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Homepage of Razwal Kohistani

Lesser Known Tribes of Indus Kohistan

Home Transhumance



            Ordinary Life: The ordinary life of the people is very simple. Their life requirements are limited. They do not like pomp and show. Greed for wealth and competition for it is not very high. A person's social status is not identified from his decent home, wealth or official rank. People's social standing is considered identical within the limits of their tribes or racial circles regardless of their economic and physical nature. Folk wisdom carries high value. The traditional experiences, social terms and lineage relationships enhance appreciations among the community. Since population is not dense, theft cases do not occur. Traders' edible items lie on the roadsides for several days but no one would steal them nor is there any risk of their being stolen. People help each other at the occasions of sorrows, celebrations and death ceremonies. Things become available easily to empty-handed people for borrowing that are repaid later on in kind or cash. Events of feuds and commitment of murders are declining and display of arms is reducing. Involvement of the groups, tribes and castes in individual feuds, has gone down a great deal. However, on the issues of joint resources and interests, the groups and tribes have been found to provide armed support to each other and considerably large fights have been seen occurring from these matters.

            People's economy is dependent on herd raising, agriculture and forests. People go on seasonal migration from the River Indus bank to the higher pastures located on 12000 feet making three or four transitional stops on the way. The choice of location for seasonal migration depends on the number of sheep, goats and cattle currently owned by a family. Seasonal migrations cycle enables them to breed maximum number of livestock that are an important source for trade, cash income, butter oil, milk, meat, wool, transportation, cultivation of crops and natural manures.

            These resources are renewed naturally by the traditional practice of seasonal migration. The constructive or destructive attitudes of those affecting or consuming the diversified wild life in these environmental territories, i.e. the mankind, go on flourishing from these cycles and an enhancement takes place in human awareness. It increases the importance of wild life, their exposure to wild life and taste for beauty. Human skill, knowledge, perception and folk literature grows from it and freshness and peace comes by changing places.

            Seasonal migration takes place according to a traditional calendar which is comprised over four season of the year. Every season consists three months' of duration. Some important activities also take place during these months which would be out of place to describe here. Changes occur in the particular duration of a year. The change in the movement of sun changes the size of day and night. When a change begins this way, people call it "sue:l" in local terms in Kohistan. It comes out to be on June 22 and December 22 according to Christian calendar.

Bazodo (Spring Season)

            It means spring season. Its general duration is from 16 March to 16 May. Plenty of folk songs are available on the topic of this season. Sowing is started in this season and the traditional transactions of instalment payments begin. In some areas these transactions begin in October. The people living in winter locations (yoduko ba:ndo), they move to move their places of residence located at agricultural land. They call this place their "pakhi ba:sum" (permanent settlement). They begin to take care of their agricultural chores at that place. Traditionally, a clear division is found between the jobs of men and women in agriculture sector. Some jobs are specified for men and some for women and some are done together.

            After sowing maize, people drive their livestock along and shift to "bazo:do be:k" and some people shift directly to "wa:lo be:k" (summer pastures) after sowing maize. At "bazo:do be:k" a stay for twenty to thirty days is made. This place of middle stop is located in the wilderness in between agricultural territories and high summer pastures. In spring season, important group and local Jirgas are also worked out and held according to the needs.

Walo (Summer Season)

            As soon as "bazo:do" comes to an end, the season of "Wa:lvo", summer season, begins. During this season, these people shift to high summer resorts. In Kolai, Palas and Jalkot, the places of this sort are located between the altitudes of 9000 to 13000 feet. People stay at these places from June to mid-September and some people at relatively lower altitudes stay even till October.

            The residences at summer places are found in the shape of tiny villages. Residences have only room which is not very wide and high. If the pattern of their settlement or the communal structure of the village is kept in view, it becomes known that the houses of closely blood relatives are adjacent to each other. At the larger summer places, generally houses of one caste are found. For instance, in Murroo, Ledi and Sipat. The names of such summer settlements (be:k) are usually related with the names of the castes living therein. For example, "suto be:k", "shamko be:k", "bado be:k", "Jumalkhano be:k", Kumlo be:k" "didro be:k", and "Mholeo be:k" and so on. Some places are void of such situation and maternal relatives are found in near places of this nature.

            Plenty of butter is produced in this season for sale in autumn. A lot of medicinal herbs are collected that are used for traditional cure and for commercial purposes. Many of these herbs that are very important as medical, economical and wildlife items, are under the risk of vanishing by their unwise usa in these areas.

Sharyo (Autumn Season)

            Autumn season is called "shario" in local terms. Some people reside in this season for 20 to 30 days in "shario be:k", autumn resorts. This is the same place of the transitional stop where in May people stay again for 20 to 30 days. During this season, the flow of work is faster and the heavy agricultural jobs are don by communal participation called "hashar".

            In this season, weddings are usually common because there is sufficient amount of butter oil, food grains and other kinds available with the people. In Palas, business transactions begin during this season.

Yodo (Winter Season)

            Winter season is called "yo:do". Since, there is a lot of snow fall at higher altitudes, people store fuelwood and ground flour for three months. Some families migrate to "sinkaRi" areas during this season where snow does not fall and stay there until mid-April. The Movements are limited during this season and most of the time is passed in the mosques and "hujras", traditional community houses.

The "hashar" system

            In order to implement collective or heavy individual works, there exists a strong traditional system of "hashar". Construction and maintenance of irrigation system, small bridges and tracks, water mills, "hujras", houses, and mosques are completed by courtesy of this system. More work with lasting durability might be achieved by spending relatively less time under this system and constructive attitudes of mutual cooperations are developed.

            In the past, this system was very strong and functional. But now it is weakening due to inflows of governmental funds and the unprioritized schemes of the local representatives of Provincial and National Assemblies. Set targets of these schemes are not achieved. However, "hashar" system is getting adversely affected from it. People are getting to think now that these jobs are for the government to do. In other words, dependence on government is increasing now.

Life of Hujra and Biak

            In Kohistan, fast changes are occurring in the traditional environment of the collective "hujras" and "biak". New economic needs, unemployment, construction of Korakoram Highway, converting the local area into a district, estrangement to the new system, establishment of Police stations, play of alien politics, associationship to political parties, timber logging and earning in the form of commissions, inflow of funds on the basis of political affiliations, inception of Zakat and issuance of ration cards, participation in religious movements, political addresses and processions, environmental and agricultural changes and many other factors are involved in changing people's trend from collectivism into individualism. These elements of slow moving changes can be observed in daily life. The collective "hujras" of castes and tribes are turning into individual "hujras" and "hujras" are changing into "bethaks" The "hujra" environment has been very important in the youngsters' constructive role and their personality. Hospitality, bravery, "bilo:S", sense of honour, profoundness, enmity handling, respect to the elder and many other attitudes flourish in the environment of collective "hujras". Folk wisdom and experiences are shared and awareness enhances. In individual "hujras" this kind of environment and characteristics do not exist because only one's own family members are found there and not of a tribe. There is a limited circle of people there. So exchange of talks and experiences is also limited. One impact of collective "hujras" changing into individual "hujras" is this also that, as it has reduced interdependence between the groups of people, by the same token, their contacts are also reducing. It has resulted into a reduction in group fighting also. But, mutual disputes and conflicts are increasing among the castes. May subjects of folk heritage are also adversely getting affected gradually with the gradual elimination of collective "hujras" and it is leading to a change in appreciation for beauty and other attitudes.

Traditional business

            Traditional business is done both in cash and kind. Business transactions are mostly done by way of annual installments. In Palas there is a place called Khilot. In the past, for three days a year, business activities were continued at this place and all the people of Palas would gather here. If any would be absent from it, people would not borrow anything from him till the next year.

            Cash circulation is very little in annual business transactions. Generally, debts are shifted to one another. Food grains, butter oil, honey and pulses are usually exchanged. Food gains, butter oil, livestock, sheep and goats, agricultural land and weapons are the major items traded in usual business. Besides these, timber logging, small employments and labour jobs also bring some cash income to them.

Disputes and Settlements

            In Kohistan, three kinds of laws are used to resolve crimes, murder attempts and group and property disputes and all three of them have different origins. They are customary laws, Islamic laws         of Jurisprudence and state laws. In most cases, customary law are applied. Islamic Jurisprudence is second priority and the state laws come at the end.

Customary Laws

            The decisions and principles derived from the daily cultural matters, values and manners of a community, caste, group or a tribe, usually become the practical customary laws in that community. Such laws are acceptable and useful from customary, communal and cultural point of view. The process of amendments and additions to them continues as an ongoing process in them depending on the circumstances. They are owned as customary laws from race to race which remain functional in down trodden and tribal communities.

            Among the Shin tribes, customary laws are called "ma:lo da:de pon", the ways of forefathers and efforts are mostly made to get disputes resolved under these customary laws. Since these laws take a shape and acted upon in a particular territory and the cultural and communal circles of a group, they are more acceptable to the concerned people. They cost nothing and remain accessible in less time. The disputes of land, forests, murder attempts, business matters, quarrels and other conflicts can be easily resolved by these laws. Examples from the past are used towards resolving mutual disputes.

            In Kohistan, the origins of traditional laws are the Jirgas of two kinds: one formal and the other informal. We have made a distinction in these two because that formal Jirgas are found among the political organizational circles and the external or non-concerned people can not get into them. Secondly, the formal Jirgas usually resolve economical and regional matters. Private matters remain out of their scope of work in most cases. In informal Jirgas, mostly private matters or disputes are resolved and people of all sorts can join them. Formal Jirgas make decisions about utilization of natural resources, their distribution, protection and sale that determine their organizational powers and obligations. Through informal Jirgas, traditional laws or decisions are formed about marriages, quarrels, feuds and agricultural disputes and so on that become customary laws. To maintain a control over implementation of customary laws or decisions made in the formal Jirgas, there exists a system of "nagah", a traditional system of charging a fine on defaulters. Informal Jirgas do not have the power to impose "nagah" on the defaulters of their decisions. However, if their decisions are not obeyed, they are deemed "aqala", devoid.

            Whatever the decision is, generally it is based on justice and truthfulness. It is talked out in every "hujra", mosque and house. The people who make decisions beyond the traditional limits, generally become prey to people's condemnation.

            For traditional decisions, consensus is sought from both the concerned parties. Decision makers are acceptable and impartial to both parties. They hear both of them separately after which they base their decision on true events which they know by themselves also. When the parties concerned extend their consensus, then they obey the verdict regardless of what it is. In case of intensive disputes, consensus for compromise is acquired from both the parties, efforts are made to bring a "madan", temporary cease-fire, among them for one year's duration. During this period, they stay in constant touch with the parties and finally reach a feasible solution between them.

Islamic Laws

            All the people belong to Deoband sect of Sunnis. People refer to Islamic Jurisprudence if their property disputes could not be resolved by customary laws. Many theologians exist in the area who are expert of Islamic Jurisprudence who resolves disputes and help people reach a compromise in their matters. There is a "Qazi Court" in the local District Court but the local people mostly refer to their own theologians with their internal disputes.

 State Laws

            In Kohistan, help from a court is sought as a final resort. That also is not done for the sake of justice, but they do so to trap their opponent in financial hardships or to keep his movements limited. Or those people refer to the local Police Stations or to the courts who wish to prolong their disputes. Very few people lodge FIRs for murder attempts. It is interesting that even if a person is punished in the court for his crime, traditionally, he still remains under the charge of crime and his opponent reserves the right to avenge.

            Control of State law is very weak inside the valleys. People own law is functional there. In case Police takes some action on its own and arrests the parties, generally they would rid themselves by reaching a compromise in the court. But they continue with the feud in the village. Since it was a tribal area before, it would take some time before their mentality is changed.


The Dispute of Chor

            Chor is a well known summer pasture of Palas Valley. It is separated from Allai by a 15000 feet high chain of mountains. All the rivers from here flow towards Daro Palas by Chor nulla and River MuSa and empty into River Indus near Kharat. About the boundaries of Chor territories, an English author, Oliver has written in 1860 that:

 A 15000 feet high series divides Allai from Kohistan, that lays an area of one thousand square feet of snow covered peaks and cliffs  between Kaghan on the highlands of River Indus and Hazara."

            The boundaries about the other areas of Kohistan described by Mr. Oliver are still intact. However, Khan of Allai is disputing about this boundary. In the past, many battles were fought over this issue. There is no basis for these disputes. But due to abundance of land and pastures in Palas, the disputes and conflicts like this are going for centuries as Oliver writes on pp. 374 and 375 of his book that:

The people of Allai and the Gujars go on having disputes with the Kohistanis. Its reason was the invasion of the people of Allai and the Gujars of the Alafzar pastures, Chor located to the south east corner of Kohistan."

            Ten years prior to Edward E. Oliver in 1880 A.D, another author, John Biddulph has written in his book "Tribes of Hindukush" that:

The people of Palas, who are also Shins, inhabit a valley of considerable extreme, stretching in a south-easterly direction, and have easy communication from its head with the Allai valley. Land in Palas is plentiful, and much remains uncultivated. As has been already observed, this abundance has for some time caused the envy of the more crowded population of Allai and Koli. (Biddulph 1880, p. 11)

             The above-mentioned references show it clearly that why Khan of Allai has created a dispute over Chor Palas. As a matter of fact, there are three four basic factors of it without which it is hard to understand the nature of this dispute.

In Allai, two nations of Sawatis and Gujars are settled. The Khandom is with the Sawatis. There are numerous big and small Khans and most of the land is occupied by them. The status of the Gujar nation is like that of growers. Most of them are tenants and pay "qalang" to the Khans.

            Plenty of butter oil can be acquired from the summer pastures. Therefore, more the pastures occupied by the Khan, more income he will get. It is this which is the fundamental cause for the Khan disputing over Chor.  Khan of Chor requires a unity among the Gujars and their help to stretch his territories and enhance his defensive power. This requirement may be fulfilled only by creating such a dispute which may be beneficial for the Gujars so that they fight for it. This way Khan of Allai is playing three preys at the same time: making the Gujars fight with the Kohistanis and hence making both of them weak, secondly taking over the natural resources and thereby increase in the revenues under "qalang", thirdly suppressing the small Khans and the tenants. 

            Since Kohistanis are their neighbours and their tribal power stays united under multi-group system, therefore, entangling them in disputes to prevent any potential risk, giving refuge to law escapees and to murderers, using them in commitment of crimes and take their help in planning of state matters.

            In 1985, a team comprising the Government officials from Batagram, theologians and a some representatives from both areas had visited Chor to see the situation and check the direction of flow of the local streams. After the visit, the theologians handed over their religious verdict on the situation to the Government saying that Chor belonged to Palas.

            Recently the Government started work on a dam in this area with the financial help from the German government without taking the people of Palas into confidence. Consequently, the local people kidnaped 28 workers and confined them for one month. Later on they were released under an agreement. Now local people are also taken into confidence regarding the construction and the initial surveys of it.