[Feature] Nomus: A unique model of social philanthopy


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 DSC00436matter 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 DSC06392infrastructure 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. DSC00425Undoubtedly, 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.

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  1. A very commendable tradition of the people of Shimshal which needs to be adopted by other commuities of the Gilgit-Baltistan for sustained development and philanthropy towards the community.

    There are many of such values which are the basis of our centuries old traditions which are vanishing with the passage of time and with the adoption of values of the materialistic capitalist society.

    Thanks for sharing this article, I hope this will continue not only in Shimshal but people will come forward with more innovative ideas to help build a society through more and more philanthropic contribution in the form of monetroy resources, skilled time and intellectual knowledge for the people who have legged behind in the race of keeping pace with the time.

  2. Great work Shujaa……………….It’s really need of today’s era to share these practical inspirations to all. Shimshal has been a place of great achievements by community based contributions for infrastructural development and still we all shimshali believe in this very much, which is great example for all.

    Almaty KZ.

  3. Dear Shujaat and Murtaza,

    Thanks for the wonderful write-up. Nomus surely is a pride tradition,which is truly ours. it reflects our social values of care from individual to its community. this generosity in kind and services are the secrets, that helped an otherwise Isolated community like Shimshal to not only survive but flourish. these foundations of Wakhi & Hunza culture needs deeper understanding in our time.

    it is wonderful to see young people trying to understand our cultural elements that needs to be studied, understood, appreciated and promoted.this is a contribution in itself which is needed more then ever today not only in Shimshal but throughout the area.

    Iqbal and Khaliq have some good figures for NOMUS in Shimshal,these figures are for projects implemented during the last 100 years. the data was collected during 2001-2 for SNT. the contributions were over 20,000,000 PKR then. SNT needs to update them as we have seen increasing Nomus funded projects the last couple of years. (Shujaat! will you be around in Dec. Jan. so we discuss it??)

    I fully agree with Sher Karim that these are the collective cultural values we should nurture.


  4. Shujahat has certainly highlighted one of the key (may be forgotten) essential element of community strengths. indeed a study needs to be carried out- collecting past best practices and its dessinimation will help in reducing dependency and promote culture of selffinanced projects within the communities.

  5. It is the need of the our society to help each other and show unity, as we are experiencing so many differences among us,which are creating seggregation in the society in many terms,from politics to economy, people are divided in number of groups. The only thing that unite the society is the notion of philanthropy, Helping the poor by the rich may reduce the prevailing rich and poor gap in society.
    The model of philanthropy ‘Nomus’ shown by the Shimshal community is very appriciatable and must be adopted by other communities of Gilgit Baltistan.

  6. Shujat
    Excellent, this what we all need to highlight the valued traditions of our area. We can add, renew the way NAMOUS work but we all should have to continue the core value of NAMOUS that is sharing of what you have ‘ COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION in its true sense.

    keep this up

  7. Dear All,

    Thank you so much for your appreciation. Your kind appreciation has not only boosted my confidence but renewed my enthusiasm and zest for such efforts in future. I would like to assure you of my continued sincerity and dedication and I promise to continue to serve our knowledge based society.

    It was a minor effort from me to identify our hidden potency and share it with others to follow for sustainable development. Thank you for taking the time to read this write-up. Your expert inputs were self explanatory and very helpful. Any additional comments you may have would be welcome.

  8. nice job lupyou the great …………….you are really nature lover thatz why we love you very much..we are proud to be shimshali .because shimshali are uniqe in gojal and we want 2 continue it….because of you we are searching pamir times because you are a great writter from shimshal keep it up and we will also follow you….we want to be like you… are our ideal….

  9. Once I had an opportunity to work in Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly Northern Areas) of Pakistan. Undoubtedly Gilgit-Baltistan is the Switzerland of Pakistan. I am very much inspired by the people of this region. Although I am not that much familiar with Nomus but after reading the beautiful write up of Mr.Shujaat Ali, I can say that it is one of the best models of self help village development programme. Why don’t other villages of Gilgit-Baltistan start following this tradition? I agree that government can’t do everything for common man; it is the indigenous strength that can come up with local resources and provide a sustainable solution for the existing problems.

    One of the best things about this model of self help village development program (Nomus) is the motive behind this social philanthropy. Today we talk about social mobilization, local resource management, community development and others but ignore all these rare traditions that itself are best practices of social mobilization and community development. Physical infrastructure development through voluntary contribution for seeking will of almighty Allah is best source of mental satisfaction for a common man. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    I know the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are industrious, brave and honest. We all know that the AKDN has brought a revolutionary change there but still such rare traditions like Nomus can be made practical to overcome many problems in future. I would request the people of Gilgit-Baltistan not to forget your beautiful tradition and culture. It is your identity and mirror image of your area. My best wishes and prayers are always with you.

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