Old Chitral - survival in shadows of high Hindu Kush-1

Old Chitral – survival in shadows of Hindu Kush-1

Porf. Rahmat Karim Baig (Pic: Wikipedia)

Life in the narrow valleys and fan-shaped villages of Chitral has fortunately been peaceful and tranquil from time immemorial except at certain stages of history when the princes of the ruling families of Chitral rose against each other to snatch powers in the small principality. The princes, unfortunately, were in dozens and scores.

For example, Amanul Mulk had 60 children – 40 sons and 20 daughters – (cf. Hisamul Mulk) and he was not an exception. Naturally, there were often dissidents in the ruling house who created distrust and disturbances from time to time which might be counted as not peaceful for the common man of Chitral as he had to remain vigilant and save himself from being embroiled in such political tug-of-war. Some families did like such situations and tried to fish in the disturbances.

In the villages, life for the common man was a matter of routine activities. He looked after his farms, crops, considered the crop rotation tradition. He sowed, watered, looked after, cut, threshed, winnowed and got some yield of wheat, some barley, some mallet, some corn, some potato, beans and other vegetables like pumpkin varieties, turnips, and carrots for his winter consumption. If he had an extended family and surely they did, then farm work was easy for them and could finish their works earlier than other families but a single bread winner had to do very hard work round the year.

After grinding the grains of various types, they had to collect firewood, then it was time to take all the manure from the cattle folds and then came a type of individual festival of ceremony called ‘Joshtan Dakeik’. It has been explained in detail in this newspaper before. An orthodox family did perform it regularly but a liberal one did not care.

Then it was the arrival of winter solstice around the 3rd week of December according to solar calendar called ‘Chilah’. These are 60 days according to Kho astronomy i.e. two months. The first 40 days are called ‘Lot Chilah’ – the big one – and the next 20 days are called ‘Cheq Chilah’ – small one. During these days, the head of the family if not very old did hair processing, helped by his brothers or sons, for making goat hair rugs for domestic use as well as for gift to be given to married daughters or female relatives, or some males as well as females made ‘Qaleen’ from wool which were also used in the same way given above. Ropes were also made from goat hair for domestic use. Ropes for carrying bundle of wood or grass or fodder was above 12 metres but a longer rope was also made called’ Dolpha’ for emergency use.

 The females mostly processed wool – they had nothing to do with goat hair processing – many kinds of articles of daily use mostly used in winters were made ready. Most of these were indoor activities all over the settlement.  Nobody sat idle in the house. The kids were also to participate and contribute to this cottage industry and thus learnt the tricks and became skilled with their age. As education was not common but for learning of the Holy Quran they sent their kids over 6/7 years to the village cleric to teach them ‘Nazirah’ and memorize some verses of the Holy Quran and practice of prayers of five times a day.

The stores of food items were then used on rationing system. During ‘Chilah’ the dry fruit was also taken and eaten and mostly given to the kids in the house to satisfy their appetite. Since days were short and nights very long, some heads of larger families used to give extra food to children close to midnight and then were allowed to go to bed. The idea of this late hour post-dinner food was that the nights are longer and the children will be very hungry by the morning and may get up very early because of hunger so the food was deemed necessary but it was done in those families where there was no fear of shortage of food. This food was called ‘Chui Boti’ late night supper.  


(To be continued).

One Reply to “Old Chitral – survival in shadows of Hindu Kush-1”

  1. Prof.Saab is doing great service by documenting the old Khow Culture before it vanishes into the darkness of modernism. I hope someone can make efforts to preserve these gems in a book form .

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