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24 December 2000


At the time of the interview Chughbai is head of the Shimshal Nature Trust’s (SNT’s) board of directors, and also has considerable experience of serving the different community institutions in Shimshal, most recently as convenor of the Arbitration Committee. He has considerable knowledge of Shimshal’s history and he explains how it was founded, describing the arrival of the first settlers. He also shares his knowledge of the local calendar, which is based on the position of the sun’s rays on the mountains surrounding the village. Chughbai is the expert on this calendar which is specific to Shimshal.

He shares his experiences of more recent events and changes and generally talks positively about developments that have taken place. He describes the difficulties they faced when there was no road, and the times when they had to sleep in their chugha (woollen overcoats). In contrast, today: “everything is available people camp in the open air wherever they want because they have sleeping bags and good shoes”. He believes, however, that such increased prosperity comes at a cost: “In my view there was a lot of poverty in former times but there was unity. Now prosperity and comforts have reduced the unity and cooperation among the people.”

He discusses the work of the community-based organisation the SNT, and the problems it has faced as people have opposed it, believing that it benefits the individuals involved and not recognising the benefits it is bringing to the community. He views the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) positively, saying that: “the ongoing projects in the village are an example of the success of AKRSP in the area.” Chughbai explains how agriculture has changed and also how gender roles within farming have changed, as men become more involved in working with tourists during the summer.

Towards the end of the testimony the Khunjerab National Park (KNP) is also discussed. He says: “the government denied the access of the locals to their pastures, their livestock were driven out of the area by force and people were tortured.” As a result of this experience, he is concerned that “if the government purchased the land for the National Park, then we will never enter our land again which we had possessed and safeguarded for centuries.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Introduction. He has been married twice. 14 generations of his family have lived in Shimshal. The work of his grandfather.
Section 2  Memories of journeys carrying the Mir’s (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) loads: “During such journeys we would extend help to those of our brothers who were physically weak. We would help them cross the rivers and would help them cross difficult tracks, and that was the way we would help each other.” His work for the different community institutions – work in arbitration. Describes one particularly difficult and dangerous journey from Ghujerab.
Section 3-4  Nomus (system of donating resources for a community project in the name of a relative): after the death of his mother he constructed a room for the school in her name. Purpose/role of SNT. AKRSP: “the programmes and activities of AKRSP are more reliable and long lasting and in fact we commend its work as they mitigated our miseries.” Recalls hardships before the construction of the road. Now “the hardships are gone, the income has increased a lot. But the major problem is the decline in unity and cooperation as it was in the past.” In former times they had to subsist on what was produced in the village.
Section 5-6  Detailed explanation of the local calendar based on the movement of the sun. This determines various agricultural activities and festivals. Hoshigarm (hot soup festival): “all the youth of the village would gather in the evening and make two groups…and would invite each other to dinner.” They then played a polo match: “whoever lost the match would arrange the next dinner, this would continue for about 10 to 12 days.” Describes related customs.
Section 7-9  Tug of war – recalls contests against other villages: “we maintain the title till today.” Story of the first settlers in Shimshal. Their ancestor, Mamusing, migrated here with his wife. Their son, Sher, then won ownership of Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pastures) through a polo match. Traces his family since Sher. The clothes they used to wear for travelling, how things have improved: “Today we don’t worry even if we had to camp in Snow lake because we have waterproof sleeping sheets and warm sleeping bags, but that was the time of scarcity when we would borrow chugha from one another. We would also borrow the piece of leather for mending our shoes.” But “today people do not borrow from one another because they possess everything”.
Section 10  Compares old and new agriculture: “[now] we can import chemical fertiliser to supplement our local fertiliser but the grain is not as healthy as it used to be in the olden times. It is probably due to the chemical fertiliser.” People used to be too busy with labour for the Mir to plant, trees and “there was less trend of plantation because there were no boundary walls and the animals destroyed the plantation”. Today, despite being busy with new activities such as tourism, people are also planting trees – availability of cheap timber.
Section 10-11  KNP: “The Government and the institutions added to the miseries and difficulties of the people through the National Park.” Concern that the government could prevent them accessing their land and that women would no longer be able to manage pasture activities on their own without men from Shimshal. The role of women at Pamir: “they look after the livestock and also prepare butter, cheese, and other dairy products…” Activities of volunteers and boy scouts: “All the difficult community tasks are carried out by volunteers and the scouts also assist them.” Men’s summer activities: “they cultivate their fields and when they are finished … they take their livestock to the pasture. But nowadays they travel extensively with tourists in summer… This year almost all the men were engaged with the tourists and all the agriculture activities such as collection of fodder, food grain etc were carried out by women.”
Section 12-13  Recalls when the Shimshal glacial lake burst its banks: “It washed away the fruit orchards, houses and green fields.” Smoke signals were sent to warn people down in the valley. Treatment of the ill by mullah (religious literate person) before the availability of allopathic treatment.