By Iman Habib and Mehjabeen Abidi-Habib
Danatum Passu, or the ‘Open Fields of Passu’, is a Wakhi praise-poem rendered by the children of this village in a short film on the new website Umang from Pakistan (umangpoetry.org) With children at its center, its message has a universal purity that connects to the heart.
Directed by Shehrbano Saiyid with music from Zoheb Veljee, Danatum is a sung poem that captures in inspiring praise the history, culture and landscape of Passu located in the mountain landscape of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The poem reminds its people that in the face of troubles, they must remember to take heart, and treasure a land that offers enough sustenance for all who call it home and to recommit once again to a hidden bounty or rizq e ghaib. In gentle, musical tones, it recalls a time when Passu village was swept away in two when the Hunza River catastrophically flooded in the 1920s, and offers its central message: to never despair when all seems broken, but to repair collective hope in the hidden bounty of this land; to remember its ancestors as beacons of the past and to look to its children as the shining hope of the future.
Filmed in the foreground of the dramatic Karakoram mountain snow-scape, local poet Shahid Akhtar explains that the poem is derived from a traditional Wakhi ‘qaul’ or a revered saying. The producer shows us the song in the making with glimpses of the children’s choir laughing, until finally the song comes into being for the audience.
A variant of the Persian language, Wakhi is spoken in northern Pakistan and its scholar, John Mock, explains that it is a culture where oral tradition is the carrier of history. Here, the use of language itself shapes our sense-making of the world. So this poem is the way in which the community might make relevant its collective discussions of history and identity in the face of present challenges.
In current anthropological research, the key to understanding social context is often taken with children’s perspectives at the center. This song is a sophisticated, spiritual response to disaster, which poses an existential threat to the people of Upper Hunza by cutting them off from the rest of the nation.
In the video, Passu’s children sing their offering of salam to the Angelic Beings, the ancestors who have passed on, and to the living elders. The tones, like the children, are joyful, sonorous and uplifting. In Danatum, remembering ones elders becomes an active mode for survival that inspires and aids in the face of the present.
This video shows us how children’s voices render a collective discourse relevant to Passu. The camera takes us to meet the young boys and girls who sing Danatum: Gulbaz Ali, Faiza Paree and Noshida Parveen, all childhood friends and now students in the Diamond Jubilee school class 7. We learn that their singing voices have been honed with Qasida and Ginan recital (forms of traditional religious hymns) in the Ismaili place of worship, and each mentions their parents’ encouragement to sing the songs of their village.
The video shows us the signs of the traditional life as captured in the image of the ha, or the central roof opening of the local home, the masterful door carvings, and carefully cultivated fields with the elders at work. The images of local and regional symbols reinforce the identity of the Wakhis who are thought to be Badakhshani pastoralists.
Local folklore traces Passu’s origins to an over 200 year-old settlement that originally supported many more households than today. Over the years, the village has been eroded by unpredictable summer flooding of the Shimshal and Khunjerab Rivers. The video shows the remains of the current natural disaster that Passu faces in the shape of the Attabad Lake and the arduous crossing that all who reside there must make.
The poet Shahid Akhtar leaves the viewers with the final message – and teaching – of this wonderful poetic rendition: “In the process of progress, don’t make the same mistake as others: don’t let your identity and be wiped out from the world”.
Danatum inspires us to affirm our core identity and use it to strengthen our ability to face changes around us. This is also our understanding of the meaning of the concept of resilience. Passu is a village that has twice been broken by natural disasters, and this praise-poem repairs and makes symbolically whole again the hidden bounty within a homeland which should not be abandoned by its people.
We wish that like the people of Passu, we the rest of Pakistanis also had our personal poem about the hidden bounty of our home, to carry in our hearts as we face a world that too seems to whisper that our beautiful homeland is not adequate for us. Through the poem, the children of Passu remind us to reaffirm that the bounty of our home is hidden within the symbols of our identity and renewal of our belief in its highest possibilities.
Iman Habib (corresponding author email firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student of Anthropology and Sociology at Forman Christian College Lahore and her mother, Mehjabeen Abidi Habib is a PhD in Social Ecology.