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.
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 fiancée and fiancé’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.
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.
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.