Pashtun dolls

The following are some lovely Pashtun dolls I saw at

Sheen Khaal

Sheen Khaal are blue-green permanent beauty marks in the form of dots and patterns that are usually tattooed between the eyebrows, on the chin and on the cheek of young Pashtun women. This custom was originally practiced as a way to protect ones-self from the evil eye. It used to be very common for Pashtun ladies to have sheen khaal but today it is mostly only seen on very old women or the nomads or kochi women. Sheen Khaal is still seen as very beautiful by many Pashtuns and Pashtun women nowadays sometimes make temporary sheen khaals on their faces on special occasions.

I have also been told that sheen khaal is also used as a medical treatment for pain in the muscles and body in rural areas where no medical facility is available. A skillful person takes some sewing needles and the person hits and strikes that pain spot multiple times and after it is bleeding they use ink upon that as an antiseptic and with the passage of time that spot becomes green.

Social Life of Pashtuns/Pukhtoons



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.

Respect for Elders

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.

Love of Independence

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.

Character of Pashtoon

"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".

Status of Women

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.

Religious Life of Pashtuns/Pukhtoons

By and large the Pukhtoons are deeply religious. The land of these highlanders has experienced the influence of religious leaders for a long time, who, after making their way into the mountains aroused the religious sentiments of the local people and rallied them under the banner of Islam against the enemies of their religion. Besides less known divines, who occasionally sprang up and played their short but spectacular part on the stormy stage of the Frontier, the names of Akhund of Swat, Hadda Mullah, Haji Sahib of Turangzai, Mullah Powindah, Faqeer of Ipi, Mullah Syed Akbar or Aka Khel Mullah, Gud Mullah, Lewaney (mad) Mullah, Karbogha Mullah, Faqir of Alingar and Chaknawar Mullah also figure prominently in the religio-political history of the Frontier. Saints and divines exercised immense spiritual and political influence over their minds and it was on account of their religious zeal and fervour that they proclaimed a holy war (Jehad) against infidels. They fought a number of battles against the Sikhs under the leadership of Syed Ahmed Barelvi Shaheed and Syed Ismael Shaheed and later under the influence of the above noted religious divines and stalwarts.
Owing to their strong religious feelings for their brethren-in-faith, the Turks, a large number of Pukhtoons, especially the Afridis, deserted in large number from British army in France, Mesopotamia and Egypt in the First World War. They were averse to fighting against their co-religionists and that was why the General Officer Commanding in Chief, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, was compelled in November, 1917 to repatriate three Indian officers and 202 other ranks and all Frontier Pukhtoons of 58th Rifles from Egypt and recommended ban on their recruitment on account of their "bad behaviour".
The Pukhtoons are punctilious in offering their daily prayers and observance of fast during the month of Ramazan. Writing about the devotion of Pukhtoons to their religion, Major H. B. Edwards says, "whatever occupation they might be engaged in, whether business or pleasure, it was always interrupted at the hour of prayers". He adds, "in my tent, which was always full of people concerned in some case or other, they would break off the conversation, and ask to be excused for a moment; then take a scarf and spreading it in the corner towards Mecca, devoutly commence their genuflections". Each Pukhtoon village has a mosque in which a Mullah or Pesh-Imam leads the daily prayers and imparts religious education to the village children. The Mullah is served free meals and he receives Zakat and alms from village folk. Alms giving and Zakat is common and Haj is performed by men of means. Alms giving is especially resorted during adversities and food is also served to the poor. On the occasion of Eid, Barawafat, Muharram, Shab-e-Barat and certain other religious day rich food is prepared to invoke the blessings of Allah.
The holy men, Saints, Sayyids and Mians are held in deep reverence. They give amulets and charms to the people which are considered to be antidote to illness, disease, calamity and evil influences. They are shown utmost respect and their hands are kissed in acknowledgement of their priety. The practice of Piri-Murid (Teacher-student relation in suphism) is also common. A Pir or religious preceptor guides his Murid or disciple in his spiritual progress. For this purpose he takes a Bai'at (affiliates himself) at the hands of the Pir who enjoys the reputation of holy man and has the ability to guide him in establishing commission with God. Sometimes lunatics and impostors are also mistaken for saintly persons. But the younger generation equipped with modern education and imbued with the spirit of enlightenment, is immune from such influences.


Being orthodox Muslims with strong religious susceptibilities the Pukhtoons hold holy men and their shrines in high esteem. The devotees pay frequent visits to shrines and enter the presincts bare-footed and entreat the saint's blessings for the restoration of falling health, wealth and success in certain other ventures. The more a saint enjoys reputation, the more his tomb attracts devotees. Certain ziarats (shrines) have a special reputation for the cure of specific ailments and are credited with certain other virtues. For example prayers are offered for the birth of a male child at Ziarat Kaka Sahib and Pir Baba and visits to several other shrines are considered effective for curing of madness, rheumatism, dog bites, hysteria and certain other ailments. The visitors and devotees, particularly women bring back a handful of salt or gur which is believed to be a cure for illness. For Muslims, Friday is a sacred day and visits to the shrines are paid on Thursday or the night preceding Friday. Pukhtoons, like all good and devout Muslims, raise their hands and offer Fateha while passing by a graveyard.
Shrines are the safest places in tribal areas and the tribesmen keep their articles in them without any fear of pilfering. No one dares to lay hands on any article kept in a shrine due to the sanctity of the place and possible wrath of the buried saint. Reputable shrines are often under the charge of a care-taker (known as Munjawar in Pashto and Mutawali in Urdu) or a fakir who lives on the premises and collects donations both in cash and kind from the devotees to provide water and food to future visitors (langar). The trees around a shrine are never cut and the birds enjoy complete safety. The observance of Urs or annual festival at various Ziarats is also common. The devotees attend these gatherings annually for two days in large number and engage themselves in Zikar or religious meditation.
Eid-ul-Fitr or Kamkay Akhtar and Eid-ul-Azha or Loe or Star Akhtar are the two main festivals which are observed with great zeal. In some places a fair is held on the Eid day while at others on the day following the Eid. The boys make large bonfires called Katamirs and kindle them on a hill top in the evening, preceding the Eid Day. Young and old alike, wear new clothes on Eid Day, and the entire area wears a festive look just as Christmas is celebrated by the Christians.
Moharram and Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi or `Bara Wafat' are also observed with deep reverence and due solemnity. Pious men among the Pukhtoons engage themselves in prayers particularly during Lailatul Qadar or "the night of power". On this night the Holy Quran was revealed to the Holy Prophet of Islam. The night of Lailatul Qadar has been described in the Holy Quran as better than a thousand months. Muslim jurists differ in their opinion regarding the date of its occurrence. Some of them are of the opinion that this night falls on 21st or 23rd of Ramadan while others believe that it falls on 27th or 29th. However, all the doctors of Mohammadan Law agree that Lailatul Qadar falls during the last ten days of the holy month of Ramazan and every prayer is accepted on this auspicious occasion.


After a persistent dry spell when drought conditions prevail, the people of the villages headed by the Mullahs come out to the fields and offer prayers, at least for three consecutive days. This is called "Tobhay Westal" or supplicating God for rain. Besides, children of the village come out in streets and collect wheat, maize and barley from the houses of the village. While collecting grain the children chant in a chorus:- Ka cha ra karruloo ghanam - Khudai ba war kerri sra zaman (God in turn will give sons to anyone who gives wheat), Ka cha ra karraloo joowar, Khudai ba war karri war pa war (God in turn will give sons one after another who gives maize) Ka cha ra Karreley Orbashey - Khudaya ta war Sara Kha shey (May God bless those who give us barley). After the collection of grain the children cook it and after serving it to the poor they pray for rains. They also go to the nearby graveyard and sprinkle water on graves.


Doud Dastoor or customs and traditions are in fact the product of historical, geographical and economic conditions. Evolved in process of time, social usages become the guiding principles of day to day life and all individuals living in a particular society feel bound to abide by them.
It is a common phenomenon that customary laws of the masses are not free from religious and even superstitious influences. In Pukhtoon customs at least some of them are also not immune from such influences. The use of amulets and talismans has already been mentioned. Besides, strange ways and means are devised by them to protect themselves from the evil eye and evil effects of Jinni and demons. Pukhtoon women believe that evil spirits cannot come near a newly born infant if a knife or a dagger is put near its pillow or at its head. Therefore, they always keep a sharp edged weapon besides the infant's pillow to ward off evil spirits. The child may be sick and suffering from diarrhoea, dyspepsia or any other malaise, but the old grandmother will ascribe it to the influence of some evil spirits. Instead of taking him to a doctor's clinic for treatment, she mutters charms and throws red hot metal in cold water to scare away the evil spirit or a possible evil eye. This, she believes, is the only remedy to cure the infant's illness. And if these charms do not work, she is convinced that the child is suffering from throat trouble. She takes him to some experienced man or woman of the locality for raising its uvula. This, in Pashto called is Jabai Porta Kawal.
The raising of uvula is common all over the tribal areas. Some raise it by putting the index finger inside the child's mouth while others put a handkerchief around child's neck and give him a few jolts after muttering of charms. Not contented with this the mother will put amulets (Tawiz) round the child's neck as a protection against the evil eye or Bad Nazar. The amulets written by a pious man and woven in a string are suspended round the child's neck. Some of these amulets are sewn in a cloth, some are wrapped in a leather or silver leaf inset with costly stones, depending on the financial position of the child's parents. Sometimes a black spot (Kalak) is put on the child's forehead in an attempt to protect him against the evil eye. In certain clans a child is deliberately kept dirty and ill clad for warding off the evil spirits. The claws of a leopard or a lion are also sometimes hung around their necks. The old grandmother also believes in charms. She takes a handful of wild rue (called Spailanay in Pashto) which is considered a panacea for warding off a malignant eye. She puts some wild rue on red hot coals and starts revolving the bowl round the ailing child while chanting some magical incantations. This is called "Nazar Matawal" or removing effects of the evil eye. After the wild rue is burnt it is kept in the door way of the house with smoke emitting from it. Sometimes an old woman takes a few red chillies, revolves them round a sick persons's head and then puts the pods in the fire. There is a famous maxim in Pashto that the Da ranz ranzoor raghaigee, Da stargo ranzoor na raghaigee", i.e. `an ailing person may recover from illness but ailment caused by an evil eye cannot be cured'. On other occasions a goat or lamb is slaughtered and the blood of the sacrificed animal is sprinkled on the door or wall of the house to ward off possible natural calamities. But as a result of the general rise in education, the educated tribesmen no longer believe in such superstitions. They take their children straight to a doctor's clinic in case of illness.
When a baby is carried out of the house, a veil is placed over its face to protect it against the possible affect of an evil eye. Some men and women are notorious for a malignant or evil eye. It is generally believed that their looks can break even a hard stone into pieces. Similarly mothers desist from carrying infants while visiting a house where death has occurred because of fear of Bad Ghag or evil voice. They also have recourse to some other expedients to guard the child against evil spirits.
Besides this, several other superstitions are prevalent in Pukhtoon society. For example, the cawing of the crow on a house wall or top of a nearby tree is considered as a sign of the impending arrival of some guests. Similarly, falling of flour on the ground at the time of kneading is interpreted to mean that some guests or visitors can be expected. The howling of dogs at night is considered a bad omen, indicating the coming sickness or death of some one in the family.
The winking of the right eye lid is taken to mean a happy tiding and throbbing of a left eye lid as a bad omen. In case of a hiccup, it is generally believed that an absent friend or relative is remembering. While removing shoes, if perchance, one shoe lands on top of the other, it is thought that the person would undertake a journey in the near future. If the right palm starts itching, it is believed that money will come into his hands. On the contrary if the left hand itches it is generally believed that the person will lose some money. The crowing of a hen, which is quite un-usual, is considered a bad omen and it is killed the moment it crows.
The sight of a dirty man or a sweeper early in the morning is considered un-lucky. Similarly a distinction is made between fortunate and unfortunate days. Certain days are considered lucky for journeys while others are believed to be un-lucky. If a person dies at a place other than his village or home town, a black hen is slaughtered before the engine of a car or bus at the time of taking the corpse to its native place for burial. Similarly a black hen is slaughtered in between the fore-legs of the horse or mare of the tonga in which the corpse is carried. The tribal Pukhtoons refrain from incurring the ill-will of Pirs and Fakirs and even men possessed with an evil tongue called Tor Jabay. The speech of Tor Jabay is considered more deadly than a lethal weapon and his curses may become harbingers of misfortune.
The Pukhtoons generally rely on dreams. The sight of a white or green object, in a dream, is considered auspicious while black objects, fire and floods etc are considered inauspicious. They have a strong belief in destiny. Fate is considered as absolute and un-changeable.
Some strange notions are found among Pukhtoons about the "Whirlwind of dust which spins abut in autumn". It is generally believed that the whirlwind is caused by a jin. Similarly when a storm blows for two or three days, the Pukhtoons are heard saying that some innocent man might have been brutally assassinated somewhere. A child born feet first is called "Sakki". It is generally believed that "a few gentle kicks from one, so born", can relieve pain in the back. During the winter when it rains continuously for a week or so, the children erect dolls made of flour clay called "Ganjyan". The ganjyan are considered a means of stopping the rain. The taking of fal or omen from some religious book is commonly believed and practiced. On Shab-e-Barat the village women assemble in a house. Each woman puts a ring, comb or some other object in an empty pitcher and a small boy or girl is deputed to take them out one by one. At the time of taking out an article, a woman recites a few verses such as "Ma jagh kawa ma spara, Khudai ba dar karri pa tayyara" i.e. God will provide you with food even without ploughing fields. The better the verse in composition, the more it is considered auspicious. In matters pertaining to superstitions Pukhtoons now do not believe much in fabulous tales due to the general rise in education. But the illiterate, particularly those who live in inaccessible hilly tracts, are comparatively more superstitious than the people living in the plains. Charms and omens are generally believed in by the un-educated masses, especially the women.
Though there are several references to the existence of spirits in the Holy Quran and Ahadith, yet belief in genii is considered as a superstition by almost all the European writers. It would not be without interest for the readers to know some thing about Pukhtoon's belief in jins. The Pukhtoons believe in genii, evil spirits and Churail etc. The genii, it is believed, can assume the form of a human being, beast, animal or of anything they want to. The genii are stated to be of two kinds ____ believers and non-believers and good and bad. If a good tempered jin takes a fancy to a person, it will attend upon him like a faithful and devoted friend, ready to render him any service even at odd hours. The genii or fairies called Khapairay in Pashto are particularly known for their friendliness and there are innumerable tales of fairies sincerely devoted to their male friends. These creatures, which are described as resplendently handsome, help their friends in making fortunes. It has almost become proverbial about a poor man prospering in life that he has drunk a fairy's milk. Any person possessed by a Jin is believed to have the power of discovering stolen articles and predicting the future. When asked to give information about a certain object, he or she will excite himself or herself in a state of hysteria or induce a trance to make the predictions.
A man acting like a lunatic is believed to have been possessed by a Jin. It is a common belief that the Jin possesses the victim's tongue and controls all his actions. When it occurs, a Sayyid, Mian or a learned Mullah credited with the power of exorcising the evil spirits is immediately sent for. He recites a few verses from the Holy Quran and conjures the jin to depart. The exorcist addresses the jin in a threatening language to leave, if soft words and entreaty prove of no avail. When the battle of hot words does not produce the desired effect, then the exorcist writes a charm on a piece of paper and burns it under the afflicted man's nose. Recourse is also made to certain other methods to force the jin to depart. Sometimes the afflicted person's hand is held in a firm grip by a strong man. He presses it as hard as he can till the patient starts crying out in agony and pain and appeals for mercy. It is believed that the jin speaks through the patient's tongue. The exorcist, therefore, asks it to leave and swear by Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon), who is believed to be the king of all genii, not to come again. Sometimes short wooden sticks are put in between the patient's fingers and his hand is pressed hard. If this device also fails then the exorcist places a frying pan on the fire with some ghee (melted butter) in it and throws a charm in the boiling ghee to make the jin flee or die.


It is a common belief that a man can obtain the services of genii by means of talismans or certain invocations. For this purpose he undergoes the rigours of a chilla for a period of forty days. Chilla is of two kinds ____ spiritual and temporal. The spiritual chilla is practiced for the purification of the soul whereas the temporal chilla aims at making wordily gains by means of controlling genii. During the period when anybody is undergoing the arduous task of chilla, he remains in a state of meditation, keeps himself aloof from the people and chooses an un-inhabited or deserted place, for self-mortification. He follows his Pir's instructions both in letter and spirit. By sitting within a circle (`Hisar') drawn around himself he remains vigilant and contents himself with little food and water barely able to sustain him. There is the possibility of his becoming mad, if he moves out of the circle contrary to his Pir's instructions or frightened out by the resisting jin. It is said that during the last few days of Chilla genii appear before the probationer in horribly hideous shapes to frighten and lure him out of the circle. If he, succeeds in completing the prescribed course without falling a prey to the genii's insidious temptations, he gains control over them and the leader of the genii appears in person before the man for carrying out his orders and all the genii, old and young alike, follow suit.

Pashtun Customs regarding birth, marriage and death by Azim Afridi

Pashtun Customs Related to Birth

The expected advent of the child is kept secret as far as possible. The expectant mother is kept secluded and only an old woman proficient in midwifery or one or two female relatives are allowed to attend to her. The birth of a female child generally passes un-noticed but the birth of a male child is a gayful event; an occasion of rejoicing and festivity. This is because of the fact that the very existence of an individual under a tribal system, largely depends upon the strength of arms and man power. Secondly the tribal society is patriarchical in structure where the law of inheritance rests with the male line. Far more importance is, therefore, attached to sons as compared to daughters. This, however, does not mean that daughters are deprived of paternal affection.

The news of a male child's birth is a happy tiding for parents as well as for near relatives. The news spreads like wild fire in the neighborhood and messengers hasten to distant places to break the happy tidings to paternal and maternal uncles etc. This is called Zairay. The person who breaks the good news first to a near relative receives a handsome reward in cash. Relatives and friends felicitate the proud parents and let off their guns as a mark of jubilation. The father warmly receives the guests, slaughters a ram or goat and serves a sumptuous lunch to the visiting guests. Sweetmeats are also distributed among the young and old alike.

Female relatives also hurry to the house to offer congratulations to the child's parents. They bring presents, including clothes for the infant and also offer some money. A record of the money, so proffered, is kept for repayment on a similar occasion. All women who offer money are given Loopatas (Scarf’s) in addition to sweetmeats.

The village Mullah or priest or an old pious man performs the first important ceremony in the child’s life. The Mullah whispers Azaan (call to prayers or profession of faith) in his or her ears. The village Mullah receives some money for this religious service. The child is also given a dose of indigenous medicine called Ghotti. A pious woman, preferably mother of several sons, administers this liquid compound to the child. Within seven days of the birth, the child is named (noom shovana) as Ayub, Ali, Ishaq, Yaqoob, Aisha, Fatima etc as the custom of naming children after the Prophets, particularly Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and his companions, is very common. Pashto names are also popular.

The infant is wrapped in swaddling clothes with his hands tied to his body. This binding practice continues for over six months. The idea behind the binding of infants from shoulders to toes seems to be to prevent him from exhaustion or causing an injury to himself. For most of the time during the day, the child is kept in a swinging cradle, which is in common use all over the sub-continent. At night the child is laid beside its mother. The child entirely belongs to the mother, she feeds it, at least, for two years and makes every possible endeavour to protect it from the malignant eye or the glance of evil spirits.

Those women who have no male issue pay visits to they holy shrines on Thursday nights and beseech the favors of the holy saints for a male child. They offer alms and sometimes bind a stone to one of the flags hanging beside a wall or tree near the saint's mazar. They add one more flag to the existing numbers when their cherished desire is realized. Those women who give birth to females in succession without any male issue, curse their misfortune and shed tears of remorse on the birth of a female child.

After the child's birth, precautionary measures are taken to protect the mother from evil spirits and genii. She does not take a bath, at least, for a fortnight after the birth of the child. The mother is never left alone in the house at least for forty days in succession for fear of evil spirits. It is generally believed that both mother and child are susceptible to the influence of genii etc during the first forty days.

The mother refrains from doing any work for a week and she resumes her usual occupations after a lapse of 40 days.

SAR KALAI (Head-Shaving):

The second important ceremony in a child's life is Sar Kalai or hair cutting. When the child is about 40 days old, a village barber shaves his or her hairs. The barber is given some money for this service. This event is also celebrated with the slaughter of a goat or sheep for guests.

SOONAT (Circumcision):

The third important ceremony is know as Soonat i.e. Circumcision of a male child. The village barber again performs the Circumcision ceremony when the boy is over one year old. On this occasion the boy is made to sit on an earthen platter called Khanak in the compound of the house duly attended by his relatives. They also offer some money to the child. Well-to-do persons with pomp and sumptuous feast observe this ceremony.


In the fourth stage the child, generally is sent to a Mullah in the village mosque for religious education, including learning by heart of Namaz and reading of the Holy Quran. He is first taught Kalma Tayyaba and later other tenets of Islam. He also starts going to school at the age of five to six years. Along with spiritual and temporal education he makes a debut in sports of masculine nature, including wrestling called Parzawal. Later he adopts shooting as his hobby. After school hours he goes on shooting excursions and shoots down birds. He uses a catapult like weapon called Ghulail for hunting. In this stage of life he develops an aptitude for sporting excursions such as target shooting and finally starts going round with a rifle slung over his shoulder for self protection. At that time he begins helping his father in his work. The young girl on the other hand assists her mother in household work and shares the domestic duties with her.
  Pashtuns are fond of rifles and young boys can be seen carrying rifles under their arms. Seldom will they be seen un-armed. Their fondness for arms is evident from a Pashto proverb that though they might not have good food they must be in possession of fine arms.

Pashtun Customs Related to Weddings

Wadah (marriage) as a general rule, is arranged by parents in Pashtun society and the boy and the girl themselves do not play any role in the negotiations. This is because of the fact that Pashtuns 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 Pashtun author Ghani Khan wrote: "The Pathans, in sentiment, will sympathies with lovers in poetry and fiction, but lovers in real life pay for it with their lives". The Pashtun 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 Pashtunss, particularly the Afridis, about betrothals. Some of them are:-

1. 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.

2. Neewaka: (literally to catch or lay claim) 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.

3. Kwezhdan (Betrothal): 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. Friends and relatives undertake either by the parents themselves or negotiations for matrimony. As a precautionary measure the girl's parents make searching enquiries 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 elder’s 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 (bride's 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 Pashtun point of view, the head-money is a matter of honour 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 honour 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 consanguineous marriages, particularly with first cousins is a common phenomenon. An exchange of betrothals, particularly cousins is also generally effected. The Pashtuns 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 or Pkhay Artha means free visits between the fiancĂ©e and fiancĂ©’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.

NAKHA WEESHTAL (Target Shooting):

The Pashtuns are fine shots. Target shooting is one of their favorite games and a fascinating feature of the marriage ceremonies. The bride's villagers invite the bridegroom's party to target shooting competition. The others to show their mettle accept the challenge. 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.

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 honour 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 sing in 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 re-payment 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 Pashtuns in general feel reluctant to give their daughters in marriage to non-Pashtuns but they are not averse to marrying girls of respectable non-Pashtun families. It is not usual for a Pashtun 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 Pashtun 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 Pashtun 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 Pashtuns 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 Pashtun's sense of honour. Such an abuse sometimes results in murders and blood feuds.

Pashtun Customs Related to Death

The Pashtuns are very social, humane and friendly. They share each other's joys and sorrows. Their sympathetic behavior can be judged from the fact that they give more importance to participation in funeral processions than festive occasions like marriages etc.

At the time of someone's death, the elders of the surrounding villages come to the village Hujra to express their sense of grief and sympathy with the bereaved family and the youngsters hasten to the graveyard for digging a grave and making necessary funeral arrangements. The women of the neighborhood also go to the house of the bereaved family carrying articles of daily use such as sugar, gur, wheat, rice etc and to offer condolences.

The moment any one expires, his eyes are closed, toes tied, face turned towards Kaaba and placed on a cot (charpaee) in the courtyard. Women sit around the dead body in a circle and weep over it in unison. The females of the neighborhood generally join the lamentation. Embracing the wife, mother and sisters of the deceased and wailing over the passing away of their dear ones, is the traditional way of lamentation and expression of sorrow. The wailing also includes words in praise of the deceased. Such praise assumes "the form of the chanting of short rhythmical phrases of rhymed prose or verse". This presents such a sad spectacle that it makes even the onlookers burst into tears. Some women, in a state of deep anguish, resort to Weer i.e. beating of face and chest with both hands and with loud sobs. The burial takes place on the day of death, if the death occurs in the morning, otherwise on the following day.

Weeping in the house continues for at least three days but it sometimes continues intermittently for a fortnight or even forty days. No marriages take place among the deceased's near relatives till the first anniversary of the deceased is observed. Only in rare cases marriages take place within a year of the occurrence of death and that, too, with the consent of the members of the bereaved family. Music and jolly activities are avoided for at least forty days. Relatives and friends feed the deceased’s family for three or seven days.


Before burial, the village Mullah or some other old man baths the corpse. The dead body is usually washed in the veranda or in a corner of the house. A few candles or a lamp is lighted at this place in the evening for at least three nights to scare away the evil spirits, and people avoid passing over the spot. After the bath the dead body is wrapped in a shroud, placed on a bier, a sheet thrown over it and then taken to the village graveyard in a funeral procession. A Mullah and three or four persons, carrying the Holy Quran on their heads, precede the funeral procession. Friends and relatives join the funeral procession and carry the bier turn by turn. Even passers-by become the pal-bearers and accompany the procession for some distance for the attainment of Sawab (pious act). The Janaza prayers (recitation of the burial service by an Imam) joined by mourners from all over the area, are offered in the community graveyard and then the body is lowered into the grave which is always dug north to south with its face turned towards the Kaaba. Later special prayers are offered for the eternal peace of the departed soul. After the burial, alms are distributed among the poor and indigent at the graveyard. This is called Iskat. The Pashtuns consider the payment of Iskat as an essential part of the religious service and a question of their prestige. Even the poor, who can hardly afford two square meals, borrow money for this purpose to vindicate their honour. It is also one of the customs to present on this occasion a few copies of the Holy Quran to the Mullahs of the area for Quran Khwani (recitation) on the following four Thursdays.


The burial ceremony over, some food is served in charity to the poor. This is called Khairat. Rice is cooked in a few cauldrons and the participants in the funeral procession are invited to partake of it. The ulema have preached against this custom, time and again but with little positive effect.


The third day of the death is called Draima in Pashto or Qul in Urdu. The day is observed with due solemnity. The women of the vicinity assemble in the deceased's house on that day. They pay a visit to the graveyard in the morning, lay a floral wreath on the grave and offer Fateha. Meanwhile, friends and relatives continue pouring into the village Hujra for offering condolences. This practice continues at least for seven days.


The 40th day of the death is called Salwekhti in Pashto. The day is rounded off with Khatm-e-Quran, Khairat and distribution of alms. It is observed on a Thursday, five or seven weeks after the day of death.

One laudable custom among the Pashtuns is that the villagers take upon themselves to supply meals and tea to the bereaved family for three consecutive days after the death. They also look after the guests of the family in the village Hujra. In certain cases the food is continuously supplied for seven days. In some village’s expenses on account of the shroud cloth, Khairat and other matters connected with the burial are collectively borne by the fellow villagers as with each head of the family contributing some money for this purpose.

The Pashtuns have an immense love for their motherland. They cherish a desire to be buried in their ancestral graveyards beside their near and dear ones. In case they die in a foreign land their bodies are brought home for burial. Even on the battle field the Pashtuns do not leave their dead behind and carry them at a great personal risk.

Malalai of Maiwand- Pashtun heroine of the Second Anglo-Afghan War

July 27th 2010 marks the 130 th anniversary of the historic Battle of Maiwand, a battle in which a brave young Pashtun girl name Malalai lost her life. She was a native of Khig, a tiny village on the edge of the Maiwand battlefield, and the daughter of a shepard. Both her father and fiance joined with Ayub Khan's army in the attack on the British on that day (which some say was also her wedding day), and like many women, Malalai was there to help tend to the wounded and provide water and spare weapons. Eventually there came a point in the battle where the Afghan army, despite their superior numbers, started to lose morale and the tide seemed to be turning in favor of the British. Seeing this, Malalai took off her veil and shouted out:

"Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand,
By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!" 

In her native language Pashto:
"Ka pa maiwand ki shaheed na shway..
Khudai julalaya, be-nangi ta di sateena! "

This inspired the Afghan fighters to redouble their efforts. After one of the leading flag-bearers fell from a British bullet, Malalai went forward and held up the flag (some versions say she made a flag out of her veil), singing a landai:

"With a drop of my sweetheart's blood,
Shed in defense of the Motherland,
Will I put a beauty spot on my forehead,
Such as would put to shame the rose in the garden,"

But then Malalai was herself struck down and killed. However, her words had spurred on her countrymen and soon the British lines gave way, broke and turned, leading to a disastrous retreat back to Kandahar and the biggest defeat for the Anglo-Indian army in the Second Afghan War. Ayub Khan after wards gave a special honor to Malalai and she was buried at her village, where her grave can still be found.

British sources, unsurprisingly, do not mention Malalai. Her actions may not have been noticed by any of the British, or they may not have seemed as consequential as they were to the Afghans. Afghan women are very rarely mentioned at all in the reports and narratives of the war (Hensman mentions that one woman was found among the dead at Ahmed Khel). Interestingly, it is the Afghans who provide some of the evidence for one of the other legends born at the battle of Maiwand, as it is from one of Ayub's artillery colonels that we learn some of the details of the famous last stand of the 66th, clutching to their company colors, in a Khig garden, where indeed the fallen bodies were later found to be lying.

As well as Malalai, there were many other factors in the Afghan's favor on that day, including preferential terrain and positioning, superior numbers, skilled use of outnumbering artillery, and perhaps some bad decisions on the British side of things. But certainly her actions were enough to turn her into a national hero where she is still revered today. Many schools and hospitals have been erected in her memory and to this day Malalai is also a very popular girl's name in her native land. Malalai, the brave Pashtun Afghan girl who gave her life in defense of her homeland, will never be forgotten. Last year I was inspired by her memory to write the following poem:

  "Our Children Will Ask Us"

Our children will ask us why none of us stood up for what was right
What will be our answer to those sad faces if we don't at least fight

No Pashtun male ever wants to be made to feel dishonored or ashamed
But if they do nothing, like cowards, for our condition they will be blamed

My sisters from our beloved heroine Malalai of Maiwand let us learn
We all have an important role to play in this battle and now is our turn

We are their cherished mothers, their sisters, their daughters their wives
For their familie's honor we know they would gladly sacrifice their lives

We must encourage all of our men to take some action and to bravely fight
They must boldly face the darkness before there can be hope of any light

This monument, Minar-i-Maiwand, commemorates the battle fought between the British under General Burrows and the Afghans under Sardar Ayub Khan, at Maiwand, 45 miles from Qandahar, on 27 July, 1880. The column was erected by His Majesty King Zahir Shah in 1959. The inscription on the monument is the Pashto words Malalai said that day to inspire the Afghans to victory.

A sign outside of  the Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul.

Portions of this article were taken from an article by Garen Ewing on this website

Five beautiful black and white portraits of Pashtuns

I believe all of these portraits were taken in Peshawar. The first photo was credited to R. B. Holmes from his collection of Afghan War Photographs, 1919. The two after were taken for a book of world costumes. The fourth I have no information. The fifth appears to be from National Geographic Magazine.

Pashtun Female Fashion

The most elegant female fashion in Afghanistan belongs to the Pashtuns.. The Pashtuns use a variety of stitching techniques, which vary from one region to the next. The most elaborate embroidering is done on the bodice of the dress and the sleeve cuffs. The embroidery for the bodice can either be done on the actual fabric of the dress or at times, on a coarser material, which is then stitched onto the dress. The hem of the dress is adorned with gilded brocades and thick gilded thread that is twisted and shaped to form various designs. Contrast colors are also used to add beauty to the skirt and sleeve hems.

The length of the Pashtun dresses vary from ankle-length gowns to shorter dresses that come to mid-thigh. The styles change according to the fashion of the time. This is also true of the length of the sleeves. Although they are never short, the sleeves can either end just below the elbow or continue down to the wrist. The sleeve styles are gathered at the upper arms and either widen towards the cuffs or fit tightly around the wrist
The fabric most often used to make these dresses is silk and velvet in rich colors. During the warmer seasons the women opt for printed cotton and rayon fabrics in bright colors. The combination of colors is amazingly attractive.

Underneath the dress, the women wear drawstring trousers, which are usually made from a different fabric than the dress and in contrast color. Like the sleeves, the styles of the trousers also vary. Typically, they are loose fitting on the top and gathered firmly at the waist with a string. The cuffs of the trousers can either be made to fit very tight around the ankles or they can fit loosely. Sometimes the same gilded brocades that are used on the hem of the skirts are also used to adorn the cuffs of the trousers.

As All Afghan women, Pashtun women cover their heads with colorful silk or cotton garments (Shawls). These shawls have decorative needle work borders sometime adorned with silver coins. Most of them are printed with bright colorful designs. They have different names in different areas. The most common name is Chadar or sadar. Larger covers are worn outside and smaller lightweight chadars at home.

 Pashtuns wear silver jewelry with colorful stones as chokers, wide bracelets, rings, large multi earrings, and beautiful head pieces and nose ring. Also, colorful beads with beautify designs are common among Pustuns.

Blue-Green permanent beauty marks in the form of dots and patterns are sometimes tattooed between eyebrows, chin and one cheek in some rural areas on young Pashtun women. This custom was practiced as a belief to protect one from the evil eye. It became a fashion trend later, mostly among Koochees (nomads).

Afghan poets tackle scars of war



By Dawood Azami

The violence in Afghanistan and the Pashtun-inhabited parts of Pakistan is making itself felt on the cultural and social life of the Pashtuns. New themes and terms, such as suicide attack, missile and helicopter have entered Pashto literature, especially poetry, reflecting the destructive nature of the insurgency and counter-insurgency operations.
Pashtuns (also known as Pathans, Pakhtuns or Afghans) are increasingly writing poems about the "ill fate" of their nation and the new dynamics of violence in their homeland.
Young poets in Kabul, such as Muhammad Numan Dost, tell of mourning children lying on the graves of their dead parents after a suicide bomber "in exchange for heaven, cut to pieces a few lives now lying on the street".
It is powerful language, and reflects a strong poetic tradition in a culture that is evolving with the times.
"Poets are inspired by what is happening in the outside world. Their imagination absorbs it," says veteran Pashto poet in Peshawar, Rahmat Shah Sael.  "That is why Pashto poets are writing about violence in one way or another." Poetry has always been a powerful vehicle for expressing and preserving the national identity and cultural value of Pashtuns.
The Pashtun warrior poet, Khushhal Khan Khattak (1613 - 1689) and mystic Rahman Baba (1653-1711) are the two giants of Pashto poetry and literature and are still popular and a great source of inspiration.
Even today gatherings are held regularly throughout the region where poets present their work in front of a large audience.

Afghan tradition

Pashtuns are famous for their proud warrior tradition, but suicide attacks have never been part of it.
The phenomenon was imported by Arab fighters, particularly from Iraq, and is now being perfected in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The first suicide attack in Afghanistan, by Arabs, occurred in 2001 but the tactic remained rare until 2005.
The tactic targets officials and national and international security forces. However, their victims are overwhelmingly civilians.
Suicide attackers are often motivated by religious rewards and duty. Most are young and uneducated
and are said to be mobilised by grievances such as the occupation of Afghanistan, anger over civilian casualties and what they see as the affront to their honour and dignity.
They are reportedly brainwashed during their training and told they will go to heaven and enjoy eternal peace and pleasure.
This theme of violence is playing out in other genres in Pashto, such as short stories. But it is more visible in poetry.
"It is not the poets' choice to write about war and violence, they are compelled to do so - to express their reaction and hatred to bloodshed," says Darwesh Durrani, a popular Pashto poet and professor of literature in Quetta.
One young poet, Ahmad Fawad Lamay, has a poem called To A Suicide Attacker, in which a victim of a suicide attack challenges the bomber.
Then there is Zarlasht Hafeez, a female Pashto poet who has published a collection called "Waiting for Peace". Her lines read:

"The sorrow and grief, these black evenings,

Eyes full of tears and times full of sadness,

These burnt hearts, the killing of youths,

These unfulfilled expectations and unmet hopes of brides,

With a hatred for war, I call time and again,

I wait for peace for the grief-stricken Pashtuns"