Text by Shujaat Ali, Photos by Murtaza Baig
Nomus is the philanthropic system of community development practiced in Shimshal valley. This tradition is present in different communities of the world under different names. In Nomus members of the community in possession of sufficient wealth “sponsor” a bridge, trail or building, for the community’s benefit, by providing resources for the project and food for those who provide free labour.
Nomus is carried out to honor a relative’s memory and to generate blessings of God Almighty. In other words, Nomus is a system of donating resources for a community development project in the name of a relative(s). It doesn’t matter whether the person is alive or deceased. The system of Nomus is a powerful way to remember and acknowledge family members. It provides pride for the family and happiness for the community. It also solves a specific problem for the community, becoming a source of mental and spiritual satisfaction to the one who donates by the name of God.
The project sponsored is often remembered after name of the sponsor, thus also making him/her live longer in collective memory of the society. This donation can be done anytime in the name of a relative depending upon readiness of the family. It is also not compulsory for every one to donate. The entire community remembers it for long.
Another interesting and notable aspect of this generous contribution is the volunteer work (free labour) by community members. The entire community or at least one member from each family takes part in this noble cause. Every family tries its level best to offer its volunteer services. So far, many bridges, trails, passenger huts (Musafir Khane), irrigation channels and other infrastructure related development activities were done in Shimshal through this system.
Nomus can also be part of a person’s will. If a person allocates portion of family wealth for Nomus, the offspring honor will of their ancestor and ensure that the will is implemented.
The “self-help” principles of Nomus are still very much alive in Shimshal; there appears to be a continuing willingness to contribute to community development. The history of Shimshal is just about four hundred years old but it is full of sacrifices, revolutions and great achievements. Looking in different aspects of development and change in Shimshal, it is obvious that Nomus played a revolutionary role in the development of our community. There was no concept of financial aid from the government or private sector. It was Nomus that helped the community to develop its infrastructure. Undoubtedly, it was the main source of inspiration for community mobilization. In recent years the community-based organization the Shimshal Nature Trust (SNT) has attempted to nurture this tradition of self-reliance for current development needs.
Last, but not the least, is sustainability of this system and putting it in line with modern practices. It is obvious that government can’t do everything for development. It is the local community that can rely on its local resources and optimally utilize them for purposeful means. In past, the social contributions were made for those projects that were the requirements of the community as said above. It is essential that this system must last for long and voluntarily contributions must be made in health, education, social welfare, environment, culture and other developmental projects as well.
The writer works for UNESCO, Pakistan.