Pamir Peoples - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The national consciousness of the Pamirians is based not only on linguistic and sociocultural affinities but, perhaps above all, on religion. Since the eleventh century they have belonged to the Ismaili sect as a result of the missionary activity of the great mystic poet N asir-i Khosrow (1004-1072). The Ismaili religion, with its traditions of clandestineness, has survived in the Pamirs as a kind of secret society: there never have been any mosques and there are today no official clerics, but rather numerous private houses of prayer and itinerant clerics. At least until World War II, contacts were regularly maintained with Ismaili centers in India, particularly Bombay, where the Aga Khan, the religious head of all Ismailis, resides. The Ismaili Pamirians tend to isolate themselves not only from the Kyrgyz and Tajiks but also from those Pamirians who have adopted Sunni Islam. There are practically no mixed marriages between the Ismaili and the Sunni, and this includes the Vanchis and the Yazgulems, both Pamir peoples who are being rapidly assimilated into Tajik society and who have nearly lost the ability to speak their languages. Antireligious propaganda against Ismailism was active until recently; in 1978 a special seminar for that purpose was held in Khorog.

Ceremonies. Spiritual life is rich in colorful rituals, many of which had a magical significance in the past and are today preserved among the young people as a diversion. Among the Bartangs, for example, on the occasion of the ritual of "uncovering the face" of a young woman, the groom, assuming both his parents are alive, has to shoot three times from a bow into the opening of the vaulted ceiling and, on the third time, hit the mark; then he goes up to the bride and twice, with his bow, lifts up the handkerchief that covers her face, and, the third time, throws it off. The groom then gathers up the handkerchief for himself and gives the bride something in return. This ritual was the same among the Rushans, except that the groom would use the branch of a fruit tree. The Pamirians have no ritual for the public proof of the virginity of the girl.

Traditional holidays included New Year, the "First Furrow" (celebrated with a public feast, salutation of the patron of farming, Bobo-m-Dekhtona, and recognition of the first act of irrigation), and the first going out of the women to summer pasture with the flocks.

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