Social & Religious Life in Bannu :: Khyber.ORG

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Social & Religious Life in Bannu

Excerpts from Gazetteer of the Bannu District, 1887


  1. Villages & Houses of the People
  2. Chauks, Hujras, & Places of Public Resort
  3. Clothing
  4. Food
    1. Average Consumption of Food
    2. Cooking Utensils
  5. Terms for Days and Nights
  6. Games & Sports
  7. Family Customs
    1. Inheritance
    2. Betrothals & Marriages
    3. Burial Expenses
  8. Mosques & Imams
  9. Languages of the People
  10. Village Communities & Tenures
    1. Wesh or Khula Wesh in Marwat

Villages & Houses of the People

In Bannu proper the villages are very numerous, well built of mud, and thickly inhabited, with cultivation right up to the houses and hardly any open space. They were formerly all surrounded with walls till Edwardes had them thrown down in 1848. Water courses from the numerous canals are very often taken through, middle of the villages, and stagnant pools are common. Mosques, chauks and hujras are studded thickly along the main street of the village.

In Marwat the villages are far apart standing in the open, mud built, and generally large strong villages, without outlying hamlets near the frontier, although these are numerous in the eastern part. Along the Indus, on the contrary, outlying hamlets or wandas are common, and here the houses are commonly built of kanna grass, and roofed with kank or kunde (bulrushes).

Chauks, Hujras, & Places of Public Resort

Chauks and hujras are institutions peculiar to the two frontier tahsils. The chauk is commonly a mud built platform in some central place and adjoins the mosque. It is always well littered with dirty looking cots, chillams, and hukkas. In all cases it belongs to a lambardar or a few leading men. To own one gives a man great influence. It is the lounge and place of gossip of every idle man in the village, who belongs to the same party or faction as its owners. As an institution its functions are those of the political club at home, partly social, partly political. Since 1865 the formation of new chauks without the permission of the Deputy Commissioner, has been prohibited. The hujra is a guest chamber attached to the chauk or mosque. Here travellers and "searchers-after-knowledge" put up, and here too the Pathan boy learns many pernicious and degrading practices. The hujra is mainly a Bannuchi institution. The service of both chauk and hujra is performed by the kutwal (Bannu proper), the dum and the sweeper. Other expenses are rated on those frequenting such places, or are borne by the owners. In villages where dharat is levied, the income therefrom goes to the lighting of the hujra, and of the mosque. Where there are hamsayahs, the supply of quilts and food for travellers is obligatory on them: where there are none, the traveller is cared for by the villages in turn or by the lambardar. In Isakhel and Mianwali there are no regular chauks, but mere places of resort (baithaks) without any established code of rules. In both tahsils the duties of hospitality fall chiefly on the lambardars or other leading families. The community at large is neither bound by rule nor expected to assist.


Zamindars wear much the same clothing all the year round. In the cold weather a sheep's wool blanket is added, and by those who can afford it, a cheap sheep-skin pelisse (postin or nuncha), or camel hair cloak (chogha or chakma). Amongst the better classes English cotton cloth is largely worn, but the ordinary zamindar only possesses a turban of it, and perhaps a gala suit as well. As a rule every article of apparel is either home-spun or at least woven in the district. To this rule there is one exception. The Marwats of the sandy tracts growing very little cotton, having few sheep, and their women being employed in fetching water, have to buy most of their clothing in the bazar. The principal articles of a man's dress are a turban, a long loose tunic (angrakha or kamis) and for the Bannuchis and Wazirs loose trousers (suthan) drawn tight about the ankles. A sheet is also worn as a plaid over the shoulder or as a waist-cloth. Except in the Bannu tahsil, a coarse sheet (manjhla) wrapped round the legs with the ends tucked in about the navel serves instead of drawers. The poorest classes everywhere wear the sheet as a covering to their legs. In Marwat too and elsewhere trans-Indus a not uncommon dress for labouring men, when afield, is a long coarse woollen blanket (dhusa) or simply (kambal) with a slit in it for the head. The rest falls down on either side of the body, to which it is kept close by a waist belt of rope leather or a strip of cloth. Leather sandals are commonly worn in the two frontier tahsils, and amongst the Gadikhel and Bhangikhel Khataks elsewhere, the ordinary shoe of the Punjab. Grass sandals (Mazariye) are still in use amongst the poorest Wazirs, Marwats and Khataks; when travelling zamindars generally take off their shoes and walk bare foot. It is hardly necessary to particularise the dress of the women. It generally consists of a sheet, a bodice with petticoats attached or separate, and suthan drawers. Poor women often wear the manjhla sheet instead of drawers. They as a rule go about bare foot. Bannuchi women conceal their faces when outside their own houseyards. Others do not, except when personal modesty or prudery induces them to do so. When clothing is dyed, the colour is either indigo blue or that of brick dust (majith). Marwat turbans in the border tracts are of the latter colour, and most of the drawers of the men and bodices of the women of the former. As a rule cotton articles are not dyed, until they have been some time in use. Dyeing makes a worn and dirty article of dress look more respectable and cleaner than it really is.


Agriculturists have two regular meals in the day, one in the forenoon, the other in the evening. The women share all food with their male relations. What remains over from either meal is generally preserved, and eaten cold. Thus in the working seasons men will cut four times in the day. The quality and variety of the food depends on what are the staples of each tract. Marwats who have camels make ghi from the milk - a fact of which they are proud, believing that from camel's milk elsewhere little butter or ghi can be made. As might be expected, the occupants of irrigated lands fare much better than any others. The Bannuchis live best, the Marwats worst in the district. As a rule each household consumes food raised on its own holding. The Bannuchi eats maize, barley and wheat supplemented with butter-milk, [1] ghi or vegetables. In the cold weather he frequently also eats meat. In the hot weather the Marwats eat cakes of wheat and gram-flour mixed, or of barley. In the cold weather bajra is their principal food. Their cakes are mostly eaten dry. A sort of gruel or porridge called ogra made from bajra and moth boiled together is often eaten hot in the cold months. Little ghi or butter-milk is consumed except in villages adjoining the Kurram or Gambila. Vegetables are only procurable in irrigated tracts. Young gram leaves are largely consumed in the spring and make an excellent pot-herb (sag).

The food of the agriculturists of Isakhel and Mianwali holds a middle place between that of the Bannuchis and of the Marwats. It consists mostly of wheat in the hot weather, and bajra and moth in the cold, supplemented by ghi or dal and vegetables, specially some kind of pot-herb. Onions too are largely eaten. The Wazirs live much in the same way, but being rich in sheep and goats they fare rather better. Nowhere in the district do the people think vegetable food necessary for health. The Wazirs in particular care little about it. It is generally admitted that the quality and quantity of the food now consumed is better than it was twenty years ago. As to the non-agricultural labouring classes, they eat the cheapest edible grain of the season, and it is mostly eaten dry. The upper classes, those who employ labour, live well and on much the same articles as men of their class do elsewhere.

Average Consumption of Food

The following note regarding the average consumption of food by the people was furnished by the district authorities for the Famine Report of 1879. The average family would consume:

Member of Family Name of Grain Seers at 80 Tolas
Old Man

Bajra, moth, maize, barley, and gram

Zamindar & Wife

Other grains

Two Children

Other grains


Total annually consumed:


For non-agricultural classes the estimate would be as such:

Member of Family Name of Grain Seers at 80 Tolas
Old Man Wheat
Other grains
Man & Wife Wheat
Other grains
Two Children Wheat
Other grains

Total annually consumed:


This is supposing the year to be an average one, and that other articles of diet, as greens, onions, melons, and even meat at times are eaten.

Cooking Utensils

The cooking utensils are always few and simple. The Bannuchis have the best, most households possessing besides earthenware vessels, an iron girdle (tawa or tab), a copper cooking pot (degchi), and a shallow drinking bowl, also of copper (katora). Elsewhere the number of metal utensils is smaller. The iron girdle is seen everywhere except in Marwat, where a sandstone girdle is still in use.

Terms for Day and Night

The following statement gives the terms in local use for expressing the times of the day and night:

Pashto English Time
Chasht Wakht چاشت وخت Early breakfast time (Sunrise to 9AM)
Marai-Mal مړئي مال Food Time, i.e. 10 to 11 AM
Gharma غرمه Mid-day
Mas-Pashin ماسپشين Early afternoon
Maz-Digar مازديګر Late afternoon
Ma-sham ماشام evening
Ma-Khustan ماخستن supper or bed time, around 9 PM
Nima Shpa نيمه شپه mid night
Star Wakht ستر وخت daybreak
Lmar Khata لمرخاته sunrise
Lmar Prewata لمرپرېواته sunset

Games & Sports

Within their means the peasantry are fond of games and sports. But for the expense and the difficulty in obtaining licenses as large a percentage of them would shoot as amongst ourselves. In default of guns, dogs are everywhere kept with which jackals and pigs are baited. Some few keep hawks.

Of manly exercises two deserve particular mention, viz., tond pegging (nezabazi or chapli) and a rough sort of cross tig called tond and doda about the Indus, but in Marwat ainda. On every occasion of rejoicing, men who own horses assemble and ride at pegs, shoes or sandals. The Wazirs generally ride at an old grass sandal stuck against a peg, hence the name chapli. Elsewhere an old shoe often serves for a peg. As to tend or ainda, it is essentially a young man's game. Sides are made up, and preliminaries arranged much as in prisoner's base with us. Next a youth goes out some forty yards, and then faces the two homes or bases. He is pursued by a couple from the opposite side, who endeavour to catch and throw him, whilst he aims at escaping between them, hitting them in passing on their breasts with his hands, and so getting home uncaught. Heavy falls often occur, as pursued and pursuers are going at full speed. The game is played all over the district, but the men of Isakhel and Mianwali are fondest of it. Mr. Thorburn has seen them in the kacha play, north and south, with upwards of fifty a side, the representatives from villages north or south of some imaginary line challenging those resident on the other side. The players are naked, with the exception of a loin cloth. Amongst them very fine specimens of manhood are to be seen. The sort of dance and chorus singing called dris is perhaps hardly a game. It consists of singing and dancing to the music of a musician placed in the centre of a group of men or women on some festive occasion, such as a marriage. Lifting weights is a common trial of strength amongst men. Large stones or a part of the trunk of a tree, with a handle excavated therein, are to be seen ready for the purpose at most chauks and baithaks. Wrestling is little practised in the district except here and there amongst boys. Of children's games there are many which need not be specified. The people everywhere are extremely fond of swinging. Altogether the peasantry in their idle moments must be described as a happy people fond of amusement.

Family Customs


The tribal and family customs of the district are briefly summarised at pages 215 to 223 of Mr. Thorburn's Report. The following interesting introduction to that summary will give a general conception of the tendency of the change that has been going on of late years in this respect:

"This district has been the last, or one of the last in the province to be brought under a Regular Settlement. The delay, however regrettable on many grounds, has been of marked benefit in one respect. It has prevented the recording and perpetuating of several harsh so-called 'customs,' which obtained at annexation, and were the outcome of the old law ...

That they should take who have the power.
And they should keep who can.

Had Bannu been regularly settled five and twenty years ago, one series of consequences today would most likely have been that women would have had no rights, that the custom of pre-emption in any shape would have been declared non-existent, and that 'the deep stream boundary,' the Hadd-i-Sikandar, as it is called, would have been established as the ancient riverain law of the country. This latter was a practice, engendered from necessity, and suitable enough in the days when might made right; but it is, I think, a most inequitable and unreasonable rule in an 'age of law' like the present. This 'deep stream boundary' has been recorded as the 'immemorial custom' of thousands of villages in the province, just because their 'customs' were stereotyped too soon after annexation. Such villages seem bound for ever to the gambling uncertainty of their recorded position, although I imagine most of them would gladly be released from it, and agree to the rule in force for the Kurram and Indus villages of this district, viz., fixed boundaries both for communities and individuals, whether the area be above or below water.

"In the thirty years which have elapsed since Edwardes first came to Bannu, tribal customs regarding rights in property have been gradually changing and assimilating to those current amongst other Musalman communities, who have lived longer under a settled Government. The key to the present estate of the customary law of the different tribes in the district is to be found in their relative degrees of freedom from barbarism and priest-rule. Thus most of our wildest tribes, the Wazirs and Bitannis, scorn the idea of a woman having rights in property tell you that she is as much chattel as a cow is, and that if she, when widowed, wants to retain any interest in her late husband's property, she must marry his brother; and that a man to be entitled to hold his share of land should be an able-bodied fighting man. And yet when cases come into court, our courts, as a rule, do not uphold such 'customs,' and the settled Wazirs are now inclining to accept the general rule of the district, that a widow, so long as she remains a widow, and there be no sons, has a life interest in her deceased husband's property, and that all sons, whether strong or sickly, have equal rights of inheritance. Now, take an instance or two of the mental servitude a strong priesthood can impose on an ignorant superstitious people. It is, of course to the interest of the Akhund and Mullahs classes to exact an observance of the Shara law where possible. Owing to this, in Marwat two opposite practices have been, so to say, concurrent. Disputes as to the devolution of property used generally to be decided at home by a board of 'ancients,' or "grey beards", who in their judgments followed custom, which was analogous to that of the Wazirs as noted above. But whenever the parties could not agree they went into court. As often as not they had previously determined that each should be bound by the Shara law, although neither of them had any conception of what that law ordained. If Shara was not followed, the court decided the suit according to its own lights of what ought to be the custom, and its own lights naturally caused it to decide that all sons should share equally, that widows should retain a life interest in their husband's property if he left no sons, and so forth. Take another instance. The extent of the patria rotestas with reference to inherited property was a question which had to be answered. Could a father alienate his whole inheritance, though male issue were alive? If not all, how much? The Bannuchis at first unanimously declared he could give away all to whomsoever he chose, such being the Shara rule. Asked for examples of the exercise of such a power, not one was forthcoming. Had any man so alienated half his land? No cases known. As with the Bannuchis so with the Isakhels and others. Thus reasoning from a aeries of negatives, the people over and over again were driven to admit that their first replies were erroneous, and we had to record answers to the effect that no custom on the point existed, but that all were of opinion that on disputes arising, if such and such a rule were adopted, an equitable custom would grow up. Here and there I shaped public opinion on moot questions in the direction in which I myself, and others of longer experience, thought most equitable. Of course it was open to us to merely record 'no custom;' but for matters in which I knew disputes in future must be not infrequent, I thought it best that the courts of the future should have the benefit of the deliberate and matured opinions of the people and the superior Settlement Officers. No court need accept such an opinion; and yet if it does not I cannot help thinking a mistake will be made. No 'custom' will grow up, but each case will be decided according to the personal view of the court at the time, and the statements of natives interested in the case.

"I trust I have made clear in the last rather discursive paragraph that many of the so-called tribal customs in respect to rights in landed property are still in a transitionary stage, that I have not attempted to fix and stereo-type any such as yet established; and that how such customs will ultimately crystallise, depends much on the value the courts will put on cases where only opinions have been expressed."

Betrothal & Marriage

The social customs of the peasantry have been sketched by Mr. Thorburn at pages 141 to 170, inclusive, of "Bannu; or, our Afghan Frontier." Betrothals, marriages and burials in ordinary zamindars households may however be briefly noticed here. As a rule boys and girls are not betrothed until they attain puberty, and marriage soon follows betrothal. An exchange arrangement is generally affected, in which case no money is paid to the guardians of the girl. When there is no exchange, a present of from Rs. 30 to Rs. 120 or even more has generally to be given before the girl's guardian consents to the proposed match. Respectable people, however, do not always insist on any money payment being made, and there is always some little mystery as to the amount, and some little shamefacedness experienced should a transaction become publicly known. From 100 to Rs 150 will cover the average betrothal and marriage expenses incurred by a boy's guardian; thus:

  From Rs. To Rs.
Present of food sent to the girl's guardian at the time of the betrothal and fees to go-betweens 8 15
Silver ornaments, especially a hasli for the bride 40 55
Marriage clothes for the bride and the bridegroom 16 25
Cost of entertainments 30 45
Fees to Mirasis, Hajams, etc. 6 10


100 150

Few but well-to-do families spend much over Rs. 100 except when they have literally to buy the bride. The provision of the jahez is the only expense which falls on the bride's guardians. It consists of cooking household utensils, also a bed and bedding, and a ring, and some small bangles, the whole cost of which is from Rs. 13 to Rs. 20 only. The ordinary peasant all over the district is the husband of one wife. Many grown-up men, particularly Marwats, are bachelors, not having the means to marry. It is only agriculturists of position, such as village headmen, who can afford the luxury of a second wife. The number of wives a man possesses is a good indication of his circumstances. Marriages are registered by the patwaris in Mianwali in their diaries. The practice affords great help in cases.

Burial Expenses

The amount to be spent in alms to mullahs is often prescribed by the dying man himself, but it is improbable that his heirs would as a rule obey his injunctions did he name too large a sum. From Rs. 20 to Rs. 25 is the ordinary expenditure on the occurrence of a death; thus, shroud and alms-giving at actual burial Rs. 10 or Rs. 15; cost of food bestowed on the fourth day Rs. 4 ; again on the ninth day Rs. 2; and lastly on the fortieth day Rs. 4. From Rs. 10 to Rs. 12 will well cover all the expenditure on a day labourer's or poor tenant's burial. The heirs of an agriculturist who leaves a fair property and was not in debt will spend from Rs. 30 to Rs. 100, especially if the deceased was a man of local note. The burial expenses of children and of women are much less than those of an adult male.

Mosques and Imams

In Bannu proper mosques are very numerous, not fewer than one to every 34 houses; elsewhere they are less so. Except amongst the Wazirs and Bhangikhels, nowhere in the district does a hamlet exist without one or more. When huts are being run up in a new location, the mosque is one of the first structures erected. It is always the handsomest building in its quarter, and is kept scrupulously clean. The wood work on its front has frequently a good deal of ornamental carving about it, and the roof is studded with the horns of the wild goat (markhur) and sheep (urial) of the neighbouring hills and of ravine deer. Every mosque is wakf, but the heirs of the original builder have alone the right of management, if they choose to exercise it. The residents of each quarter, and each faction have their special mosque, and few but they and strangers attend, though of course, being the house of God, no man can be excluded. Travellers are allowed to use it as a rest-house without distinction as to religion. Except in the cold weather the services are conducted in the courtyard facing the building. When it is cold and wet, they take place inside in the body of the mosque itself. No one can hear the prayers repeated without being struck by the grave reverential demeanour of the congregation. The office of imam or priest is not hereditary, but the son generally succeeds his father. The imam is dismissible at any time at the will of his employers, and any grant of land assigned to him as such is resumable. In the two frontier tahsils such assignments fall under the term kannah, or service grant. Some such grunts were resumed during the Settlement, and some being in the possession of ex-imams, who had for many years ceased to officiate as priests, were declared to have become their absolute property. The imam performs duties similar to these of a priest with us, and he is very liberally paid. On each domestic occurrence at which he attends, he receives a fee, and if, besides performing the funeral rites, he has himself to wash and lay out the corpse, he receives the dead person's wardrobe and from ten to twenty of the clothes thrown over the bier by friends and relations. He also receives tithes (lashma, ashra), which are in practice but a small dole out of each grain heap. He also receives wazifa, which is a quarter of a cake per house, at each family meal. With this he feeds himself and the taleban "searchers-after-knowledge" whom he may be instructing. It is said that imams frequently sell the greater part of their wazifa. As a school master too he makes something. Altogether he is well of. As a rule he is very exacting in collecting his dues, which are most fixed and constant well on the Bannuchis. There are few mosques in the district so well endowed, or managed by such liberal patrons as to have attached to them any special staff of servants; hence the rule is that the imam does nearly everything himself except sweeping, which is done by a village sweeper.  In Bannu proper "searchers-after-knowledge" who are in the majority of cases lazy vagabonds from a distance, and are both a tax on a village community and a nuisance to the administration, relieve the imam, of a good deal of menial work, and generally the ablution arrangements are looked after by the wives and daughters of some members of the congregation.

Languages and Dialects of the People

Table No. VIII shows the numbers who speak each of the principal languages current in the district separately for each tahsil and for the whole district. More detailed information will be found in Table No. IX of the Census Report for 1881, while in Chapter V of the same Report the several languages are briefly discussed. The figures in the table give the distribution of every 10,000 of the population by language, omitting small figures.


Proportion per 10,000 of population

Hindustani 33
Dogri 2
Punjabi 4,674
Pashto 5,284
All Indian Languages 9,997
Non-Indian Languages 3

Pashto is spoken throughout the whole of the Bannu and Marwat tahsils and also in the Isakhel tahsil, along the foot of the Khatak hills and in the Bhangikhel Ilaka. In the remainder of Isakhel and throughout Mianwali Punjabi only is generally used, but in one or two villages of Mianwali, e.g., Swans and Borikhel, Pashto is commonly used by the women in their own households. Pashto is spoken by Wazirs, Bannuchis, Marwats, and Bitannis, and in Isakhel by the Bhangikhels and other Khataks settled there. The Niazai Pathans have to a great extent forgotten their Pashto, and speak it as a foreign tongue. It is still however the domestic language in many a Niazai family in Isakhel and even in Mianwali. It is very difficult to acquire a colloquial knowledge of Pashto in this district, because, though all follow the soft pronunciation, yet Wazirs, Bannuchis, Khataks and Marwats each pronounce the vowels somewhat differently and make use of many words peculiar only to themselves. The dialects spoken by the two latter nearly assimilate, and are to an Englishman easier of comprehension than those of the first mentioned. Mr. Thorburn writes: "I remember soon after I came to the district a Yusafzai Orderly translating something I had said to a Bannuchi villager. When the man had done, the latter shook his head helplessly, and said speak Pashto as I don't know Hindi." This case well illustrates the great divergence there can be between two dialects of Pashto. As to the Hindi spoken in the district, it is so by most of the residents of the Isakhel and Mianwali tahsils, Khataks alone excepted. It is a sort of Punjabi with a large portion of its vocabulary made up of purely local Persian and Pashto words. It is far easier to understand than to speak. This dialect of Punjabi is with slight local differences that described by Mr. E. O'Brien in his Glossary of the Multani Language. It is no more difficult than any other Punjabi. It may be said to be separated from Punjabi proper by the Salt Range.

Village Communities and Tenures

Wesh or Khula Wesh Tenure in Marwat

Wesh or Khula Wesh (mouth partition) is a form of that primitive collective tenure of land which seems to have almost universally arisen when nomad communities first become sedentary. In time the collective form of "ever shifting severalty" gives place to one or other of the many existing tenures of fixed individual severalty. It has done so in most civilized countries, except in many parts of Russia and in some parts of India. In Marwat the system still survives, and shows signs of prolonged vitality in thirteen villages. In them, all of most of the territorial bocks (wands) into which each village is parcelled, are held as communal property, which is periodically divided per capita, the position of each share or mouth (khula) being decided by lot. After the expiry of the term of a wesh a majority may, within any reasonable time, demand a new partition, in which case a redistribution of the land is made. During the Regular Settlement the proprietary body of one large village (Abba Khel) commenced a Khula Wesh of themselves after measurements had been completed. And as it appeared that a strong majority were anxious for the partition, the Settlement Officer allowed the village to proceed, and had to prepare his maps de novo. The villages of Matora, Landiwah, and Mulazai also agreed to have new weshes early in the Settlement, and hastened them in order to get them over by measurements. The village of Zangi Khel also carried out a wesh during Settlement, the claim of the party, a strong minority, who opposed it, having been first heard and dismissed. Litigation during the Settlement, precedents, and verified statement of custom establish that when the term of a wesh has expired, whenever a considerable majority demand a new one it must be conceded; also that in wesh villages land cannot be sold, and that when mortgaged, the mortgagee is at the next wesh entitled to receive fresh shares to the number of those he holds, or, if that be impossible, he should equitably be repaid his mortgage money. Conversely it has been established that on expiry of the term, a minority cannot enforce a new wesh, and that before the custom can be declared extinct from desuetude, not less than the number of years fixed as the term, dating from the expiry of that period, must elapse without a wesh. In future when a considerable majority demand a new partition, and the demand is in conformity with the village custom, it does not appear how the claim is to be refused, The Supplement to the Punjab Government Gazette dated 27th November 1873, contains some details on this subject, also pages 124 to 134 of Mr. Thorburn's Bannu or Our Afghan Frontier. In some villages in Marwat, in which the practice of having general communal weshes has died out, a closely analogous custom still exists in individual families under the name of badlun or "exchange." It is simply that of periodically exchanging certain ancestral lands. The term ranges from three to twelve years and is often indefinite.


  1. This is called Pakki Lassi. Kachi Lassi means milk & water