Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Funeral Rituals in the Pashtun Society

A friend/classmate of mine is doing her Master's thesis on death/funeral rituals in the Pashtun society (really, societiessss). If you have any experiences or observations on this topic, please share them here. Alternatively, please free to suggest sources on the topic. I'll share whatever I find in a bit. In the meantime, whatever Twitter buddies share, I'll go ahead and paste it in this post. (Some might be in Pashto, and I don't plan to translate it right away. I do suggest that they be in English, though.)

Many, many thanks!

EDIT: While I have my own observations of attending funerals during my childhood and only ONE experience of attending a funeral last summer in Swat, I have some ideas that I hope might be considered for a research like this.

1. The age range of the deceased - (infants, children, adults, elderly)
2. Rural vs Urban
3. Afghanistan vs Pashtunkhwa (Pakistan)
4. Gender of the deceased
5. Gender of those performing the rites / responding to the death

Here are some responses so far:

@Azad Pashtun: Our school was near the graveyard so on the third day, a lot of women would bring parathas for which [we] always got a break. Parathas near the graveyard. Always women distributing them. 'Skaath' is another tradition. 5 or 10 rupees note often. New and crispy. Kids scramble to get those. often coming up a second time smw else to double it. Always difficult for me to tell the crowd 'Dao bo wakoo' when paying a visit. Always difficult to leave. So condolence. On day of someone's death, neighbors bring the food from homes. Family doesn't cook that day. 'Cha sara marra bandawal' is one of the issues. If one doesn't pay condolence visit, second will later not visit the first. Khairat on the third day. Vast silver platter and doday broken into pieces and mixed in shorba, masalfied fried oil poured on top. Some rich or shephard families will find enough da ghwa ghwarre and feed the village. Doesn't happen that often now. There is the all-village dinner in ghwarre mixed with sugar eaten with 'weshalay', very soft bread made of corn flour. And the digging of the grave. Taking part in it is an honor to help both in Islam and Pashtunwali. People take the 'marra' (the deceased one) in a 'kaat' (mazari fourposter) to the graveyard. Helping carry it is an honor again.

@ Khadim Durrani: Women are not part of the funeral cortège; they r absent while the person is being buried! [They come later to the graveyard.] They are not part of cortège & burial makes it different from other cultures!

@LOYSoch: veer kawan, zan wahal, wakhta rakagal, peryan razi, peghoruna warkawal she, patte khabarai rawazi...interesting stuff. 'n da pa mareh wrejo jagarai kege, oh 'n blame goes around why so and so is now dead if it wasn't for so and did or said.

@Najib Rahmani: the ostentatious wailing practised at some Pashtun funerals is Oscar-worthy.

@Me: You can detect a death in a family from many, many houses away because of the women's screams coming from that house. An announcement is made in the village that so-and-so has passed away (if an elderly or adult, not for children) The deceased person's body is placed in a bed (or a casket, but this is not common, I don't think) in the mandao or courtyard (see pictures for a better view), covered, and a close female family member sits by her/him, crying very loudly. Lots and lots of people are surrounded by the bed, everyone wanting to take a peak at the deceased. If the person died in an accident or in any way that caused extreme damage to her/his face, then the face is covered. Many families still choose to cover the face even if it's not harmed because of the negative effect it may have on the viewers. After some time, the body is taken for the ritual bath (this may happen at any time, possibly right before it's taken to the grave). The body lies there in that bed for a few hours until the funeral, which, if the person died the night before or that morning, takes places right after the noon prayer. It is religiously mandated that the body be buried within hours of the person's passing, and so Pashtuns, like other Muslims, don't keep the body overnight and make arrangements for a funeral to take place right away.

When it's time for the funeral, close male family members of the deceased come to take the deceased in a casket. Women may walk the deceased to the door, but they do not join the funeral or the burial, both of which only men participate in. (This has to do with the concept of public versus private space and ideas of pardah (seclusion, particularly gender segregation) in the Pashtun society.) While many Muslims believe that women are not allowed to visit graves, many other Muslims believe it's okay as long as the women don't get too emotionally crazy or "too carried away" at the graveyard, which does happen to some women. When the women go, they take Qur'ans with them to read. While at home, right after the deceased has been taken to the grave, the women take out their Qur'ans and other sources of what is called 'khatam" (a religious ritual that many Muslims participate in when they want forgiveness for themselves or others, or when they want anything else from God. The khatam is done usually in a large gathering because it is believed that the more people pray, the more people that are involved, the better the results) to seek forgiveness for the deceased. Every woman who is not on her menstruation and is in ablution reads one sipara, or section, of the Qur'an -- there are 30 sections in all of Qur'an.

As far as crying is concerned, women cry extremely loudly, and some even get what we call in Pashto "saadubi" and "peryaan" (seizure). I still don't know what the English term for "saadubi" is, but I've talked a little bit about it here. Basically, the woman screams for several minutes, if not around  half an hour, and often doesn't recognize herself or anyone around her or her surroundings. I think this happens to women who have depression, but I may be wrong. As for men, I have seen men crying -- but that's in rare cases. Last summer, at the death of my mother's aunt (God have mercy on her), I saw an uncle of mine crying. He tried not to let anyone see him, but me and some of my aunts saw him. My grandpa (mom's mom) was there, and because he was very close to his sister-in-law who had just passed away, he was in a terrible shape. Although men and women are segregated, the immediate, close male members of the family come in and go into the women's space when necessary, and this was when we saw that they were in tears. However, men's crying is nothing -- and I mean nothing -- like the women's. For women, there's also a lot of self-beating: they'll beat themselves uncontrollably while screaming at the top of their lungs. What they say while screaming depends on their relation to the deceased. The wife of the deceased might say, for instance, "What am I gonna do now? Who will provide for me? How am I to take care of my kids?" She may also start cursing herself, her life, her circumstances, everything. A daughter might scream that it's her fault her father died, or that she could've been a better daughter, or that last week, she didn't do something he had asked her to do. And so on. The other women may try to console her, reminding her that it is fate and there is nothing she could've done to prevent the death, but it doesn't work.

Also, it is popularly believed that if those who are burying the body "ask" the earth not to harm the deceased while it's in the grave (explained below briefly), then the person will not experience any of the sufferings that "bad" humans experience while in the grave. Families do this when they have family members abroad or those who were unable to make it to the funeral but needed to be there because of their close relationship with the deceased person. Once the family member(s) arrive, the deceased is taken out of the grave for that special family member's viewing, and another funeral takes place once the body is ready to be re-buried. (I personally don't know of any such cases, but I have heard of a few. I have no idea of how common this is and whether this is unique to Pashtuns or other Muslims do it as well.)

Re: the "earth" and its punishment for the deceased: Religiously, Muslims are taught that "good" people (i.e., pious, God-fearing Muslims) start receiving their reward of heaven right after death, as soon as they are buried. And "bad" people start receiving their punishment right after death, while in the grave.

More later.


  1. Im amazed on what they do. They give a high respect.

  2. Hi there, C-USA! Thanks for dropping by and giving your thought on it! Yes, they do give a lot of respect to the dead :) I think most societies do, and each one does it in different ways.


Dare to opine :)

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