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Thursday, July 20, 2006

"My mama always said, 'Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get'” ~ Forrest Gump, 1994.

You Too Can Speak Pashtu

After receiving, finally, some pictures of the precious Afghan children and the soldiers Heidi cares about and sees every day, I wanted to do a little research on 'her' part of Afghanistan. On more than one occasion, Heidi has tried to teach me a word or two of Pashtu (or Dari or Farsi, I am so confused), but I am hopeless.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world." If I want to help change the world, or change myself for that matter, I have to understand it first. Today's blog is my small attempt to try to understand one part of the world's family of people.

Pashtun (pronounced PASH-toon) are the people of Southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan (Not to be confused with Pashtu, the language). Also called Pushtun, Pakhtun, Pathan, Pashtoon and Afghan, they are one of the largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan with between 8-9 million people in the region (Afghan is the people, Afghani is the currency). Islam was introduced in the eighth century and most Pashtun are Sunni Muslim. Pashtun are considered Muslims, followers of Islam, at birth. When a baby is born, Pashtun whisper the call for prayer in the baby's ear. According to archaeological evidence, the Pashtuns were more than likely Buddhist, Pagan, Zoroastrian, Hindus and even Jews prior to the arrival of Muslim Arabs in the 8th century.

The Pashtun are traditionally nomads with a tribal organization divided into clans, sub clans and patriarchal families. Each tribe occupies its own territory. Pashtun society is largely communal (group-oriented) and attaches great importance to an unwritten code, called Pashtunwalli. This code defines the way members should behave to keep the tribe together. Hospitality (milmastia) is important, as is the use of the tribal council (jirga) to resolve conflicts and make decisions. Other Pashtun virtues include courage (tureh); taking revenge (badal); and protecting one's honor (ghayrat). Another part of the Pashtun code of conduct is nanawati, a way of resolving differences through the group's elders.

The eldest male holds complete authority over the extended family. Married sons live in their fathers' households, rather than establishing homes of their own. The household normally consists of a man and his wife, his unmarried children, and his married sons and their wives and children. When young women marry, they join their husbands' households and transfer their loyalty to their husbands' families. Economically, the Pashtun family is a single unit. Wealthy family members contribute to the support of those who are poorer. Old people depend on their children for care and support.

Traditional male dress is qmis, a loose-fitting shirt that reaches to the knees, and shalwar, full trousers tied at the waist with a string (Heidi is having one fitted for herself by a local seamstress). A vest is usually worn over the shirt. Footwear consists of chaplay, thick leather shoes. Most Pashtun adult males wear pagray, turbans. Long strips of cotton cloth are wound around the head, leaving the forehead exposed because it is touched during prayer. The turban is fastened so that one end dangles. The loose end is used as a type of washcloth for wiping the face. Usually men also wear a long, wide piece of cloth called a chadar on their shoulders. The Pashtun living in the city sew unique designs on their clothes and wear small hats made of silk. Rural women wear baggy black or colored trousers, a long shirt belted with a sash, and a length of cotton over the head. City women wear the same type of trousers, a qmis (long shirt), and a cotton cloth to cover their heads. Over their clothing, they also usually wear a burqa—a veil that covers them from the head to below the knees.

Social get-togethers are the major form of Pashtun entertainment. Choral singing is part of the culture and a folk song tradition that includes special songs for marriages and funerals. Atan is a famous group folk dance of the Pashtun. In recent times, Pashto literature has received increased patronage, but due to relatively high illiteracy rates, many Pashtuns continue to rely upon the oral tradition. Pashtun males meet at chai khaanas or tea cafes to listen and relate various oral tales of valor and history. Folktales involving reverence for Pashtun mothers and matriarchs are common and are passed down from parent to child, as is most Pashtun heritage, through a rich oral tradition that has survived the ravages of time.

Information from: Ali, Sharifah Enayat. Cultures of the World: Afghanistan. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

Poems known as ghazal are very popular.

A Ghazal (Persian Poetry) by Hamza Shinwari

You may feel the blaze of thy checks in my heart's fire.
The blaze, which can't be caught from any other fire.

Why my smile reflects on thy forehead,
The essence of the mirror is embarrassed and perplexed.

Undoubtedly, the mirror has the quality of expression,
But it never discloses the mystery of one to another.

Since his amazement has a long wait for thee in the mirror,
The host will surely sacrifice his life for the reflection.

O' Humza! Since I ask for a mirror, we are undeniably apart,
(We'll be united) if our faces reflect into one another.



Next Time:

Wide World of Pashtun Sports, "Buzkashi ~ Goat Tossing Gets a Bad Name"

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post Kerri. Though a slightly dated portrayal of Afghans(aka Pashtun) people, it was nice to know folks in the USA are not interested in just bombing us to death. Wish there were more like you.

pa mashae de sha,

Azad Jan

Kerri said...

'pa mashae de sha', to you ~ Azad Jan

Love all and hate none.
Mere talk of peace will avail you naught.
Mere talk of Allah and religion will not take you far.
Bring out all of the latent powers of your being
And reveal the full magnificence
of your immortal self.
Be surcharged with peace and joy,
And scatter them wherever you are
and wherever you go.
Be a blazing fire of truth,
And be a soothing balm of peace. With your spiritual light,
dispel the darkness of ignorance;
and spead goodwill, peace, and harmony among the people

(Hazrat Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chishti)