History of Pakhtuns and Pakhtunwali

Topics: Pashtun people, Khushal Khan Khattak, North-West Frontier Province Pages: 10 (3824 words) Published: October 5, 2005
The Pakhtun social structure, which has attracted the attention of many a scholar is mainly governed by conventions and traditions and a code of honor known as "Pakhtunwali". This un-written code is the keystone of the arch of the Pakhtuns' social fabric. It exercises a great influence on their actions and has been held sacrosanct by them generation after generation. The Pakhtunwali or the Pakhtun code of honor embraces all the activities from the cradle to the grave. It imposes upon the members of the Pakhtun society four chief obligations. Firstly Nanawatey or repentance over past hostility or inimical attitude and grant of asylum, secondly Teega or a truce declared by a Jirga to avoid bloodshed between two rival factions, thirdly Badal or obligation to seek revenge by retaliation and fourthly Melmastiya or an open hearted hospitality which is one of the most sublime and noble features of Pakhtun character. In a broad sense hospitality, magnanimity, chivalry, honesty, uprightness, patriotism, love and devotion for the country are the essential features of Pakhtunwali.

The history of Pakhtunwali is as old as the history of the Pakhtuns and every individual of Pakhtun society is expected to abide by these age old traditions. The non-observance of these customary laws is considered disgraceful and may lead to expulsion of an individual or even a whole family. Pakhtunwali, Pukhto and Pakhtun have become almost synonymous terms.


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 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 favour 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 neighbourhood 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 members 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 favour 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...
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