By Khalid Jan Bari
(Dedicated to Late Dr. Boghshoh, Senior Research Associate at Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences)
“A mans’s homeland is wherever he prospers”. Aristophanes
The story of Wakhan corridor is not unknown to any person of wakhi descent due to its significance and importance in their history. Wakhan became visible on the map of the world during the backdrop of British and Russian Empire, wrangle. John Keay in his book, The Gilgit Game (1979) and Peter Hopkirk’s book, The Great Game (1990), has recounted the doom of “Wakhan” at length. The buffer zone created to identify the borders of these empires shaped a disintegrated Wakhan that later became part of four different countries. By the turn of 19th century, Wakhan Corridor, an independent territory was divided and conquered by the British and Russian empires: whereas the further evolution of nation states by the end of 20th century disintegrated the terra-firma of Wakhan into possessions of five countries i.e. border areas of Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Though the disintegration of Wakhan is an interesting circumstance of history, however further captivating aspect ascends while discerning and comprehending the fate of this Terra Nova’s inhabitants, thereafter.
The Wakhi demography of the Wakhan confronted the harshest ordeals in terms of refuge and shelter into these adjoining states. The wakhi inhabiting territories that became part of these countries were gradually lost as a resource base to the dominant fresh rulers and principalities. As being an ethnic minority, they had fewer control and resistance influence upon their resources. The Wakhi inhabitants remained marginal and this vulnerability assisted in initiating a transformation of identity as well as, wakhi cultural and linguistic distinctiveness.
As Harris Khalique states that “territory plays an important role” [in ethnic identity] formation, (khalique, 2003), the Wakhi cultural as well as identity transformation into the host cultures of these new lands and societies is evident through their present cultural practices and traditions. In her book, the Voice of Nighingale , Felmy (1996) has written at length regarding the cultural facets of Pakistani Wakhi ethnicity whereas M. Nazif Sherani has documented the lifestyle of inhabitants of Wakhan, in his book, The Wakhi and Kirghiz of Afghanistan,(1979). The Wakhis have figuratively experienced adaptation into cultural, societal, and linguistic, parallel abodes of their respective countries i.e. in Tajikistan , the wakhis have wholly adapted to the “pamiri” traditions and culture likewise in China, Wakhis have adopted the Chinese traditions, in the Afghan corridor, the indigenous culture and traditions are intact partially but the Afghan influence is perceived to some extent whereas in Pakistan, the Wakhis residing in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral display the influence of G-B and Chitrali culture: in particular and Pakistani culture in general.
The distinct wakhi civilization has undergone this profound experience of diverse influences nevertheless the identity remains consolidated when it comes to ethnic and linguistic similarities. Metaphorically, Wakhan remains, “the center of gravity” in terms of a whole Wakhi identity.
The displaced generations during Wakhan’s disintegration have long vanished but the passing generations that remain in and around the spheres of this terra-firma, feel a bond to this identity realm, long lost. This could be in some way attributed to the swift tectonic shift of identity resulting from the displacement while the transformation has not been successful to erase the deep embedded sense of their descent. The wakhi culture, arts, poetry; flows and engulfs the imagination and fantasy of Wakhan. The folklore and practices of distinct occasions imitate the past and history while exhibiting the historical cultural linkages.
The Wakhis are peaceful and patriotic citizens of their respective countries and live among the other ethnic groups with an affectionate amalgamation and reverence. In Pakistan, this ethnic group whether residing in Giglit-Baltistan’s region or Chitral, deserves some scope in social representation and voice that will ensure a social safety net to further their development, affluence and assimilation. The Wakhi indigenous dynamic though lesser in numbers could prove to be a related quality to their countries: that would help further strengthen the good relations among these countries i.e China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Thus, history has shown that the inglorious separation of Wakhan has resulted into a glorious diversity brought by the wakhis to the new lands, they call their beloved home.
Hopkirk Peter (1992) The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, Kodansha International, ISBN 1568360223
Felmy, Sabine (1996) The Voice of Nightingale: A personal Account of the Wakhi Culture in Hunza, Oxford University Press, New York ISBN 0-19-577599-6
Keay, John (1994) The Gilgit Game, The Explorers of Western Himalayas, Oxford University Press ISBN-10:0195774663,
Khalique, Harris (2003) Understanding Pakistan The Question of Identity, SPO Discussion Paper Series, Website [www.spopk.org/spo/index.php/…/discussion-paper?download…identity]pg.11, accessed online ( 25th February, 2015)
Shafiq, Nadeem Dr. (2011) The Wakhi Community Settlements in Northern Pakistan, [29 April , 2011] website[http://pu.edu.pk/images/journal/pols/Currentissue-pdf/THE%20WAKHI%20COMMUNITY%20PAKISTAN.pdf] ( accessed on 25th Feb, 2015)
Shahrani, M. Nazif (1979) The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War University of Washington Press, Seattle, ISBN 0-295-95669-0
Plutus, Aristophanes, (388 BC) website [http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/24194.html](accessed on 25th February, 2015)