Pashtunwali, or Pakhtunwali refers to the traditional lifestyle of the Pashtun people. It is the name for the un-written codes of honor that control, guide, and balance the character and discipline of the Pashtun’s way of life. The codes exercise a great influence on Pashtun actions, and have been held sacrosanct by Pashtun. A Pashtuwali code of honor is passed as oral tradition, from father to son and encompasses all activities from cradle to grave.
The history of Pashtunwali is as old as the history of the Pashtuns and every individual in Pashtun society is expected to abide by these age-old traditions. The more ones adheres to it s maxims of Pashtunwali codes in Pashtun society, the higher esteem he enjoys in his brotherhood and community. It embodies in itself, all the customs, tradition, heritage, customary law and all social relations. It is a concept conveying the meaning of tribal socio-economic, political and cultural system in totality—courage, hospitality, kinship, loyalty, love for friends, hostility, with enemy, chastity, morality, respecting rights, etc etc are different decrees of Pakhtunwali.The non-observance of these customary laws is considered disgraceful and may lead to expulsion of an individual or even a whole family.
The Pashtunwali codes of honor includes: Jirga, Badal, Nanawaty, Melmastia, Tor, Bad Narr, Badragga, Balandar, Baramta, Belga, Bota, Chalweshti, Chigha, Gundi/Hamshaya, Hujrah, Jirga, Karhay (Teega), Lashkar, Lokhay Warkawal, Lungai, Meerata, Melmastia, Mila Tarr, Mu’ajib, Nagha, Nanawatay, Nang, Nikat, Qalang, Rogha, Saz, Taroor, Tarr.
A Jirga is called for various purposes whether it be waging war or bringing peace between individuals, families, or tribes. Jirga, which consists of community elders and influential figures, is a traditional mechanism of conflict resolution in Afghanistan. The Jirga of today plays an important and constructive role in solving tribal matters. It is an authority for setting disputes and dispensing unbiased justice to all, irrespective of their social status, influence, or wealth. It has a very serious impact on the Pashtun society. It is a very close modern approximation to Athenian democracy. Jirga represents the essence of operational democracy under which every individual has direct say in shaping the course of things around him. What is not decided in the Jirga will be decided by bloodshed.
Selection: There are no hard and fast rules for the selection of Jirga members. All tribal elders Speen Geeri (the white-bearded) who are known for their honesty and integrity are considered eligible for its membership. Each one of them has the right to speak and freely express his opinion.
How Jirga works:
The Jirga exercises both executive and judicial roles and settles all disputes pertaining to the distribution land, property, blood feuds, blood money and other important inter-tribal affairs on the basis of tribal conventions, traditions and principles of justice. It performs judicial functions while setting a dispute and discharges police functions when a threat to peace and tranquility or a danger to life and/or property exists within tribal limits. The Jirga assembles in Hujra, a village mosque, or in an open field outside the village under a shady tree. The Jirga members usually sit in a circle without any presiding officer. This roundtable conference is like a meeting without a chairman and clearly reflects the Pashtun love of democracy and adherence to the principle of equality irrespective of birth, wealth etc. The Jirga passes a judgment after necessary investigation into the dispute. No effort is spared to reconcile the disputing parties. The decisions are of two types: one is based on the concept of Haq; the right, and the other on Waak; authority. Both sides are allowed to present their arguments its proceedings in a simple manner. It interviews both the parties, gives them a patient hearing and listens to witnesses to ascertain the facts of the case.
The Jirga makes every endeavor to find an impartial and acceptable solution of the problem. Jirga’s decision is generally based on Sharia, local traditions, justice, and fair play. In serious cases the Jirga asks a party to clear itself of the imputed charge by an oath on the Holy Quran. This seals the issue once and for all, as religion is an extremely strong force. It announces its decision only when the majority of its members reach an agreement. Often, Jirga members deem it prudent to obtain the consent of both the parties before making its verdict public. This practice is known as WAAK or IKHTIAR (Power of attorney). The Waak also gives a binding force to the Jirga’s verdict and it becomes incumbent upon the parties concerned to fully honor the Jirga’s verdict. The Jirga reprimands any party which refuses to accept its decision. In popular parlance this refusal to abide by the verdict of Jirga is called MAKH ARAWAL (literally, turning of face) or expression of disapproval over the party’s behavior. The Jirga does not interfere in small and petty family disputes until a formal request is made by a party to intercede on its behalf. Jirgas usually last for a day or two, but in some complicated cases, its deliberations are prolonged to three or more. It remains, however, the utmost endeavor of the Jirga to settle the dispute amicably as early as possible. It is also one of the fungitons of the Jirga to ensure that law and order and durable peace in the area prevail. The Jirga can be likened to the General Assembly of the United Nations. As all peace-loving nations can become members of the General Assembly, similarly the Jirga is composed of such elders who have stainless characters and spotless records. As no decision is taken in the United Nations without a majority vote, likewise the majority opinion prevails in the Jirga.
Types of Jirga
- Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly)
- Qaumi or Ulusi Jirga
- Shakhsi Jirga
Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly)
Loya Jirga is a political meeting used to elect a new president, adopt a constitution, and make decisions on important political matters of the country. In Afghanistan, Loya Jirga was initially attended only by Pashtuns, but later other ethnic groups also adopted the mechanism. The first Loya Jirga convened in 2500 BCE after many years of wars amongst tribes, the great Aryan tribe of Aryana selected Yama as their king. The Loya Jirga convened in Kabul in June of 2002 and elected Hamid Karzai as the interim president of the country. In today’s Loya Jirga women are also allowed and encouraged to participate. The most recent Loya Jirga convened in 2007 in Kabul between Afghanistan and Pakistan to jointly counter insurgency and improve security and stability on both sides of the border.
Qaumi or Ulusi Jirga
Is an assembly of the elders comprising each household of a certain village or community. It is convened to discuss matters such as:
- Collective property
- Right to distribution of irrigation water
- Common concerns e.g. selection of a site for a school
This Jirga is formulated in case a dispute arises between two individuals or families. The Jirga members are chosen from both the parties to arrive at a just settlement acceptable to both sides. In the following clip you will see a situation that causes a reason to call a Shakhsi Jirga.
A True Story: A boy from a neighboring village wanted to marry a girl from my village. The senior members of the boy’s family took the marriage proposal to the girl’s father, but my uncle refused the proposal. The boy’s family felt dishonored and did not agree to take “no” for an answer. They fired a few shots in the air. In Pashtunwali, firing in the air in this type of situation means that the girl became their Namoos (woman of honor), and so she cannot marry anybody else. By firing the air, the boy’s family dishonored the girl’s family. In order to restore the family’s honor, the girl’s brother shot and killed the person from the boy’s family who had fired the shots into the air.
After the killing, the skirmish between the two families intensified. In order to make peace between the families, a Jirga of elders was called. At the first, the girl’s father offered 20 sheep and 10 cattle to the victim’s family (the boy’s family), but the offer was turned down. The Jirga ordered an eight-month ceasefire between the families. A second Jirga convened after eight months. The victim’s (the boy’s) family demanded two women from the girl’s family and 10 million Afghanis (Afghanistan currency) to settle the dispute. However, the girl’s family did not want to settle the issue with women, in return the girl’s family offered more money to the victim’s family. After elongated negotiations with both parties, the elders ruled the girl’s family pay 25 million Afghanis to the victim’s family and reconcile the issue. The conflict between the two families still has not been settled, as the victim’s (the boy’s) family has yet to accept the Jirga’s decision. The family continues to demand more money than the awarded 25 million.
To my mind death is better than life
when life can no longer be held with honor
Khushal Khan Khattak
Self-respect and sensitivity to insult is another essential trait of Pakhtun character. The poorest among them has his own sense of dignity and honor and he vehemently refuses to submit to any insult. In fact every Pakhtun considers himself equal if not better than his fellow tribesmen and an insult is, therefore, taken as scurrilous reflection on his character. An insult is sure to evoke insult and murder is likely to lead to a murder. Badal (retaliation) and blood feuds generally emanate from intrigue with women, murder of one of the family members or their hamsayas, violation of Badragga, slight personal injury or insult or damage to property. Any insult is generally resented and retaliation is exacted in such cases.
A Pakhtun believes and acts in accordance with the principles of Islamic Law i.e. an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and blood for blood. He wipes out insult with insult regardless of cost or consequence and vindicates his honor by wiping out disgrace with a suitable action. But the urge for Badal does not mean that he is savage, blood thirsty or devoid of humane qualities. He is kind, affectionate, friendly and magnanimous and forgives anyone who kills his relatives by a mistake but he will not allow any intentional murder go without revenge. Proud of his descent, he becomes offensive only when an insult is hurled at him or some injury is done to him deliberately. He goes in search of his enemy, scans the surrounding area and hills, lies in wait for months and years, undergoes all hardships but does not feel content till his efforts of wreaking vengeance on his enemy are crowned with success. Those who fail to fulfill the obligations of Pakhtu (self-respect) by wiping out insult with insult, lose their prestige in the eyes of their compatriots, render themselves liable to Paighore (reproach) and earn an unfair name. According to Nang-e-Pakhtu or code of honor an un-revenged injury is the deepest shame and the honor of the person can be redeemed only by a similar action. It may, however, be noted that “there is little if any random crime or violence” in the tribal areas as the stakes are too high and the retribution too certain to follow.
Many daring stories of Badal or retaliation are recorded by European as well as Asian writers but one such story showing Pakhtuns’ strong urge for Badal has been related by Mrs Starr. She writes, “Once an old man with a white beard and hair came into the outpatient hall, and when his turn came to see the doctor’s, he said “I am old but give me sight that I may use a gun again. `To the doctors’ query he replied in quite a placid and natural manner: “I have not taken the exchange (revenge) for my sons’ death sixteen years ago.”
Another famous story of revenge, as told by T.C. Pennell, is that a Pakhtana girl who approached a court of law for justice but the judge expressed his inability to prosecute the offender for his imputed crime due to lack of ample evidence. This enraged the girl and she said in fit of anger, “Very well, I must find my own way”. She went in search of the murderer of her brother “who had escaped the justice of the law but not the hand of the avenger”. She “concealed a revolver on her person and coming up to her enemy in the crowded bazar, shot him point blank”.
Sometimes a Pakhtun becomes so sentimental that he vows not to take a meal with his right hand and sleep on ground instead of a charpaee (bedstead) until he has avenged the wrong done to him. Pakhtun history is replete with many examples of Badal and there are instances where a child born a few months even after the murder of his father has, wreaked vengeance on his enemy after patiently waiting for many years.
The obligation of Badal rests with the aggrieved party and it can be discharged only by action against the aggressor or his family. In most cases the aggressor is paid in the same coin. If no opportunity presents itself “he may defer his revenge for years, but it is disgraceful to neglect or abandon it entirely, and it is incumbent on his relations, and sometimes on his tribe, to assist him in his retaliation”. When a Pakhtun discovers that his dishonor is generally known, he prefers to die an honorable death rather than live a life of disgrace. He exercises the right of retribution with scant regard for hanging and transportation and only feels contented after avenging the insult. Badal resulted in blood feuds and vendetta in the past, but now due to the prevalent peaceful conditions in the tribal area and with the spread of education, the incidence of Badal are few and far between.
The Beast -- Russian War
Nanawatay derives from the verb to go in and is used when the vanquished party is prepared to go in to the house or hujra of the victors and beg forgiveness. There is no nanawatay when the dispute involves tor or injury to women. Some European writers define Nanawatey as grant of asylum to fugitives or extreme hospitality. An experienced British administrator who served as a Political Officer on the Frontier for a fairly long time describes it “an extension of the idea of Melmastia, (Hospitality) in an extreme form, stepped up to the highest degree”. But the grant of asylum or sanctuary is only one aspect of Nanawatey while its exact definition and true spirit seems to have been ignored. As a matter of fact, it is a means to end longstanding disputes and blood feuds and transform enmity into friendship. Under Nanawatey a penitent enemy is forgiven and the feuding factions resume peaceful and friendly in relations. Thus it creates a congenial atmosphere for peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding through eventual reconciliation.
When a person feels penitent over his past bellicose postures and hostility and expresses a desire to open a new chapter of friendly relations with his foe and live in peace and amity with him, he approaches the tribal elders, Ulema and religious divines for intercession on his behalf for a settlement. In this regard the Jirga’s efforts are always countenanced with favor and the very presence of the suppliant in the enemy’s Hujra creates a congenial atmosphere for resumptions of friendly relations. The host, who used to scan the neighborhood in an effort to avenge his insult, exercises patience and kindness and gently pardons his opponent for his past misconduct. This is followed by slaughtering of a buffalo, cow, or a few lambs or goats provided by the suppliant. A feast is held in the Hujra and with it the enmity comes to an end.
The customs relating to Nanawatey are more or less identical throughout the Pakhtun society. In some parts of the tribal areas, however, there was a custom according to which the suppliant used to go before his enemy with grass in his mouth and a rope round his neck as a mark of humility (this custom no longer exists). Sometimes women bearing the Holy Quran over their heads would approach the enemy’s house to plead their family member’s innocence in any given case. The tribesmen, like Muslims all over the world, have a deep faith in the Holy Quran and they, therefore, regard it as a sacrilegious act to deny the favor asked for through the Holy Book. Besides, the women are held in high esteem by Pakhtuns and therefore, a favor solicited through them is seldom denied. Sometimes a man manages to reach his enemy’s hearth and stays there till his request for Nanawatey is acceded to. However, if some obstacles lie in the way of acceptance of a Nanawatey then the suppliant bides his time for an opportune occasion such as occurrence of a death in his enemy’s family. He hurries to his enemy’s village, joins the funeral procession, tries to be one of the pall-bearers and announces his desire for Nanawatey. This evokes a spontaneous feeling of sympathy and the relatives of the deceased readily concede to their erstwhile enemy’s desire. It is, however interesting to note that no Nanawatey is accepted in which the honor of the women is involved.
Any one who gains access to a Pakhtun’s house can claim asylum. The owner of the house protects him/her even at the risk of his own life. Under Panah which is a subsidiary element of Nanawatey one can take shelter under the roof of a Pakhtuns’ house irrespective of caste, creed, status or previous relations. Though it would seem paradoxical yet Pakhtuns on several occasions have provided sanctuary to their deadly enemies. Panah is best illustrated by a story which, according to Mr. Claud Field “is often told on the Frontier”. Once a quarrel between a creditor and a debtor resulted in the death of the creditor near his village, the debtor made an un-successful bid to run away, but he was hotly chased by the deceased’s relatives. Having failed to escape the assassin approached a village tower and sought refuge in “Allah’s Name”. The chieftain of the tower, after enquiries from the fugitive realized that he had slain his brother. Instead of avenging his brother’s death on the spot, the chieftain calmly said to the fugitive, “you have killed my own brother, but as you have asked for refuge in God’s Name, in His name I give it.” He was forthwith admitted to the tower and the pursuers sternly forbidden to approach. When they departed, the chieftain gave the refugee an hour’s grace to leave the premises and be gone. The refugee made good use of the grace period and escaped death on that occasion, at least.
Another example of asylum, as recorded in books, is that of an old Pakhtun woman. It is said that once a gang of dacoits raided a village. The villagers, including the two sons of an old woman, came out to challenge the dacoits. Soon a fierce fight ensued between the two parties in which besides others both the sons of the old woman were also killed. The dacoits having found all escape-routes blocked, sought shelter in the house of the old woman. The pursuers, who were close on their heels, felt delighted that the dacoits were now in their grip. But on approaching the old woman’s house, they were deeply annoyed to find their way barred by her. Displaying traditional Pakhtun courage she determinedly said that she would not allow anyone to lay hands on them. “You don’t know” the pursuers angrily said, “They have killed your two sons”. “That may be so”, she calmly replied, “but they have come Nanawatey to my house and I cannot see anyone laying his hands on them so long as they are under my roof”.
The obligation of asylum frequently brought the Pakhtuns into conflict with the British during their one hundred years’ rule on the Frontier. The government, under various treaties and agreements entered into by the tribesmen with the British and under the principle of territorial responsibility, often insisted that tribesmen should refrain from harboring outlaws, but the Pakhtuns considering it as an act against the canons of Pakhtunwali, often refused to oblige the authorities inspite of threats of reprisals and severe punishment. The tribesmen’s obduracy in this connection, on many occasions, led to dispatch of military expeditions and economic blockades by the British. They braved all sufferings, bore the brunt of the enemy’s attack and suffered losses both in men and material but gallantly refused to hand over the guest outlaws. “In common with all Afghans”, writes Claud Field, “the Afridi exercise a rough hospitality and offer an asylum to any fugitive endeavoring to escape from an avenger, or from the pursuit of justice and they would undergo any punishment or suffer any injuries rather than deliver up their guest”. The denial of protection, says Sir Olaf Caroe, “is impossible for one who would observe Pakhtu, it cannot be refused even to an enemy who makes an approach according to Nanawatey.”
Ajab Khan Afridi, the hero of the famous Miss Ellis drama took refuge with Mullah Mahmud Akhunzada, a religious divine of Tirah Orakzai after the abduction of Miss Ellis. The British government brought enormous pressure on the Akhunzada to surrender Ajab Khan and his accomplices but he refused to deliver them on the ground that they had taken asylum under his roof and it was contrary to the norms of Pakhtunwali to hand them over to the government.
“It goes waste if you feed yourself alone;
It gives satisfaction to have your meal in company”
(Khushal Khan Khattak)
Pakhtun have been described as one of the most hospitable peoples of the world. They consider Melmastiya or generous hospitality as one of the finest virtues and greet their guest warmly with a broad smile on their faces. A Pakhtun feels delighted to receive a guest regardless of his past relations or acquaintance and prepares a delicious meal for him. “Each house,” says Mirza Agha Abbas of Shiraz, “subscribes a vessel of water for the mosque and for strangers”. Dilating on the subject Mr. L. White King says that “Pathans regard dispensing of hospitality as a sacred duty, and supply their guests with food according to their means”. Guests are usually entertained in a Hujra (village meeting place), where guests are entertained and routine meetings of the elders are held. Each village contains at least, one Hujra. The host kills a fowl if he cannot afford to slaughter a lamb or goat and prepares a sweet dish (Halwa) to satisfy his sense of hospitality. Guests are not only looked after but also respected. “A rich chief”, says T.L. Penall, “will be satisfied with nothing less than the slaying of the sheep when he receives a guest of distinction. A poorer man will be satisfied with the slaying of a fowl”.
Pakhtuns feel happy over the coming of the guests and greet them with traditional slogans, “Har Kala Rasha” and “Pa Khair Raghley” and “Starrey Mashey” i.e. may you often come, welcome and may you not be tired. He also exchanges such courtesies with the guest as “Jorr Yai” (are you well) “Kha Jorr Yai” (are you quite well) and “Takrra Yai” (are you hale and hearty). The guest gratefully acknowledging these forms of welcome by saying “Pa Khair Ossey”, (may you be safe) “Khudai de mal sha” (May God be with you) “Khushal Ossey” (may you be prosperous and happy) and “Ma Khwaraigey” (may you not be destitute). This way of greeting full of friendly gestures reflects the warmth with which the guests are received. The arrival of the guest in Hujra is immediately followed by tea and later the guest is served with a rich meal consisting of Halwa (a special sweet dish), Pullao (rice dish) and other seasonal dishes. When the guest sets off on his journey he is bade farewell in these words “Pa Makha De Kha” (may your journey be safe and happy).
The guest of an individual is considered as the guest of all and he is jointly entertained by the villagers in the Hujra. A variety of dishes are prepared and the elders of the family lunch or dine with the guest on a common piece of cloth (Dastarkhwan) spread over a carpet. It is one of the cardinal principles of Pakhtun’s hospitality to request the guest to sup or take a few morsels with the village folk even though the guest may have had his meals but the etiquette enjoins upon the guest to oblige his hosts by taking a few more morsels. After they have partaken of a meal the company prays to Allah to give the host riches and prosperity and power of entertaining more guests.
Giving a vivid description of Pukhtoon hospitality, Sir Olaf Caroe writes “The giving of hospitality to the guest is a national point of honor, so much so that the reproach to an inhospitable man is that he is devoid of Pakhtu. It is the greatest of affronts to a Pathan to carry off his guest, and his indignation will be directed not against the guest who quits him but to the person who prevails on him to leave. This, or something like it, was the reception accorded to the outlaws from British justice who fled to the hills.”
Another example of Pakhtun hospitality is recorded by Dr. Pennel who served in Bannu and the adjoining tribal areas as a missionary doctor for a number of years. He writes “on one occasion I came to a village with my companion rather late in the evening. The chief himself was away but his son received me with every mark of respect and killed a fowl and cooked a savory Pullao”. He adds, “Late at night when the Khan returned and found on enquiry that the Bannu Padre Sahib was his guest, he asked if he had been suitably entertained. To his dismay he heard that only a chicken had been prepared for dinner. Immediately, therefore, he ordered a sheep to be killed and cooked, so that his honor might be saved.” To their minds, says another English writer, “hospitality is the finest of virtues. Any person who can make his way into their dwellings will not only be safe, but will be kindly received.”
As has been suggested earlier that Pakhtuns are sensitive about the honor of their women folk and slight molestation of the women is considered a serious and an intolerable offence. The cases of adultery and illicit relations are put down with iron hand in and no quarter is given to culprits either male or female. Casting of an evil eye on woman is tantamount to imperil one’s life. Both sexes, therefore, scrupulously avoid indulgence in immoral practices.
If a Pakhtuns discovers that a particular person is carrying a liaison with any female of his house, then he neither spares the life of the female nor that of her seducer. This is called Tor in Pakhtu (literally meaning black but used for public disgrace and defamation) or stigmatization of both male and female who are found guilty of illicit amour on sufficient evidence. Both the man and woman are put to death according to the customary law and this type of notoriety, abuse and slander is wiped out with the blood of the culprit. Besides adultery, death penalty is also prescribed for elopement, which also falls under the purview of Tor. In cases of Tor murder is not accounted for and the tribal law to kill their female relation as well as her paramour justifies the woman’s relatives. In case any of the persons guilty of adultery succeeds in absconding, the heirs of the female have every right to kill him/her whenever and wherever an opportunity presents itself. Otherwise the matter remains Paighor (reproach).
Tor has two aspects. If a woman is criminally assaulted and raped by force by a man with whom she had no previous illicit relations, then the woman is spared because of her innocence and the guilty man alone is put to death. According to the tribal custom, the accused is handed over to her parents, or her husband, if she is married. If the culprit’s family refuses to hand him over to the Jirga or the relatives of the violated woman, then the adulterer’s family is forced to abandon their village and seek refuge outside tribal limits. In such cases the relatives of the woman have a right to wipe out the insult by killing the accused himself or his brother or father. Not only the husbands but also brothers consider themselves bound to wipe out the insult.
The second aspect of Tor is that if the infidelity of a woman or the alleged involvement of adultery of both male and female is proved, then both are put to death. It is because of such deterrent punishment and embarrassing death that both the sexes dare not indulge in fornication.
Tor can only be converted to Spin (white) by death.