Sunday, May 8, 2011


Birds in general are good and noble creatures, especially parrots and pigeons, which are popular as pets.  Chickens and pheasants also carry positive value, the former for eating, and the latter also for fighting.  Bird fights are very common and again raise the value of the animal; all variety of birds are fought.  In Persian literature, birds are often referred to in poetic context, especially in reference to romance and love.  They frequently feature in contemporary poems and songs.  The bulbul بلبل (the nightingale) is just such a symbol.  In Afghanistan, there is one potential exception to the generally positive association with birds - the eagle, which represents a kidnapper.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Saz - blood money

The word saz  سز is used for blood money or compensation in lieu of killing. Under the custom of saz a person who feels penitent after committing a deliberate murder, approaches the deceased’s family through a Jirga and offers to make payment of blood money to end the enmity between them. All hostilities come to an end between the parties after acceptance of saz. Sometimes the payment of compensation takes the form of giving a girl in marriage to the aggrieved party. It is also called swarah, which binds together the two parties in blood relations and thus helps in eradicating ill will and feeling of  enmity.

Hamsaya - neighbor

The word hamsaya همسایه stands for neighbor in Pashto, but it may also be applied to a man who abandons his home either due to poverty or due to blood feud and seeks protection of an elder of another village. In this way the latter becomes his client or vassal, it is therefore incumbent upon the protector to save his hamsaya from insult or injury from any source.

Balandra and Ashar

Balandra  (Pashto: blandra بلندره) is a word used by the Afridi tribe to express an invitation   Ashar  عشر) is an Arabic wording meaning tenth and can refer to a religious tithe or tax.  Both balandra  and ashar  can also be used to describe a village aid program under which a particular task is accomplished on the basis of mutual cooperation and assistance. At the time of sowing or harvesting, the villagers lend a helping hand to the man who seeks their help. They help to plough his fields at sowing time and assist him in reaping his crops at the time of harvest. The man thus obliged, by the fellow villagers holds a feast in their honor in the evening.

Itibar - Trust

Itibar إعتبار which means trust, or guaranteed assurance, is the arch of society, which is governed by unwritten laws or convention. All business including contracts relating to sale and mortgage or disposal of the property, is transacted on the basis of trust or itibar. Such transactions are verbal and are entered into in the presence of the village elders or a few witnesses. The violation of itibar is considered a dishonorable act, one unbecoming of a gentleman and contrary to the norms of Pashtunwali.

Cats in Afghan culture

(Pashto: pisho پیشو )

Cats are very positive.  If one has cleaned oneself for prayer, and one comes into contact with another animal – especially a dog– one would have to clean oneself all over again, except with cats.  Cats are allowed in the house, and they can even eat on the table.  They also eat mice: mice are considered very bad animals, primarily as they “steal” food.  Cats in Afghanistan are considered to have seven lives (as opposed to the Western conception of nine); also, if a black cat crosses one’s path, this is also considered bad luck, much like the Western superstition; one can break the bad luck by throwing something at the cat.


Mountains (Pashto: gharغر  plural gharuna غرونه) evoke spiritual beliefs and allude to the divine. They are most commonly used to evoke the grandeur of the divine and aspects of heavenly paradise. Therefore mountains are implicitly linked to notions of martyrdom and sacrifice. It is less common but also used to serve as graphic representations of specific areas of interest such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Kashmir.