Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Literature on Pashtunwali, the Pashtun Society, and Honor

Not sure how much of this is academic stuff, but I imagine all of it is worth considering when we study Pashtunwali/Pukhtunwali, commonly defined as "the honor code of the Pashtuns," or "the tribal code of the Pashtuns."

"Doing Pashto: Pashtunwali as the Ideal Honourable Behaviour and Tribal Life among the Pashtuns" (through the Afghan Analysts Network) by Lutz Rzehak

"Gendering Pukhtunwali" by
Amineh Ahmed (in The News International 2000)

"Pashtunwali's Relevance as a Tool for Solving the Afghan Crisis" by Craig Cordell Naumann
(NOTE: I have this article available in PDF, but I don't know how to upload it to this blog. Contact me at if you're interested in reading it.)

Pashtunwali (through

Pukhtu: The Pukhtun Code of Life by Sultan-i-Rome

The Way of the Pashtun: Pashtunwali (PDF) by Major Richard Tod Strickland
(NOTE: For critical response to a couple of the ideas in this article, including that of the Three Zs (Zar, Zan, and Zamin = gold, women, and land - respectively), please click here.)

While I'm at it, let me also go ahead and share here my bibliography on the topic of Honor, Women, and the Pashtun Society (sorry for the inconsistencies in the format. This has not been formalized yet; it will be once I actually start working on my thesis).

Ahmed, Amineh. Sorrow and Joy among Muslim Women: The Pukhtuns of Northern Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Anderson, Jon W. “How Afghans Define Themselves in Relation to Islam.” In Revolutions and Rebellions in Afghanistan: Anthropological Perspectives, edited by M. Nazif Shahrani and Robert L. Canfield. Berkeley: Institute for International Studies, 1984.

Atayee, M. Ibrahim. A Dictionary of the Terminology of Pashtun’s Tribal Customary Law and Usage, translated by A. Mohammad Shinwari. Kabul,: International Center for Pashto Studies, Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan, 1979.

Barth, Fredrik. Features of Person and Society in Swat: Collected Essays on Pathans. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.

Boesen, Inger W. “Women, Honour, and Love: Some Aspects of the Pashtun Woman’s life in Eastern Afghanistan.” Folks (1979 – 80).

Boesen, Inger W. “Conflicts of Solidarity in Pashtun Women’s Lives.” In Women’ in Islamic Societies: Social Attitudes and Historical Perspectives, edited by Bo Utas.

Canfield, Robert L. “Suffering as a Religious Imperative in Afghanistan.” In The Realm of the Extra Human, edited by A. Bharati. The Hangue: Mouton, 1977.

Currer, Caroline. Pathan Mothers in Bradford. Warwick, United Kingdom: University of Warwick, 1981.

Currer, Caroline. “Lay Concepts of Illness and Depression, and Their Relation to Illness Behaviorr, amongst Pathan Mothers in an English City.” In Proceedings of Workship on Lay Culture and Illness Behavior, edited by B. Tax. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Department of Social Medicine, 1984.

Drumbl, Mark A. Rights, Culture, and Crime: The Role of Rule of Law for the Women of Afghanistan.

Grima, Benedicte. “The Pakhtun Tapos: From Biography to Autobiography.” Asian Folklore Studies 44 (1985).

Grima, Benedicte. The Performance of Emotion among Paxtun Women: The Misfortunes Which Have Befallen Me. University of Texas Press, 1992.

Grima, Benedicte. “The Role of Suffering in Women’s Performance of Paxto.” In Gender, Genre and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions, edited by A. Appadurai, F. Korom, and M. Mills. Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

Grima, Benedicte. Secrets from The Field: An Ethnographer's Notes From North Western Pakistan

Grima, Benedicte.. “Suffering as Esthetic and Ethic among Pashtun Women.” Women’s Studies Internatioinal Forum 9, no. 3 (1986).

Emadi, Hafizullah. Repression, Resistance, and Women in Afghanistan (Karachi: Royal Book Co, 2002)

"Honor," "Shame," "Loya Jirga." In Encyclopedia of Modern Islam, John Esposito, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Ismati, Muhaqiq Massoma. The Position and Role of Afghan Women.

Khattak, Saba Gul. “Adversarial discourses, Analogous Objectives: Controlling Afghan Women” (Cultural Dynamics, 2004); and “Insecurity: Afghan refugee camps and politics in Pakistan” (Journal of Critical Asian Studies 2003).

Knabe, Erika. “Afghan Women: Does Their Role Change?” in Louis Dupree and Linette Albert (eds.), Afghanistan in the 1970s (New York: Praeger, 1974).

Maggi, Wynne. Our Women are Free: Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2001).

Minallah, Samar. “A License to Kill," accessed online (.::Ethnomedia & Development::.).

Minallah, Samar. "A Threat to Honour."

Minallah, Samar. "A Tale of Two Wives."

Minallah, Samar. "Killed for Pride."

"Pakhtunwali" and "`Aql" and "Nafs." In South Asian Folklore Encyclopedia, edited by Peter Claus and Margaret Mills. New York & London: Routledge, 2003.

"Social structure & the veil: comportment & the composition of interaction in Afghanistan," Anthropos 77, 1982.

Tapper, Nancy. Bartered Brides: Politics, Gender and Marriage in an Afghan Tribal Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Tapper, Nancy. “Causes and Consequences of the Abolition of Brideprice in Afghanistan.” In Revolutions and Rebellions in Afghanistan: Anthropological Perspectives, edited by M. Nazif Shahrani and Robert L. Canfield. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California, 1984.

Tapper, Nancy. “Pashtun Nomad Women in Afghanistan.” Asian Affairs 8 (1977).

"Tribe and community among Ghilzai Pashtun," Anthropos 70, 1975.

Yassari, Nadjma. The Shar’a in the Constitutions of Afghanistan, Iran, and Egypt: Implications for Private Law (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005).

Pukhtun Women: Traditional Role, Contemporary Challenges (PDF) by Khurshid Khan

Being Pashtun – Being Muslim: Concepts of Person and War in Afghanistan” by Bernt Glatzer. (what is namus? What is its relationship with nang? What is sharam? Relationships between men and women in the Pashtun society.)


  1. All of it is about women, Pakhtunwali has more to it than just killing women

  2. Pa khair, Topak Khana!
    Thank you for dropping by and sharing your thought!

    Ahhh - what would you know! My critique is the same. That's what Pashtunwali is always reduced to, isn't it? Women and honor -- and that, too, honor is interpreted very negatively, such that it destroys the woman.

    But this is by no means all there is out there on Pashtunwali, and I'm always on the look out. If you find something, preferably something different, please share.

    Note something, though: when Pashtun women (e.g., Samar Minallah) discuss honor, it's in the conventional sense that honor is bad for our society; when non-Pashtun women (e.g., Benedicte Grima) discuss it, it's more like ... well, they ask what else honor constitute. And they discover that practices like "tapos" is also included in honor. This part, I agree with. So here, they're re-interpreting what honor is in the Pashtun society... albeit still entirely reduced to women alone.

    Khair, I hope to find more.

    1. Excellent blog.
      Pakhtunwali as I know it, is not specific to time, space and gender. We must look at it from a neutral perspective (very hard for an insider/native though), let we interpret it the way the local people does it, let our academic/ethnic/political/tribal affiliations do not overcome the actual/on-ground realities. It must not be samar minallah to call it good or bad rather it should be those people who are living under its influence.

    2. Khan La, thank you for your important insight! Your visit and opinion are much appreciated!

    3. The data we usually have on Pakhtuns is often very journalistic, reported mostly by people who are either ill informed OR are armchair experts.

      Your blog is informative, up-to-date, first-hand (the most important reason why this blog attracted my attention) and highlights issues that matter to me (at least). I hope you keep your good work up and bring more and more issues under discussion.

    4. Qrratugai is simply inspiring! Let me laud her sincere and unconditional support. I feel short of words when i mention her name. It is her extended help that inspired me to work on Pushtunwali. I dedicate my work to her dedicated efforts.

  3. You are right, and though it doesn't look from my comment but I was not criticizing people for focusing only on women, it was more of comment in desperation that so few people have written on Pakhtunwali and amongst them most on one aspect of it. I just have this longing that more people write about different aspects. Thanks for explaining the re-interpretation of honor part.
    hope you find more

  4. Sticking to my analysis of Pakistan pukhtuns the pukhtunwali code or as some of the earlier posted comments pointed out that they are woman centric but to a great extent things have changed for the pukhtuns settled in plain areas as compare to pukhtuns living in FATA

  5. Well....its a good biblio on women & Pashtunwali.
    But in more broader sense I feel like every study of 'Pashtunwali' should start from the question how the indigenous(pakhtuns)interpret or categories?Do they call it pashtunwali or is it an external category.I feel like there must be a study which should trace that how n when for the first time Pashtunwali appeared in literature about Pashtun and how n who stabilized it meaning through ages.In this regard the article of Edwards 'Images of Pathans, can be a good start to see politics of representation in colonial reports.
    If you ve problem loading pdf,please use to upload your article and share the link here on your blog.
    Lastly,the concept of public and private should be explored in the context of women and purdah.


  7. Thanks for your comments, guys! Sorry for the late response! I just saw these comments :)

    @ Mona: Absolutely. There should be different categories, and I'm thinking of at least three, when dealing with Pukhtunwali and Pukhtuns. They are: Pashtun in settled areas, tribal areas, and the diaspora. They all see and practice Pukhtunwali differently primarily because of their circumstances, lifestyle, and/or environment.

    @ Anonymous: Good idea to post it SCRIBD. I also agree with you that before anyone attempts to study Pshtunwali (or any other system), they should first make sure they understand it from the point of view of the indigenous. I don't know of any scholars (or very few ones) who've done this, which is the reason we get titles like most of the above: all negative. I may be proven wrong, but I don't think practices/ideas/systems like Pashtunwali that the people/practitioners themselves find harmful to their society would last for long. Just because the outsider (or even insiders who are opposed to the system) find it unjust or wrong doesn't mean it's really wrong necessarily.

    You'd hope and think that there should be a study of Pashtunwali that traces its origin, including the firs time the word was used, but I haven't found any such study yet myself. If they exist and anyone knows about it, they are requested to share the source here.

    Thanks again for your comments, folks!

  8. Really Great Effort Qrratugai.. You have summed up almost everything about Pushtunwali. It was really helpful for me as currently I am working on my thesis on Understanding Pushtunwali in the light of Jameel Ahmad's novel The Wandering Falcon.
    Plus I am surprised to know that You belong to the same Valley Swat, here I do live.
    Keep it Up Mam.

  9. Really Great Effort Qrratugai.. You have summed up almost everything about Pushtunwali. It was really helpful for me as currently I am working on my thesis on Understanding Pushtunwali in the light of Jameel Ahmad's novel The Wandering Falcon.
    Plus I am surprised to know that You belong to the same Valley Swat, here I do live.
    Keep it Up Mam.


Dare to opine :)

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