The Pashayi of Afghanistan
A Cluster of 2 Pashayi Groups in Afghanistan
The Pashayi (also known as the Pashai) live in the deep valleys of the Hindu Kush Mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. The term Pashayi is used to describe those groups who speak the Pashayi language, although very few of the people actually refer to themselves as Pashayi. The Pashayi speakers are often called Safi, Kohistanis, or Nuristanis. Pashayi is a Dardic language that has many dialects, most of which cannot be mutually understood. The Pashayi (Pashai) speak the southeastern dialect, while the Southwestern Pashayi speak the southwestern dialect.
The origin of the Pashayi is uncertain. Several well known scholars who have studied the Pashayi language and culture believe that they once lived in the plains of northeastern Afghanistan. With the arrival of Pashto invaders, the Pashayi were forced to seek refuge in the mountains, where geographical isolation from each other fostered the growth of numerous dialects. They converted to Islam in the late sixteenth century.
What are their lives like?
The Pashayi have a rich tradition of folklore and music. The lyrics of their songs often tell stories about their culture. Traditionally, every year after harvest, the young people would travel from village to village singing new songs that had been composed during the year.
Pashayi villages are led by a village council, which consists of representatives from each extended family unit. The council usually governs matters that affect the entire village, such as the distribution of irrigation water. However, the council remains completely uninvolved in personal disputes, leaving each individual responsible for enforcing his own rights and avenging wrongs committed against him. This results in many bloody feuds among the Pashayi.
In Pashayi culture, masculinity and honor are the most important values. To the Pashayi, the "ideal man" is one who is a proud warrior, loyal to his family, dangerous to his enemies, and always prepared to engage in a feud if necessary. Every man carries a knife and often a rifle or a handgun.
What are their beliefs?
Islam is a religion of works that is based on five central teachings or "pillars." Muslims must affirm that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." They are also required to pray five times a day, give alms to the poor, fast during the month of Ramadan, and try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.
Today, the most extreme Islamic faction is currently in power in Afghanistan, and has imposed Islamic Sharia law on the nation. The Sharia forbids the people to eat pork, domesticated donkey, and animals or birds of prey, but permits camel and other types of meat to be eaten. No animal (except for fish or insects) may be eaten unless prepared in accordance with Islamic slaughtering practices or for Islamic religious sacrifices. Although drinking intoxicating beverages is forbidden, some Muslims circumvent this prohibition by boiling wine down to a concentrate and sweetening it with honey and spices.
What are their needs?
Already impoverished before the war, the Pashayi were in the middle of much of the fighting that only served to make their plight even worse. Their land and economy are completely destroyed, and education, communication, transportation, and health care facilities are very poor, even non-existent. The average life expectancy in Afghanistan is only about 46 years—one of the world's lowest. The adult literacy rate is only about 25%. Perhaps Christian teachers and medical workers will have the greatest opportunity to minister to the Pashayi.
Although the physical needs of the Pashayi are staggering, they pale in comparison to their spiritual needs. There are no known Christians among the Pashayi or the Southwestern Pashayi. No Christian resources are available in their languages, and no Christian missions agencies are permitted to enter Afghanistan, except as relief workers. Only fervent prayer can break the forces of darkness that are keeping them bound.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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