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Chiragh Ali











17 July 2000


Much of this interview with Chiragh Ali is focused on festivals. He describes these in great detail, providing a fascinating insight into the traditional celebrations, many of which are connected to livestock and the pastures. He talks in particular about the festivals of Wulyo and Chaneer (harvest festival), when people from Shimshal would travel to Pamir (the pastures) before returning with butter. He describes some of the activities, and recalls his own experience of going to Pamir as a shartwurza (guest of the year in Pamir), explaining how they were invited to eat in every house: “we would attend every house as a gesture of respect and would fully enjoy the foods.”

He offers an interesting opinion on the reason for the decline in such activities. He explains that people no longer have as much time as they used to: “the traditions that were practised by our ancestors were for the reason that people had surplus time… today our Maula [check: see query re ‘maula’ in Spiritual Beliefs and Festivals themes] (spiritual leader) and the government insist upon us acquiring education… nobody is free, everyone is busy and nobody has time to celebrate these festivals.” He appears to accept such a decline as inevitable, and feels that “the customs and traditions may disappear as a result of modernisation”. However, he stresses that some traditions should be preserved “lest our culture vanishes and our children remain ignorant of their past”, and expresses regret that marriage ceremonies are no longer celebrated with as much singing and narration of traditional folk tales.

Towards the end of the testimony he recalls fondly his time spent in Pamir during childhood, saying: “I lived a very happy and prosperous life … I never had domestic problems or worries.” He concludes the testimony describing the pain of losing his wife, to whom he was married when he was eight, and who died earlier in 2000: “Though it is the law of nature and everyone in his turn has to leave this world, still the sudden death of my wife was a great shock to me...”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Detailed scene setting and introduction by the interviewer. Discussion of culture: “Culture means the mode of living and the dress, the way of life and the religious practices and festivals… our ancestors lived an agro-pastoral life in Shimshal. And they left us certain customs connected to that mode of life.” Tagam (sowing festival) and Safza Sar (crop-sprouting festival). Explains the role of women in the Kooch (migration with livestock to and from the pasture) festival. Detail on customs around Kooch: custom of Mirgichig (purification): “Then the first fresh butter is donated to the community centre in the name of God. Thereafter everyone formally begins producing dairy products from their livestock.” Explains the shanipoos (decorated male sheep), the practice of spraying milk and yoghurt on the livestock: “It means that, may God increase our subsistence and may we get prosperous.”
Section 4-5  Other festivals celebrated in Pamir: “Prior to Chaneer (harvest festival) all the people would do ashar (unpaid labour for Mir – rulers of Hunza state up to 1974).” Explains ashar and the role of the yarpa (Mir’s representative responsible for livestock production and supervision of central grain store). History of Wulyo: “two shartwurza go to Pamir from the village then every household at Pamir invites them to their houses and serves them with special foods.” The game played: “6 or 10 people come from Shimshal and hide themselves in elevated places and in the night they attack the yaks and cut the rope from which the yaks are tied up and return to Shimshal the same night” . If “caught by the people at Pamir they put them in prison and punished them”. Discusses the other festivities and games played, including the collection and transportation of butter to Shimshal: “The butters were melted and purified and were refrozen in the stomach of a slaughtered animal and were carried with them for further use at Paryen on the way down to Shimshal… This butter was transported to Shimshal because butter was not available at Shimshal.”
Section 6-7  Crossing the river by cableway on the third day of Chaneer. Experience of going to Pamir as shartwurza: “In fact, shartwurza were treated as kings, we were seated respectfully and the elders would keep standing - as a gesture of respect - in order to welcome the shartwurza.” They were invited to 10-15 households daily. He believes this “is a wrong custom. Though we inherit it from our ancestors it is extravagant… people live a more busy life today than the past and it is not advisable to waste time in such a way by just attending the banquets the whole day.” Second time he went to Pamir as shartwurza was because no one had volunteered and the elders were worried. He describes their late arrival being greeted by the senior women: “the people of Pamir formally welcomed us as shartwurza. They appreciated our efforts for reviving the vanishing custom of shartwurza.”
Section 8  Difficulties experienced when returning – trying to get the yak across the flooded river: “I was unable to see any thing under the water. I just thought that I was drowning. I lost hope for survival, but thank God, the yak was very strong - he swam with great power to cross the river.” More description of the return journey. The Shegd pagash diyetk (tasting of the new crop) festival – food is eaten collectively in the house of the numberdar (government representative in the village).
Section 9  Decline in the celebration of Chaneer: “The commitments of people have increased, migration is taking place for the sake of employment and more tourists are coming to the village and most of the people travel with them and earn their subsistance. Also more people go - when they return they deem such festivals as a waste of time.” Pragmatic view of festival decline: the ancestors used festivals to fill surplus time, now with education people are too busy. He thinks certain festivals should be preserved. “… festivals also demand the presence of people. Today nobody is available even to irrigate their crop fields, then who will afford time to celebrate these festivals?... If all the people do not participate in the festival then there is no true enjoyment.”
Section 10-11  Marriage ceremonies in the past - parents selected the girl for their son. He was married when he was eight: “I was worried because I was too young to differentiate between good and bad things, how to shoulder the responsibilities of having a wife and how she would make the adjustments with me…” The system of marrying children young: “I would not condemn the practice as it was the system of that era. But I think that the custom of betrothal practised today is much better because today people get married in accordance with their own will and likeness when they mature…” Music played at marriage ceremonies; in the past there were also dramas. Gives an example of a song about a mother ibex and its baby.
Section 12-13  Today marriage ceremonies are less jubilant: “…nowadays everything is lost. The orchestra and the singers all are dead, now nobody practises it.” Folk tales were narrated in marriage houses; “today they sit silent and the elders do not let the youth even make a noise.” Detailed description of the clothes worn for marriage ceremonies. The food, eating arrangements and other customs: “The bride and bridegroom both would invite all the villagers to a banquet…In the course of preparation, the close relatives of bridegroom and bride would invite them into their houses one by one and the villagers would arrange dinner for them during these four-five days…”
Section 14-15  Discussion of tamsol (sayings): “Tamsol is a saying in a philosophical way. …In former times the political persons were termed as tamsolgo (those who refer to the sayings), because they would speak with references and examples, like you people ask questions with different tricks.” The story of a tamsol invented by an ancestor. Story of his life: “I was the only son of my parents. I had four sisters. From my childhood till youth my parents loved me, as I was their favourite son.” Recalls his marriage ceremony; time spent in Pamir in his childhood: “there were no activities at Pamir and very good food like milk, butter and meat was abundantly available. In this way I spent a luxurious life.”
Section 16  Participation in community works: “I would join colleagues in all the community works…In recognition of those services I was appointed as member of Tariqa (literally, the way; religious education) board and in 1987 I became member of the local council that was a great opportunity for me.” The death of his wife. Ends with the interviewer blessing the narrator.