Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agricultural production of grains and legumes predominates over horticultural production of melons and gourds ( bakhcha ), even in lower valleys. Sowing is by broadcast, in the spring, and traditionally mixed (wheat, buckwheat, and millet combined with beans). Communal land use determines the periods of agricultural work for all members of the commune. Although there was no obligatory rotation of crops, there were firmly established cycles for the distant pasturing of livestock for the summer and their return to the mountain villages (kishlak). Animal husbandry was traditionally very important to the economy and included cattle, sheep, and goats ("horned livestock") and horses, camels, and the young of horned stock. Animals were pastured at different elevations in different seasons; all the livestock were moved at once so as to avoid losses, to carry out more productively the pasturing of livestock on the stubble, and to provide for the fertilization of the plow-land parcels with fresh manure. The Shugnans of the valley of Shakhdary and some of the Vakhans also raised yaks, which they kept out to pasture all year. Shepherds occasionally visited at calving and milking times.
Pamir patterns involving dairy cattle are diverse and have changed significantly. Among the Yazgulems, the Bartangs, and some of the Shugnans, there were "milkers' working associations" similar to those of the Mountain Tajiks. Five or six female family heads ( khozyaika ) would give their animals' milk to one of the women (in rotation with the others) to prepare milk products, particularly butter and sour cream, which was processed from sour milk in clay or wooden churns. Aside from the cows that were put out to pasture in the summer, two or three were left in the village to supply the needs of the family. In the years of Soviet power local agricultural specialists contributed to a significant growth in the quality of animal husbandry by instituting the observance of a regular calving (or freshening) time and the protection of the young livestock. They also promoted the use of sheepdogs to help defend the herd and augmented the traditional method of putting the branches of thorn bushes on top of the defensive wall. Such specialists have known traditional Pamirian methods since childhood, which they combine with the information they receive in higher-educational institutions.
The traditional agricultural implements (mattock, shovel, plow, sickle) were, in their construction, adapted to the nature of the soil of any given locality so as to preserve its productive layer (the humus). The traditional plow was of wood (Russian: ralo ), which only loosens and throws back a layer of soil but does not turn over the humus layer. Draft was provided by a pair of oxen.
Together with their neighbors in the high mountain valleys of the Hindu Kush, the northern Himalayas, and Karakorum, Pamirians live in a unique natural region in which an increase in elevation is correlated with a decrease in precipitation, not an increase as in other parts of the world. For this reason, irrigation is indispensable for agriculture.
The practice of preparing the soil so as not to injure the humus has affected the design of the high-mountain type of irrigation and of the various techniques for watering plots of pastureland. The agriculturalists, utilizing the relief of the land, have long irrigated by running canals from creeks, streams, and the tributaries of rivers. In addition to using canals, each Pamirian group has its own particular supplementary methods of irrigation.
The traditional irrigation network in the eastern Pamirs, as in neighboring areas, fulfilled two functions: the watering of plow land and drainage to prevent erosion of the productive layer of mountain soil. Thus, each plot had had temporary canals for irrigation and a permanent canal around its perimeter for drainage.
Today the same tools and implements are used when the terrain makes the use of machines impossible. These include plowshares with tips of cast pig iron or tempered steel and wooden shovels for cleaning and digging irrigation furrows. Agricultural specialists have introduced new species and varieties of grains and vegetables, including potatoes and cabbages.
It is still a widespread practice for women to carry loads in shoulder baskets. Similar devices are used with beasts of burden (yaks, donkeys, camels), since there were neither roads nor wheeled transport until recently. Horses were mainly used for riding, and there were few of them.
In Soviet times, highways were built to connect Khorog with the center of the Tajik Republic, Dushanbe (about 500 kilometers), and there is also a road from Khorog to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Roads for automotive transport are replacing footpaths in the valleys, even in remote places such as Bartang and Yazgulem.
Industrial Arts. Pamirians traditionally produced textiles made of wool and imported cotton. They used vertical looms for making a kind of rug ( palas ) and horizontal looms for other woolen and cotton textiles. They were smiths and metalworkers and made decorative jewelry. The Vakhans, Yazgulems, and Rushans were distinguished by the quality of their wooden vessels, particularly a type of large plate; Vakhan and Shugnan women were noted for their pottery. For cookware and large vessels, a special gray clay was used, which was strengthened by tempering with goat hair. Stone played an important role in the technology. Out of large, round stones Pamirians made millstones for the water-driven grain mills. Stone mortars served not only for grain but for nuts and mulberries. These same dried berries, as well as dried apricots and mulberry flour, were a significant supplement to the diet, which otherwise consisted primarily of milk and grain products, and more rarely of mutton, wild or domestic goat meat, or beef. In 1950, in a series of localities in Yazgulem and Rushan, Pamirians began to raise turkeys; domestic fowl are rare otherwise. In the past there were no alcoholic beverages among the Pamirians, although some were lovers of opium. They also chewed a local type of tobacco, which they ground into a powder and to which they added a substance that gave it a burning aftertaste.
Division of Labor. Women made pots without the potter's wheel. Men spun and wove yaks' and goats' hair, and women worked sheeps' wool and camels' hair and knitted multicolored socks. Women usually spun on a typical Central Asiatic spinning wheel, whereas men used a hand spindle. The men's spindle normally consisted of a stick with a split end to which the start of the thread was attached, whereas the woman's spindle had a small cross on the lower end.
Women went off with the herd for summer pasture and were involved with the milking of the cattle and the preparation of milk products: cheese, sour milk, sour cream. The men, taking turns of several days each, would go out during the summer season to pasture the livestock and to protect it from wolves and snow leopards, without the help of dogs.
Land Tenure. In the past, pastureland was owned patrilineally, as were hay fields. Later, in the years of Soviet power, pastures became communal—that is, collectively owned livestock was pastured collectively. Privately owned livestock was pastured on the patrilineally owned land ( kaumu, arlodu ).