Rahmat Karim Baig

Chitrali traditions of conservation – 1

Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig

Indigenous knowledge of conservation and resource management.

The huge conglomeration of peaks with more than 6000m height have surrounded numerous valleys of Chitral and its population is sparsely scattered on the banks of the rivers and streams in all the valleys which is collectively known as Chitral in the map of the world, making this region a very difficult land to live and survive facing innumerable constraints.

In its earliest days, the rivers were not bridged and access was quite impossible but the men of the day developed the skill of swimming and building bridges with twisted osiers from birch and willow trees and this prototype was designed in such a way that one stronger hence thicker, rope of the osier cable was under one’s feet and two slimmer ones were higher, structured to hold with both hands with a bundle on the back.

It was a summer crossing contraption of the old men of Chitral where cantilever bridges were not possible but cantilever bridges did exist at narrower sections.

In winters when the rivers lost their summer volume and shrank to the minimum level winter bridges were built by the village organizations called ‘ gram’ . The word ‘gram’ has come into Khowar from old Sanskrit and is used for a group of hamlets all over Chitral who cooperated in all collective works – in farming, death ceremonies, weddings and marriages, grazing their flocks, providing food to a bereaved family turn by turn for at least three days etc.

They also had developed systems for various duties and, one man from each household was to be present on the site as a mandatory duty to do annual repair of the water channels-both the irrigation and water mill channels. The mandatory presence was called ‘moan’. 

The timber used in the bridges were also provided turn by turn and incase of a timber snatched away from them by a flooding river, was provided by the group next in the chain.

The timbers used in winters low level bridges were taken away after dismantling the bridge as soon as the river began to rise in June and the timber and planks or the ‘ chipul’ were kept safely for use in the next season. 

The hillsides had been demarcated for cutting the scrubs to be used as fire wood in winters and each autumn a specific site was allocated for cutting as winter fire wood on the basis of one man per family.

Nobody was allowed to get firewood from that particular prohibited site or he was find by the headman of the village organization.

The headman was also selected for his better administrative control or he was replaced by another one. He was also paid grain for his duty by each family of the gram.

They grazed their flocks of goats in the pastures by rotation according to season. The shady hillsides were used in summers as well as the high altitude pastures but the sunny hillsides were reserved for winters when snow fell and most of the hillside meadows were under snow.

They selected two men for grazing the flocks, called ‘ pazhal’ and paid them food, mutton, usually the neck of the slaughtered goat with a goat skin for use as foot gear. They were also released from certain collective duties of the particular grams.

The ‘pazhal’ was allowed to get pieces of dead wood from the hills and brought a small bundle not a big one, and not allowed to cut live branches and cutting of Juniper from the conservation sites was banned and violation was fined. 

In this way, the old men of Chitral preserved and conserved their pastures, hillsides and other natural resources for fear of facing shortage of firewood and fodder. All kind of food to humans as well as to their livestock was to be rationed to be self dependent.

There was no road system for import from distant parts of the country. There were no roads but all were tracks and trails from valley to valley in all parts of the country. The old heritage trails of Chitral have to be documented.

The hillsides in most parts of Chitral bore a good kind of fodder called ‘ Mushen’ and the ‘Mushen’ bearing hills were divided among tribes and clans, demarcated and given to various stake holders. This fodder was cut in early summer and stocked in their barns for use in winters, mainly goats were fed. Their flock of sheep also got share in it beside other fodder of various kinds but dried alfalfa was reserved for milch cows to get more milk in winters as they did not have surplus grain to feed them.

This was also done under special rationing system which was fixed by each family according to its own stock. 


To be continued.

2 Replies to “Chitrali traditions of conservation – 1”

  1. Prof, Bo sheli nivashi asus, I would suggest to make YouTube Video like Chitrali Life: A tradition of conservation.

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