The Pathan of South Central Asia
A cluster of 7 Pathan groups in 5 countries.
The Pathan of Afghanistan, and the U.K. The Western Pathan of Iran and the U.A.E.
The Eastern Pathan of Pakistan and the U.A.E. The Southern Pathan of Pakistan.
The Pathan have played an important role in the history of their region. From their community came Muslim rulers, administrators, and soldiers. While many of them have moved out of the highlands in search of an easier life in the plains, their mountainous homeland continues to be their citadel of strength and freedom.
The Pathan are said to be elegant, colorfully attired, hospitable, considerate, fierce in hatred, and kind in friendship. Though very dedicated to their religious beliefs, they are also fond of pleasure. They are known for their marksmanship and their love of honor.
What are their lives like?
At the core of Pathan society is the extended family. Each family group owns its own land and lives in a fortified residence called a qala. Every qala is divided into two areas: a general living area and the private living quarters. A high wall in the middle separates the two areas.
Distinctive tribal customs and traditions also form an integral part of Pathan society. The true essence of their culture can be seen in the "code of ethics" that they live by. This unwritten code is called Pushtunwali ("the way of the Pushtun"), and is close to the heart of every Pathan.
Pushtunwali is followed religiously, and it includes the following practices: melmastia (hospitality and protection to every guest); nanawati (the right of a fugitive to seek refuge, and acceptance of his bona fide offer of peace); badal (the right of blood feuds or revenge); tureh (bravery); sabat (steadfastness); imamdari (righteousness); 'isteqamat (persistence); ghayrat (defense of property and honor); and mamus (defense of one's women).
Pathan men usually wear sleeveless, embroidered vests over long sleeved, cotton shirts that are buttoned at one shoulder and hang over baggy trousers. They also wear unique turbans, which are tied in such a way to indicate tribal identity. In certain inaccessible regions, rifles, pistols, knives, and other weapons are considered essential items of dress. The women wear basically the same type clothing as the men, but they generally use more colorful material.
The Pathan tribes range from the highly educated, who live in cities, to tent-dwelling nomads. Although their societies are based on tribal traditions, the Pathan who live in cities or villages have a different attitude towards social status than do the nomads. This is because the villages are made up of both Pathan and non-Pathan peoples. In most cases, the Pathan are the landowners.
Members of the wealthier Pathan families will occasionally farm or tend to the animals; but they will not engage in any other occupation within the village. The men usually perform the more difficult tasks outside the home, while the women are responsible for the things within the home.
Traditionally, inheritances are divided equally among all the sons. The daughters are usually excluded, in spite of the clear teachings in the Koran concerning such matters. A daftari is a man who possesses a share in the tribal lands and has a voice in tribal councils. Such a person is regarded with high esteem in Pathan society.
What are their beliefs?
What are their needs?
Today, most of the work by various mission agencies in Afghanistan has ended due to unrest in the country.
Many of the Pathan are extremely poor and live in unsanitary conditions (mainly poor water). A large number of the adults are also illiterate. The need for qualified medical teams and school teachers is great.
Since their entire way of life is opposed to change, the Pathan present one of the strongest challenges to the Christian Church today. Much intercession is needed if they are to be successfully reached with the Gospel.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.