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8 August 2000


As well as being a farmer, Shafa is a carpenter, can weave sharma (local woollen carpet made of yak or goat hair), and works as a porter for tourists. He can remember the time of the Mir (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) when Shimshalis had to provide a tax for the Mir. Consequently the interview covers a number of different topics including: agriculture, community development, Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pastures), tourism, and customs and festivals. At times the interviewer jumps from topic to topic, which restricts the depth of response from the narrator. Nevertheless the interview contains interesting detail.

Despite his relatively young age, Shafa has much time for and respect for the village seniors and the customs and traditions of their ancestors. He urges the young of today to listen to the advice of the elders to help them lead a happier life. Even those who are educated should not give up on their culture and still need to listen to their elders. Yet he is positive about education: “It has had a very good impact on our society. Because of the more educated persons in the village a lot of work is being done for the community. There exist a lot of changes in the village.” He feels very strongly about the Khunjerab National Park, stating that its implementation would be “like slaughtering us”. On this issue he feels they should “follow our educated brothers – whatever they would suggest to us we should follow their footsteps and should support their decisions…”

At several points in the interview he fondly recalls time spent in Pamir and his childhood memories are most evocative: “We had named Pamir as wilayat (place of prosperity). We would live there with yaks; our task [as children] was to take yaks with us to midway for riding of those who would visit Pamir… Riding of yaks and collection of the violets were the happiest events for us and we didn’t even care for the food.”

Despite his enthusiastic descriptions of various festivals and traditions he believes the customs surrounding Pamir are in decline. He explains: “At present life has become too busy. Most of our young are in pardes (places outside the area); some are busy with their education and some people remains busy with trekking. Due to that a few people remain available at Pamir and the elders too, do not go to Pamir therefore the custom is weakening with the passage of time…the feeling of unenthusiastic celebration makes us, the elders, unhappy and disappointed.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Agriculture: crops grown; multiple benefits of apricot trees. Benefits of electricity: “In former times we would transport kerosene oil on our back from the down country…The electricity obviated us from those hardships….” Before electricity, “Those who were wealthy would use animal fat for light…” Woollen clothes made from local wool spun by the women Past techniques for washing. Festivals celebrated throughout the year and related games.
Section 3  Care of the poor and vulnerable in former times: “If someone was not capable to bear the expenses of collective works such as [providing] the food during fertiliser delivery and ploughing the fields, then those who were well off would bear these expenses.” Role of the arbob (Mir’s main representative in the village) in the past: organising community work and arranging meetings.
Section 4-5  The division of labour between elders and the young whilst travelling in former times. He has travelled some very steep and difficult passes. The benefits of livestock: “we make sharma (local woven carpet made of yak or goat hair) and use their meat on the occasion of marriages. In ancient times…they would make sandals (long shoes made of animal skin)... Presently we sell the animal hide and earn a handsome amount to meet the educational expenses of our children.” In the future believes they could grow some crops in certain parts of Pamir as their ancestors did: “We have water mills there built by our ancestors. Rather than transport rations from Shimshal instead they would cultivate crops there and would grind the local production right there...” Aside from his agricultural duties he is also a carpenter. Thoughts about the road: “…it will cause development in the village, it would replace the burden from my back…miseries would be mitigated and prosperity would come.”
Section 6  Positive attitude towards education. Tourism is an important source of income for Shimshal and he has often trekked with tourists. Local treatments for illness
Section 7-9  His father was a famous personality in Shimshal: he planted apricot trees on his agricultural land and the villagers criticised him for depriving his children of food. He predicted that people from outside would come and camp in his garden; they did and his children have benefited from that. In the past people used horns for drinking water. Treatment from Mir was not so bad when he was young: “Our fathers told us that there were more hardships in former times. When late Jamal Khan came to power he relaxed the hardships… he forgave the tax of yaks.” History of Pamir: grandfather Sher won the territory through a polo match with the Kyrgyz. Details of Mamusing, their ancestor who settled in Shimshal. Narrator’s belief in Shams (saint):
Section 10  System of nomus (donation towards community project in the name of a relative). He has rendered nomus in the past: “I constructed the trek of Okhar Sar in the name of my grandmother, the house at Shpodin was constructed in the name of my mother.”
Section 11-12  The narrator has an electric mill, but the electricity is too low a voltage to use this properly. Firewood: “We use the firewood from our own jungle (forest).” When the road is complete Shafa plans to build a hotel. Used to travel from Shimshal to Passu to take the Mir’s tax but also to collect dried apricots. “We would bring them to eat on the occasion of delivering fertiliser [to our fields]. Moch (local soup) was prepared from the dried apricots.” Community support during house-building
Section 13-14  The radio: “I listened to the radio, which my father brought to the village for the first time… At that time I…could not understand the language… We started learning the Urdu [the language] since the time of the deployment of military in Shimshal.” During his childhood he mainly lived in Pamir (the pastures). At times raiders from China would enter Pamir and kidnap Shimshalis. When Pamir was not part of Shimshal’s territory the kooch (seasonal migration with livestock to and from pasture) would stay elsewhere. His kooch is at Ghujerab.
Section 15-16  There is potential to develop some of the lands in the pasture through the construction of irrigation channels. Special skills were recognised by villagers: “In those days there was my uncle Shireen Shah who…highlighted that skill in his poetry. Some were architect, carpenter and some were brave (climber, swimmers etc), so he praised all of them.” Income through tourism provides cash for daily needs. Shimshalis’ marketing problem: “when there is demand in the market our livestock remain at Pamir and when our livestock are ready for sale the demand has reduced….” Methods of trapping wild game in the past. Recounts his favourite song. Recalls his favourite journey: “…the journey with our seniors to Sherlakhsh on a nomus expedition…was momentous and historic… We enjoyed being with our seniors by singing songs, by rope-pulling competition and by riding yaks.”
Section 17-18  Youth today: “Even if one is educated he should not forget his culture. We inherited this from our elders and our young should own it from us…” Arbitration Committee in the village solves disputes. Strong thoughts on the National Park: “…it looks as if we are being slaughtered, making it a national park is our genocide.” Describes an accident which occurred while he worked as a porter: “During a trek to Chafchingole I came across the worst incident of my life… I fell down to a crevasse (glacier crack) about 12 metres deep but luckily the safety rope remained tied to one of my wrists and one end of the rope was held by an engrez (tourist)…” His thoughts on the porter rates: “Rates are low but I think that if the rates are raised, fewer tourists will come. If rates are low more tourists will come and we will get more earning opportunities.” Admits tourists create much solid waste but that Shimshalis are also responsible for dropping litter.
Section 19  He suggests a large-scale clean-up operation. Believes if their village is clean then tourists, “will not spoil our village...” Water is collected from the spring. “Fetching water is a big problem. In our village we have a lot of problems regarding potable water. For this reason our women suffer with pneumonia because in winter they fetch water from the river...” Traditional means of taking fertiliser to the fields. Discussion on traditional dishes.
Section 20-22  Good health in former times was due to consumption of moch (local soup). Detailed description of Tagam (sowing festival) Description of custom of Wulyo (yak racing) and the traditions of shartwurza (guests of the year) during their trip to and from Shimshal. “When the shartwurza would return to Shimshal from Pamir the seniors of the village would go to the riverbank with the orchestra to give them a warm reception. In turn the shartwurza would bring fresh butter and qurut from Pamir… they would mix the fresh butter with the new crops and would eat it. This particular custom was called Shegd paghash diyetk (tasting of the new crop). On this occasion we would enjoy quite a lot.” Such customs are in decline as many young moved outside the village for jobs or education and some are busy with portering work. As well as being a carpenter he can weave sharma (local carpet of yak or goat hair).