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30 June 2000


Qurban’s personal interest in music and poetry brings to this testimony much information on Shimshal’s culture and customs. A singer of local folk songs and admirer of Shimshal’s classic poets, he tells of Shimshali ways of celebration and enjoyment including dance, music, poetry, artisan work and traditional sports and games.

The testimony includes information on the history of Shimshal and the Mir’s (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) system. Qurban is nostalgic about the past, when “life was very simple”. In particular he mourns the decline in collectivism among the community, in respect for elders, and in certain traditions such as the making of clothes. While he stresses that: “Everyone must get education”, he also warns, “But they must not abandon their culture and traditions… saying that these are outdated and old things. They will be useful for the new generation in the future.” His concern about change is also reflected in his views on the Khunjerab National Park: “I wish that our land remains in our own hands and that we maintain our independence…If the government took over its management then we would lose everything and we will be left with nothing.”

Like other narrators, Qurban mentions a loss of unity within the community and has interesting comments on how this existed in the past. He talks about the hardships and corruption of the Mir’s regime and explains that, “Although there was repression and bonded labour under that system, due to the fear of the rulers and the local village chief, people stayed together to work collectively… this had the effect of keeping the people united. Those who could afford the penalty had to pay it and could do their personal chores but people like me, who could not afford to pay the penalty, had to turn up for community work.”

He also talks about tourism, the Wakhi language and education. There are some explanatory notes for the translator.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  The history of Shimshal – the legend of forefather Mamu Singh and his son Sher. Shimshal’s three lineage groups: Bakhti, Ghozi and Boqi. The first settlers: “When our forefather, Mamu Singh, came here there was already a settlement here… but no human being was present here. I have heard from my elders that some … people might have settled here before Mamusing came but most probably they had left the village.” Shimshal 50 years ago: “there were about 40 houses and the total population might have been around 200 inhabitants …It was a well-organised and closed society. There was great harmony, a sense of love, unity and sincerity among the people. Nobody at that time went away from the community … during a cultural or social event…all the people [in the community] had to participate in the ceremony.” Hardships during Mir rule: forced labour and taxes. Present hardships: “It has become difficult to meet the basic needs of life such as clothes, education, health and other needs… people are suffering because they have no means of income or jobs.”
Section 3-4  Importance of education but also Shimshali culture and tradition. Music and dance “was an essential part of the traditions and custom.” Changes in marriage traditions: “Now the people get married later and bear children early… now most expenses are made on clothing and not on food”. His own engagement and marriage. Language: “Wakhi was the only language spoken by the people till 50 years back because there was no means of communication or interaction with the outside world…[it] is spoken also in the Sinkiang province of China, Tajikistan and the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan”.
Section 5-6  Changes in dress: “Now people have abandoned working hard and making the indigenous clothes… Earlier they had to be up until late at night to make the raw material for clothing”. Special clothes for wedding ceremonies. The making of sandals (long shoes made of animal skin) and other shoes. Hunting of markhors (wild mountain goats).
Section 6-7  Local poetry and folk song. Qurban’s singing career: “I used to sing in marriage ceremonies, in public gatherings in Shimshal and cultural shows in downtown Gulmit and Hunza.” Modern poets in Shimshal. Comparing modern versus classic poets: “Their poetries were substantive, with positive objects and of very high quality. But today’s poetry is subjective and lacks substance and quality”.
Section 8-10  Changes in livelihood; hardships of the past. Past respect for elders: “During travel, youngsters took care of the elders… when…we had to cross the frozen river 30 times. The youngsters took their elders on their back and crossed the river. At resting points they prepared barham (a fire made on soft sand to heat an area of the ground up for sleeping on) and first got … elders to sleep and they themselves slept in a cold place.” The Mir regime – paying of bap chap (taxes) in the form of “butter, ghee, qurut (local dried cheese), meat, live yak, goats, palos…”. Custom of bribing the Mir in return for job positions. The arbobi system – the different arbob (Mir’s main representative in the village) rulings. Comparing Mir regime with present day: “Now, despite the fact that many institutions of the Maula (the Aga Khan) have been established here, people do not work with responsibility and there is a lack of unity among the people.” Collective work in the past and the penalty for non-compliance. Present indifferent attitude towards collective work. His work with Imamati institutions (office of the Imam: Aga Khan): “I have worked in the volunteer corps, the tariqa (literally, the way; religious education) board, reconciliation board and council”.
Section 10  Dependence on tourism: “If the tourists don’t come then there is no other means of income to meet [our] daily requirements.” The end to the joint family system of livestock herding. The impact of tourism and a need for regulation: “It is vital to make some law and rules to govern the trade.”
Section 11-12  His work as an artisan (builder). His views on the proposed Khunjerab National Park: “Our condition will be the same as has happened with the people of Sost and Morkhoon who have lost the property rights of their land”. His grandfather Ma’ad – the second arbob: “Since he had spent most of his life on livestock farming, he was unable to get substantial agriculture land for us.” Educating his children: “I’m an illiterate person who doesn’t know other languages; I can’t even ask my rights from anyone… I was determined to impart education to my children so that they should not remain like me.”
Section 12  Concern with the new generation: “Nowadays no one accepts each other, or accommodates or tolerates each other. Even if I ask my own son to do something he too will not obey my orders or instructions.” Traditional sports and games played: polo, tuksori (game similar to cricket), tukbalbal (cap-snatching game), shooting.