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The cultural assets of Chitral

By Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig

In the old Chitrali society, resource management was given a very high value to be able to face hard times because of the geographical location of the state and its political affiliations with neighbouring rulers and tribal communities.

In order to remain self-sufficient side by side with the men, women also took equal part in the resource management of the family to keep a balance of food supply even and in certain cases the female psyche excelled men to beat rivals in this management system that is why in Khowar a phrase stands for that aspect of Kho culture and economy approach which is  ‘Auratabad’ , namely an economic system supported by women and this phrase highlights her role in the economic life of the family.

A good female support boosted their economic position and enhanced the status of the family and the head of the family. If the females of the family especially the housewife was efficient and hard worker then she trained  the daughters and daughters –in-law to work harder and save all resources from wastage such as fruits and vegetables were dried or preserved for winter, wool was processed regularly and cottage industry remained busy round the year, livestock was reared and grazed properly, dairy products were prepared and kept in safe manner, consumption of provision stores were dished out according to rationing system etc.

The role of females was thus very important and any kind of laziness by the young women was chastised by the head of the family. The girls’ practical and professional education began with grazing sheep and kids but they were also told to carry rough wool in double chambered baskets made of willow or poplar bark. In the one chamber the rough wool was pressed and after processing by fingers the improved wool was pressed into the next chamber and at the same time the grazing and watching of the flock was also carried on and after the morning session they drove the sheep back at noon and a good daughter finished her rough stock by that time and brought back a pack of processed wool to be emptied and refilled for the afternoon session of grazing.

In this way, all the rough wool was made ready for the next stage of working into thread by another female of the house. Any kind of laziness in the regularity of wool processing was rebuked and harder work was demanded of the girls while the smaller girls also learnt embroidery from the elders and guidance was provided to them and competition sessions were also held to improve their skills. Thus after the initial few years the fingers of the girls became well practiced and skillful in some crafts including weaving, thread making, knitting etc.

And these handmade woolen products were used both by men and women when the cold winter months commenced. They did not have any other option and these articles of use were not in any market and practically there were no such markets. The processed wool was then fabriqued into woolen cloth, then cut and tailored as dress for members of the family. Extra cloth was sold in the Chitral market and cash was earned for purchase of other articles of daily use plus certain food items like sugar, salt, cotton cloth and the like.

Leather products were also locally processed and fabricated. The hides of cattle and goats were processed by a native tannery technique and made into larger, medium and smaller leather bags. This work was done only by males because of its harder quality and once tanned the leather was very useful for shoes, ordinary use, cheap floor seat, bags to carry grain or flour and after many years of use they became so soft that they could be fashioned into any kind of shoes for both sexes. Cow hides were far thicker and hence worked longer in shoe form and this foot gear was the main type of soft leather boots in all parts of the country known as ‘khon’. They were also items of gift to relatives, especially old ladies and children. But now both wool and hides have fallen into disuse and sold in rough form to wandering buyers for a few coins and the industrial value has gone down to zero degree and the skill has been forgotten along with the words and terms of Khowar that were part of this language a few decades ago. The skill has gone and has carried away the names of the articles and the tools of the skills. Culture is declining!


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