house.

Wealthy people make a display of pomp and show at the time of marriage The services of dancing girls and musicians are acquired to entertain the guests. However, such a display of extravagance is now disappearing.

The Pukhtoons in general feel reluctant to give their daughters in marriage to non-Pukhtoons but they are not averse to marrying girls of respectable non-Pukhtoon families. It is not usual for a Pukhtoon to take spouse from another tribe. They also disapprove of overtures for the hand of a younger daughter in the presence of an un-betrothed elder daughter.

Marriages with widowed sisters-in-law are common and a brother considers it his bounden duty to marry the widow of his deceased brother. The widow, however, is not compelled to marry her brother-in-law or anyone else for that matter against her wishes. In most cases widowed Pukhtoon women prefer not to marry after the death of their husbands. If she has children, it is thought most becoming to remain single.

Child marriages are un-common. Polygamy is practiced on a limited scale. A Pukhtoon takes a second wife only when the first one is issueless or differences between the husband and wife assume proportions beyond compromise Divorces are not common as the Pukhtoons abhor the very idea of a   Talaq or divorce. The word Zantalaq (one who has divorced his wife) is considered an abuse and against the Pukhtoon's sense of honour. Such an abuse sometimes results in murders and blood feuds.


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Pashtun Customs Related to Weddings, Azim Afridi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (