Thursday, July 17, 2008


In my previous post I briefly mentioned Pashtunwali. Here I will explain it in a little more detail. Many in the West cannot seem to comprehend the concept, or recognize its importance in this part of the world. The Scots, Irish and much of the American South and West can probably grasp it for it is similar to the Celtic Way, the Code of the Highlands, the Code of the Southern Gentleman, the Code of the West, or the Code of the Hills.

Pashtunwali will not go away. It was part of the culture here long before Islam. We must recognize its importance in the lives of these people even if we think such concepts are "outmoded." Personally, I find them quite relavent and think that it is an important part of what modern societies have lost in their race to modernity.

Pashtunwali, or the Way of the Pashtun, is a set of traditional rules Pashtun tribes have lived by for thousands of years. Pashtunwali is significant in that nearly 40% of the Afghan population is Pashtun, and their code of conduct continues to have influence on legal and social decisions throughout Afghanistan today.

The four basic tenets of the Pashtun code of honor are:
  1. hospitality
  2. justice
  3. protection of women, family, and property
  4. personal independence

The value of personal independence in particular is very much an Afghan trait.

When there is a dispute, the local jirga, or group of elected elders, will use the customary Pashtunwali codes of conduct as its guide in passing judgment, and its decisions are widely respected.

Local rulers, who oversee Pashtunwali in their area, consider it more important than laws codified by any national government.

The development of a centralized Afghan state may have been impeded throughout the centuries by the traditional authority wielded by local jirgas who did not want any higher authority interfering in their local way of life.

Pashtunwali will continue to be a significant factor as the Afghan state works to define a judicial system.

The rules listed below have guided Pashtun tribesmen for centuries.

Badal refers to the right to retaliate if insulted (revenge).
Badragha is the safe escort of a fugitive or a visitor to his destination.
Balandra is the act of providing help to someone who is unable to complete his own work, such as a harvest. Repayment is usually a lavish dinner.
Baramta is the holding of hostages until claimed property is returned; service industry workers (tailors, barbers, etc.) are excluded from being taken hostage.
Bota is the seizing of property to ensure repayment of debt.
Ghundi is an alliance created against a common enemy.
Hamsaya refers to a man who has given his valuables to someone (usually an elder of another village) who can protect him from insult or injury.
Itbar is the trust in one's word or promise as a legally binding contract.
Lashkar is a large group of armed men who enforce the ruling of a jirga, much like a police and military force would.
Lokhay Warkawal is the acceptance of an alliance in order to gain protection from enemies.
Meerata is the murder of one male member of a family by another in order to ensure inheritance. This is a criminal act and the Jirga responds by punishing the culprit (usually by death).
Melmastia is generous hospitality, and Pashtuns consider it one of their finest virtues.
Mla Tarr is the provision of armed protection to help a family member or a close friend.
Nanewatei is the act of forgiveness or the grant of asylum, even to enemies. It is not accepted where the honor of a woman is involved.
Saz is "blood money" or other compensation (such as a daughter in marriage) given to appease a family after a murder.
Tarr is an agreement that gives protection to the involved parties.
Teega means literally "putting down the stone" and stands for ending the fighting between two feuding parties.


Charles Gramlich said...

I agree. I think we lose such codes at the risk of our future. I hate to see them eroded. Loved the vocabulary stuff. I'm saving this for future reference.

preTzel said...

Very interesting read.

I think it's important that we keep certain "codes" and cultural beliefs around because it's important as to who we, or they, are as a society.

The Muse said...

I'm learning so much from your posts. There is really a lot more to what's going on than what we are led to believe, or think.

This is an education for me. I thank you.

Take care!

J. L. Krueger said...


These old codes definitely provide(d) a moral compass. Their enduring nature, surviving by custom and word of mouth speaks to the truth that they offer.


Absolutely. We are wrong to expect the people who we view as "primitive" to set aside these codes that have guided them for centuries. When you compare these ancient codes, you find that there are more similarities than differences.

Hey Muse!

Well, that is why I decided to go this route while I'm deployed. It's one person's view without all the media filtering. I'm trying to leave my biases on my other blog. :)