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Lesser Known Tribes of Indus Kohistan

Home Kinship System


Kinship and Marriage practices among Shin tribes of Indus Kohistan



Kinship System

            Among the Shins, genealogy runs from the father and they follow a  joint family system. Their people are organized in terms of caste and tribal circles. Their kinship system is solid and active. There are local profound terms used for various relationships. However, absolute uniformity is non-existent in the various accents of their language spoken upto Kohistan, Gilgit, Chilas, Astor and Gurez. This difference in the accent of their languages in various parts is due to difference in environmental and geographical territories, the evolution of their accents and the influences of other dialects. Since our subject is the Shin tribes of Kohistan, we will limit our discussion only to this extent.


            Among the Shin tribes of Kohistan, the relationships are identified by two main references: by breast milk and by blood. The blood means father and the breast milk means those relationships that are established with regard to other women. The terminology of relationships exists both in writing and in oral forms. The terminology in writing is more apparent. However, there is a diversity in the oral terminology used in daily life and there is some complexity also in certain relationship terms. However, they help understand the distinction in ages, the scope of communal obligations to one's relatives and their limitations, their duties and restrictions on account of the constructive liaisons found in joint family system.


            Among the Shin tribes, there does not exist any distinction among the terms used in writing and in conversations for the "dada", "dadi", "nana", "nani", i.e. father's father and mother's father and father's mother and mother's mother. For 'father's father' and for 'mother's father', the term "dado" and for 'father's mother' and 'mother's mother', the term "dadi" is used in writing and they are identified from these terms. If the "nani's" paternal branch lies outside the father's tribal circle, then the term "dadkul" is generally used for it. It can also be due to the fact that since the relationship between the maternal uncle and the nephew is so strong that differentiations might not be made between the terms used in writing and in oral between "dada" and "dadi" and "nana" and "nani". It has been observed in the daily life that there is no distinction in oral terms used for the father's mother and the mother's mother.


            The genealogy of the father and of the mother is traced in terms of breast milk and blood. These references are useful to determine the limitations in community, culture, enmity, inheritance and many other aspects. The father's genealogy is considered the authenticity for an entitlement to inheritance rights and one's group and organizational circle is traced from it and one's membership is established with a group.


                        "nasbe misal achio Cale:ni" (Kohistani proverb)

                        Example of a kin is like an eye-sight.


            There exists a distinction in the written term used for the father and his brother, i.e. uncle (piCi). This distinction does not stay intact in conversation and the father is called "buba" or "baba:" while for the elder and younger uncle the terms of "baRo buba" and "lekho buba or "buba" or "babo" are used. However, for the unreal brother of the father, the term "picha" prevails. In other words, as there is a fartherness of one generation between the real and unreal uncle, they are distinguished too from each other. Its one reason is that the level of "bilo:S" is also different, from harsh to soft, between the real and unreal uncle and their offspring. Since there always exists a traditional "bilo:S" between the real paternal cousins, perhaps in order to keep it at low level.


            Elder and younger real paternal uncles which can also be termed as an effort to maintain closeness with them. On the other hand, a distinction is made between the terms for the father's brother and the mother's brother and there is a clear border-line between them. Father's brother is identified as "piCi" and mother's brother as "mahul". Maternal uncle is generally addressed as "mama:". All real and non-real brothers of the mother are included in it even to the extent of the men pertaining to the paternal branch of the mother in that generation. There does not exist any distinction between the written and oral terms used for maternal uncle no matter he belonged to the branch of the father or to any other tribe. But with regard to a nephew (a sister's son), he would be discriminated as "dim sazu" and "sazu"depending on his pertaining to an outer tribe or an internal tribe. The nephew who belongs to the branch of one's internal tribe, the nephew is called "dim sazu" and the one who is from an external branch is known simply as "sazu" and it is this identification also which determines the scope of obligation between these two.


            A clear distinction between the relationships of breast milk and blood is this also that the people of blood relationships always want to be on equal footing to share "bilo:S" because the enmity caused by a "bilo:S" is a continuous phenomenon. "bilo:S" can be sometimes interchangeably called as "pukhto" also. It is mostly intensive between the real and non-real cousins (father's real and step brother's sons). Hence, we can also say that the blood that is red, is built of "bilo:S" and competition and would not like to bow while the breast milk that is white in colour and the sign of peace. Therefore, instead of "bilo:S", flexibility lies in it. In other words, they respectively act as good and bad, or push and leniency.


            Among the relationships one stage comes where milk relationship subdues the blood relationship. It is such a relationship which develops on the basis of a marriage between two real cousin boy and girl. In such cases, the mother's brother is the real cousin  (father's brother's son) of the children belonging to the same blood or kinship. But the children identify him with reference to their mother instead of their father's kinship and would call him "mama:" and not "babo" or "picha".


            Generally, there is not much "bilo:S" between them the way it would have been without the marriage of the children's mother. Perhaps it is due to the existence of double relationship which weaves a strong net in the kinship system.


            A brother's or a sister's son can marry his father's brother's or his mother's brother's widow. But it is permissible only when the brother's or sister's son are close kins. Similarly, a father's brother can marry his brother's son's widow and a mother's brother can marry the widow of his sister's son. Marrying is restricted only among the relationships described in the religion of God.


            For the mother's sister, the term "mafi" and for the sister of the father the term "phipo" exists. If these relationships happen in one's own caste, then their children acquire many privileges under which they are allowed to help each other financially as well as with arms. Verbally, sometimes a "phupi" is addressed as "ma:" also but "mafi" is not called "ma:" and calling her "mafo" is preferred. All the women of the mother's generation are considered "mafi" and called "mafo". Similarly the men of her generation are considered "mahul" and called "mama:". It is generally when a marriage takes place outside from the caste. Hence, due to the mother, all people of the mother's branch are considered relatives.


            The relatives of the close milk are considered more trustworthy and they are trusted for all matters. Probably its one reason is this also that issues of properties usually continue within the blood kins and in other matters, "bilo:S" keeps the process of competition moving.


            Distinction is made between the real and step mother with the help of calling them "to:mi" (own) and "lo:gi" (step). The third kind of mother may be that who is known as "chichi pili ma:", i.e. a woman whose breast milk might have been sucked. It shows that these people identify all three sorts of mothers by their basic references. The difference between the real and the step mothers always remains (among the Shins). Probably for this reason, the step mother also feels the dinstinction for being a step mother. It has been stated in a proverb in these words:


            "thureji le:l na Satuk puC na bi:no"

            One whose ankles have not been stained with blood, is not a son.


            I think that the relationships of the son with his real and step mother are influenced by the relationships of both the kins of the real and step mother with the son and the son's position whether he is a real nephew or a step nephew. It has been observed that among the offspring of two mothers (real and step), the maternal uncle and his household have been usually the major cause to create confrontations and rivalries between them and these attitudes have strengthened the feelings of estrangement among the step brothers. There are internal and external motives behind such an attitude that keep the distance between the real and the step brothers. On the other hand the attitude is different for a "maljali" mother. Perhaps it is so because the father does not have any kinship with her to face any risk to inheritance.


            The written and oral terms are clear a great deal for the real brother, sister, father's brother's son, father's sister's son, mother's brother's son and mother's sister's son in the third generation of the household. Among the Shins, one interesting feeling exists with reference to the relationship between the brother and the sister. It is stunning that for the offspring of the father's sister and the mother's sister, a singular term is used for identification such as "phupia" and "hurmulia".


            For the distinction between real and non-real (step) brothers and sisters, "lo:go" and "lo:gi" is used as a prefix, but no such distinction is made in the daily conversation. In the written terms for the brother and sister where "to:mo" and "lo:go" distinguish between real and non-real, there a third word "maljali" or "maljalo Za:" is also used which means milk-brother or milk-sister.


            Compound terms are used for the offspring of the brother of the mother or the brother of the father where prefixes of paternal and maternal uncle are used. All the people in this generation both with real and non-real kinship bear numerous household, economic, communal and other responsibilities and obligation to each other.

Generally, more marriages take place within this level among the offspring of mother's mother (mafo), mother's brother (mama:), father's sister (phi:pi) and father's brother (piCi). We had mentioned earlier somewhere that among the Shin tribes relatively more trend of "bilo:S" is found between the offsprings of real and non-real uncles and probably it is this factor that flourishes with the boys sitting in the environment of the "hujra" since their childhood and in return it strengthens their character and attitude, makes them brave, serving, hospitable, and sensitive to their honour and integrity due to which they are able to play an exemplary role with their tribe and group. In very few cases, do the real cousins confide in each other despite the fact that they run the external "bilo:S" hand in hand and have the right to avenge on each other's murder. Perhaps, in the back of their intensive attitude, lies the right to the property and inheritance. There is a well-known proverb of the Shins that:


"piche puCe nazar chei:g dulia:kej bi:ni"

The gazes of a cousin are always on his cousin's wife and wealth (to acquire them as soon as he dies.).


    But where double relationships come into being, there instead of "bilo:S", gentle attitudes are seen. Perhaps due to this reason, the children of such a mother whose marriage may have taken place with her real cousin, have been found calling the real cousins of their father identifying them with their mother and not with their father. One can argue here that in the relationship of the children with the brother of their mother, the mother comes even one more step closer. But in my opinion, it is a reflection of two different feelings of "bilo:S" and "tenderness" and it is generated by the influence of blood i.e. redness and milk i.e. peace and leniency.


Among the children of the father's sisters and mother's sisters, strong feelings of truthfulness, sincerity, leniency and devotion are found for each other no matter they belong to the same range of the tribes or a different one. They mostly flourish the attitudes of peace, well-being and sincerity. All real and non-real relatives found in these ranges are considered and called sisters and all of them can visit each others' houses freely. No one doubts their relationships ever. Same is the situation about the milk sisters whose mother's milk might have been sucked. All the real and non-real brothers send or give "phulo" or "ba:go" to their real and non-real sisters at the occasions of Eid or other sacred days and at weddings or at sorrowful moments. Their children call and identify them with the real term of relationship.


            All the real sisters' and brothers' children's children such as grandsons and grand daughters are called "po:Co" and "po:Ci" and there does not exist any separate distinction among them. Similar is the case about great grandsons and great grand daughters who are identified as "paho:Co" and "paho:Ci".


            The husband is identified as "jamCo" by his wife's household and he is considered "mahrim" to the household. The wife's sisters are called "saro:Ni" and the brother as "sa:nDu:". Their children get along very well mutually. The husband is identified both as "khawan" and "musha" and the wife as "chei" or "jamat". The wife is identified as "nu:S" by the parents in law and other tribes by  referring to her being the "nu:S" of such and such man or woman. This identification goes on changing with the passage of time.. When the daughter in law and her husband become aged, then the wife is identified with reference to her husband. Probably its reason is that by now the husband may have turned to be the head of the household. At this stage, one fruitless effort is made by the daughter in law also. If the husband and the wife had some kinship before their marriage, then the daughter in law would try that the children of her husband's brother call her by a word based on her earlier relationship and not her husband. But after all it depends on the children about which term would they like to call her by.


            The father-in-law and the mother-in-law of the husband as well as of the wife, are called "sher" and "shaS" respectively. The husband's brother is called "levar" and the wives of the brothers are called "levro chie" mutually and the eldest one of them is called "jaZa" also which is also used for the husband's sister.