Pashtun Social Life,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (http://www.khyber.org)
Publishing Date: Monday, November 11 2002
An attractive feature of the Pukhtoon way of life is the joint family system which signifies their deep love for the family's solidarity and welfare. The desire of communal life emanates from a consideration of economic security and integrity. All the family members, even the married sons, live jointly in a house large enough to separately accommodate each married couple under the authority of the father who, as head of the family, manages the family affairs and exercises an immense influence in his own domain.
All the earning hands of the family, married as well as un-married sons, contribute their share of income to the common pool of resources. All expenses on food, clothing, education, health, birth, marriages and deaths are defrayed from this common fund. The mantle of authority falls on the eldest son's shoulders after the death of the father or when old age renders him unable to discharge his functions efficiently. The system of Nikat (ancestral line) which regulates the shares of losses and gains, debts and liabilities of each family, is the mainstay of Pukhtoon society. The internal management of the household rests with the mother who exercises her authority within her own sphere of influence. The joint family system, however, is gradually giving way to individualistic trends under the impact of modern influences. It is losing its hold, particularly on educated classes and well off sections.
The Pukhtoon children are taught to show a great degree of respect to their parents and elders. Senior members of the family, particularly elders, command great respect. Parents are properly and reverently looked after in old age and every effort is made to provide them with all possible comforts. There is a famous Pashto maxim that "Paradise lies under the feet of the parents" and Pukhtoons true to their faith leave no stone un-turned in obtaining their blessings. It is generally believed that parents' curses bring sorrows, miseries and hardships. Sons and daughters, therefore, refrain from incurring the displeasure and curses of their fathers and mothers.
The elder's opinion prevails in all important matters. Kashars or youngsters of the community rise from their seats as a mark of respect when an elderly person enters the Hujra. Youngsters are normally not expected to talk or laugh loudly or smoke a cigarette or huqqa in the presence of their elders. Even in tribal Jirgas the younger members of the village are not allowed to speak. Everything is left to the discretion of their elders.
The Pukhtoons have several ways of greeting and salutation. Strangers passing on a road or thoroughfare exchange courtesies such as "Starrey ma shey" (May you not be tired) and "Pa khair raghley" (welcome). This is answered by "Khudai de mal sha" (May God be with you), "Pa khair ossey" (May you live in peace) and "Ma khwaraigey" (May you not be poor). The Pukhtoons usually embrace their friends and relatives when they meet them after a long absence and warmly receive each other by a hearty handshake. This is followed by a train of questions about each others' welfare like "Jorr yey" (Are you alright?), "Khushal yey" (Are you happy?), "Takkrra yey" (Are you hale and hearty?) "Warra Zagga Jorr di" (Are your family members hale and hearty?) and "Pa Kor key Khairyat de" (Is every body well at home?).
A visitor entering a village Hujra is greeted with the traditional slogan of "Har Kala Rasha" (May you always come) and he replies "Har kala ossey" (May you always abide). Friends while parting commit each other to the care of God by saying "Pa makha de kha" (May you reach your destination safely), and "Da khudai pa aman" (To the protection of God).
When meeting a pious or an elderly person, a Pukhtoon bows a little and keeps his hands on his chest as a mark of veneration. When talking about a deceased person, they often say "Khudai de obakhi" (May God forgive him). If a man suddenly appears at the time of conversation between some or more persons about him, they immediately exclaim "Omar de ziyat de, Oss mo yadawalay" (You have a long life, we were just talking about you). The Pukhtoons very often use the word "Inshaallah" (God Willing) "Ka Khudai ta manzura wee" "Ka Khair Wee" (if all goes well) when they promise to accomplish a task at a particular time.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the Pukhtoons, as gleaned from their record, is their passionate love for freedom and violent opposition to any infringement of their liberty. They have preserved their liberty by the force of arms despite heavy odds. Inspite of their ignorance of military science, modern techniques of warfare, lack of sophisticated weapons and material resources, they held their own against every invader, including the British who were one of the most powerful empire builders of their time.
Though at times Pukhtoons were temporarily subdued, they could never be held in permanent subjugation or tied in the shackles of bondage. They offered staunch resistance to any one who ventured to encroach upon their liberty and refused to submit tamely to the position of the vanquished. "Their character, organisation and instincts" says David Ditcher, "have made them independent and strongly democratic, so much so that even their own leaders have little real control over them".
It is one of the striking features of Pukhtoons in general and Afridis in particular that they give up their individual disputes and tribal feuds, sink their differences temporarily according to the exigencies of the time, form a Sarishta or take a unanimous decision for collective action and fight shoulder to shoulder against their common foe. This most remarkable trait was duly noticed by Edward E. Oliver. "The most democratic and dis-united people among themselves", he says, "un-controlled and often un-controllable even by their own chiefs, all the clans have uniformly joined in hostility to us whenever opportunity offered".
The Pukhtoons are fond of firearms which they possess for their personal protection, honour and defence of their homeland. "They are never without weapon when grazing their cattle, while driving beasts of burden; when tilling the soil, only their dots. The love of firearms is a trait in their character, they will enlist or work in order to get the wherewithal and buy matchlock or rifle, the latter being preferred; and if an Afridi at the end of his service has not sufficient to buy one, he makes no scruples of walking off with his rifle and ammunition". Being gallant and courageous they love to join the army principally to show their mettle on the battle field.
Unsurpassed in vigil and marksmanship every Pukhtoon is almost an army in himself. The writings of many British officers bear testimony to their magnificent fighting qualities, especially of the Afridis, Mahsuds and Waziris who are described by them as "careful Skirmishers" and the best guerilla force of the world in their own hills. The Frontier, as a matter of fact, became the best training ground and an excellent school of soldiering for the British Officers for about a century. It was on account of their martial qualities that they are looked upon as the "Sword arm of Pakistan".
Among redoubtable Pukhtoon adventurers stand out in bold relief the names of Ajab Khan Afridi, Multan Khan, Kamal Khan, Ajab Khan Yousafzai, Dilasa Khan, Chakkai and Jaggar.
"The Pathan has been dubbed cruel, treacherous, miserly and, in fact, every epithet of an opprobrious nature has been showered on his devoted head at one time or another by men who were either incapable of seeing things from the Pathan point of view, and of making allowances for his short comings, or who were so hidebound by the humanity mongering sentimentality, which passes today for the hall mark of liberal mind that they shudderingly dismissed the Pathan from their thoughts (presumably with pious ejaculations) as an un-reclaimable savage".(The Hon. Arnold Keppel)
The character of the Pukhtoons has always been a favourite theme of writers. The detractors of Pukhtoons have painted them in the darkest colours by describing them as savages, brutes, uncouth, cruel and treacherous, while the sympathetic writers have praised their manly bearing, open-heartedness and inherent dignity. To the latter set of historians they are not as barbarous as depicted. Their otherwise black character is studded with many noble virtues and their vices are the "Vices common to the whole of the community". Mr. Temple described them as noble savages "not without some tincture of virtue and generosity".
The spirit of adventure and enterprise is characteristic of this hardy race of hillmen. They have their own sense of dignity and would not submit to injustice or insult even at the risk of their own life. The reason of blood feuds is not their vindictive nature or blood thirstiness but a spirit of liberty and the will to uphold justice, defend the right and avenge the wrong. Pride of race, consciousness of natural rights and intolerance of injustice are the remarkable traits of the Pukhtoon character. "The pride", says H.W. Bellew, "of the Afghans is a marked feature of their national character. They eternally boast of their descent, their prowess in arms and their independence and cap it all by "am I not a Pukhtoon"."
Tall, muscular and healthy, Pukhtoons are fond of sports and war alike. Edward E. Oliver's evidence of Pukhtoon character is worth quoting. "He is", he says "undoubtedly brave to rashness, sets no value upon life, either his own or anyone else's. Trained from youth to feats of strength, endowed with wonderful power of endurance, he commands the admiration of most Englishmen".
Summing up the character of Pukhtoons the Hon Mountstuart Elphinstone wrote, "they are fond of liberty, faithful to their friends, kind to their dependents, hospitable, brave, hardy, frugal, laborious and prudent".
Pukhtoon women do not observe the customary purdah but they do wear Burqa while paying visits to cities or distant places beyond their locality. In their outdoor functions, they however, cover the face and body with a Chaddar (sheet) or Dopatta. Why the tribal women do not wear burqa or observe purda as invogue in urban areas, is easy to explain.
Firstly the people of one stock bound together by common ties of flesh and blood dwell in villages. Secondly, the standard of morality is very high in Pukhtoon society and cases of moral turpitude are almost un-heard of. Moreover, the Pukhtoons are so jealous of the modesty and sanctity of their women that they cannot tolerate even appreciation of the beauty or other attributes of their women by an outsider or stranger. They consider such an admiration as an insult to their sense of honour. Immoral practices, especially adultery, elopement, amorous advances, infidelity and illicit liaison between man and woman are put down with a heavy hand and death is a normal penalty in such cases. The guilty pair is generally killed if caught flagrante delicto. It is because of such deterrent punishment that no one dare cast an evil eye on a Pukhtoon woman without peril to his life.
According to the Pukhtoons code of ethics, strangers refrain from loitering about un-necessarily when women set out for fetching water or bringing in grass or wood etc. They also desist from speaking to a woman and similarly it is considered indecent on the part of a woman to talk to a stranger except when she is in dire need of his help. "A woman or girl above ten years old", says Robert Warburton who served as Political Agent in Khyber Agency for eighteen years "is never permitted to address any male not connected with her by relationship. A stranger has always to be avoided, and if by any chance a woman comes across one in a narrow lane or road, she generally covers up her face and stands with her back towards him until he has passed". It is also one of the etiquettes of the Pukhtoons to lower their eyes, gaze at the ground and step aside from the path when a woman comes across their way.
Respect for women is also evident from the fact that she is not interfered with in case of tribal hostilities, blood feuds, village affrays or brawls. During the prosecution of feuds women are exempt from reprisals. It is considered below the dignity of a Pukhtoon to fire at women and according to tribal customs they are at liberty to supply food, water and ammunition to their men engaged in firing at a hill top or entrenchments outside the village. "During the prosecution of feud," says L. White King, "it is generally understood that women and children under 12 are exempt from reprisals and are free to pursue their ordinary avocations without interference." In this connection Merk remarks that "during the blood feuds it is the first aim of each party to gain possession of the water supply of its opponents, and if it is under fire of the enemy, women who are theoretically never fired at, have to undertake the dangerous task of bringing water to the beleaguered garrison". In the words of Mountstuart Elphinston "no quarter is given to men in the wars, it is said that the Vizeerees would even kill a male child that falls into their hands, but they never molest women, and if one of the sex wanders from her caravan, they treat her with kindness, and send guides to escort her to her tribe".
Though some writers have described tribal women as hewers of wood and drawers of water or only an `economic asset', they are not socially as inferior as depicted. No doubt, they work hard but it is only a division of labour between man and woman. Though the husband plays a dominant role and the wife a subordinate one in a tribal society, this does not mean that women do not enjoy any respect. They duly exercise authority and influence in their own spheres. As a daughter she is loved, as a wife respected and as a mother venerated. There is a famous saying of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) that heaven lies under the feet of mother, and Pukhtoon hold his mother in high esteem. She has a great deal of say in her domestic affairs. She controls the household finances and wields an over-whelming influence over her sons, daughters and daughters-in-laws.
Besides household work and superintendence of children, the Pukhtoon code of ethics enjoins upon women not to burst into laughter in the presence of strangers or persons with whom they are not closely related; not to address their husbands by name, nor to speak loudly, and avoid being heard beyond the four walls of the house. The wives were required in the past to show the utmost regard for their husbands, remain in attendance while the husband was taking his meals and walk a few paces behind the husband while he went out of the house. There is a famous saying that there are two places eminetly suited for a woman, oen is her own house and the other the grave. But all this does not hold good any more. The status of woman has undergone a remarkable change during the past five decades, principally due to education and economic prosperity. Thanks to the efforts of Pakistan government, big strides have been taken in the field of education. At present more than three thousand educational institutions are functioning in the length and breath of tribal areas with 2,42,862 students on roll. These include 2,13,021 male and 29,841 female students. The spread of education has immensely broadened their outlook. Women are no longer considered inferior and they enjoy the privilege of exerting their healthy and loving influence in domestic spheres.
It may be recalled that there was a strong prejudice against female education, particularly in rural areas before the creation of Pakistan. The conservative and orthodox sections of the society, felt shy of sending their daughters to schools. It was considered disgraceful to send daughters out of doors, and there was a growing feeling that education other than religious, would have a baneful influence on the mind of the young girls. The parents were apprehensive that female education would provide an opportunity to young girls to write amatory letters to young men. But these prejudices against female education no longer exist. Times have greatly changed after Independence and a pleasant revolution has taken place in the ideas of the Pukhtoons about female education.
Tribal women are hardy, industrious, devoted and trust-worthy. They do the entire household work and also help their husbands in the fields. They faithfully stand by their husbands both in weal and woe and resist every foul temptation. "Neither would I have it inferred from the anecdote" says Lt. Arthur Conolly, "that the Afghans ill treat their women; on the contrary, they are both proud and fond of them. Those who dwell in the country have such confidence in their women that if they absent themselves from their homes, they leave their wives in charge of their establishment and a married woman may without a shadow of scandal entertain a traveller who happens to arrive at her husband's tent during his absence".
Toora (literally Sword, but means bravery) and Marrana (chivalry and courage) are considered essential traits of Pukhtoon character and women feel proud of husbands possessing such laudable attributes. They possess courage themselves and admire such qualities in others. Even in their folk songs they exhort their lovers to display bravery and courage on the field instead of running away like cowards. The following Pashto couplet and hundred others best illustrate their earnest desire that their near and dear ones should perform acts of valour and heroism on the battlefield:
May you come riddled with bullets,
The news of your dishonour, cowardice
may not reach my ears.
Writing about the courage of Pukhtoon women Mrs Starr who served as a staff nurse in Mission Hospital for a number of years says, "the women are not a bit behind the men in pluck. I remember one, typical of many, who, though unable to move and unlikely to live owing to a severe bullet wound, invariably replied to any enquiry on my part, "I am well; I am all right". See, she is an Afridi, said her man proudly." Pukhtoons go to any length in defence of their women folk and their history is replete with many daring examples. One such example was furnished by Ajab Khan Afridi, the hero of the famous Miss Ellis drama on the Frontier. In March 1923, the Frontier Constabulary, with the help of regular British troops, raided Ajab Khan's village in Dara Adam Khel. The troops with scant regard for the sanctity of women, searched his house and according to certain reports women were subjected to search and insult. This news beat across his mind like a thunder-bolt and Ajab Khan's anger knew no bounds. Infuriated by the alleged insulting behaviour of the British troops, he vowed to wipe out the insult with insult and retrieve his honour by a similar action. He raided the enemy's houses and succeeded in lifting Miss Ellis from the heart of Kohat cantonment. He, however, treated the girl honourably and released her after redemption of his honour.
Pukhtoon women wear simple dress. It consists of a Partoog (Trousers), Qamees (Shirt) and a Dupatta (chaddar or scarf). Old women prefer loose and baggy trousers, long shirts with wider sleeves and coloured clothes. Fashionable clothes and footwear are now becoming popular among the new generation owing to constant intermingling of the tribesmen with the inhabitants of cities. New dresses are becoming common, as tribal girls are not averse to modern comforts and fashions. With the march of time, old heavy silver ornaments have been discarded and replaced by modern and delicate ones. Pukhtoon women use a variety of jewellery such as pendants, bracelets and necklaces. The pendants include Paizwan, Nata or Natkai (large nose rings), Chargul, Peeta and Maikhakay (small nose ornaments), Wallai, Jarmootey, Dewadi and Duroona (large ear rings), and Teek worn on the forehead. The bracelets comprise of Wakhi, Bavoo, Karrey and Bangri or bangles. Haar and Taweezoona may be mentioned among necklaces. Besides the use of silver ornaments called Sangley (Pazaib) worn round feet near ankle, Ogey or neclet, Zanzeer or chain and finger rings, are also in common use.
The Paizwan is suspended below the nostril edge. Chargul and Nata are worn on the right side of the outer part of the nose and Maikhakai and Peeta, comparatively smaller ornaments, are worn on the left side of the nose. Haar and Taweezoona consist of three to five flat silver pieces about one and half inch square each, are worn over the breast. The Zanzeer, a silver ornament about ten inches in length and imbedded with shining stones, is also suspended from the shirt collar on the breast.
Pashtun Social Life,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (http://www.khyber.org)