Pamir Peoples - Settlements

Contemporary Pamirians still live in permanent settlements established in the valleys of the Pyandj River and its tributaries. The villages or settlements are situated on the triangle of a river or stream delta and, more rarely, on riverine terraces. Among the Pamirians, who share similar conditions, a common type of settlement by familial-patrilineal groups took shape as a consequence of a commonality of origin and similarity in economy and culture. In each one of these settlements there lived several patrilineal groups, each occupying a separate area.

A small kishlak (village or farm complex) on the small triangle of a river delta, usually the offshoot of a larger one, as a rule was inhabited by one patrilineage, consisting of undivided and small families. There was no planning to the streets: the dwelling, with the farm structure directly attached to it, was situated directly among the plow fields, gardens, and orchards. Usually the doors of the house and of farm buildings were turned inward toward an interior courtyard, so that from without only the bare walls that form the closed-off square were visible. The outer courtyard occupied an open square facing the farmstead. In this farmstead complex, the fields often had walls (fences) made of stone that had been collected from the fields before plowing or irrigation. The paths that connected the quarters of the settlement to each other were also formed with masonry, so that it was often difficult for beasts of burden laden with their loads to go through these narrow passageways.

In the absence of bazaars and mosques (which the Ismailites do not have in any case), the public center used to be a public house of the "house of five" type, analogous in function to what one finds among the mountain Tajiks and serving as a place for communal feasting and marriages or as a sort of "men's club." Otherwise, the center of public life was the house of the oldest and most honored head of the patrilineal group of the local Ismailite spiritual preceptor, the khalif. The meetings of the Pamirians with these spiritual preceptors had a public character and were set up in turn in the houses of their murids (adepts in a religious brotherhood). The meetings consisted of hosted meals and conversation on religious themes.

The traditional layout and technique of construction of dwellings and of public and agricultural economic structures have been preserved to the present day. The foundation is laid from unworked stone, usually cemented together with clay. The walls are also laid from such stone, but in those villages where there is loess soil, Pamirians blend it with water, mix it vigorously, and, with the help of square molds made of board, they prepare "natural" ( syrtsory ) bricks for the walls. The traditional roof is a layered vault put together of boards and beams so as to form a square frame above the center of the dwelling. The frames are laid one above the other so that the corner of each successively falls in the middle of the preceding one. The last frame, the very smallest, crowns this stepped ceiling, forming an opening for illumination and the egress of smoke from the open hearth. The roof is supported by wooden pillars along the walls and in the corners, and also by massive wooden central columns decorated with carvings. These columns are important in the spiritual life of the Pamirians; particular reverence is shown to the main column ( shastan ). On entering the house, if nobody is home, it is customary to give a salutation to the shastan; otherwise the master of the house will be offended because reverence was not shown to the spirits of his ancestors. On New Year's Eve (Navruz) Pamirians display large paintings of mountain goats and place branches—their bark stripped or roughed up to resemble petals—behind the central columns. These houses usually have one room with alcoves along the longitudinal side walls and the one wall that runs crosswise through the center, opposite the entrance (the hearth is to the left of the entrance). In these alcoves Pamirians eat, sleep, and receive guests in the cold season of the year.

At the present time, all the Pamirians are building separate lodgings (the kush-khona ) that are elegantly decorated and predesignated for the reception of guests. The usual furnishings of the house are large pieces of felt rugs ( palasy ) and long, narrow, quilted blankets. In the guest room, European-style furniture—including tables, chairs, beds, wardrobes, and sofas—has already made its appearance. The ceilings in these lodgings are of the customary sort—flat and wooden. Even in the capital city of Khorog Pamirians are now building individual, private houses in the same traditional architectural style. In the city, as in the country, they use small stoves, place windows in the walls, and rebuild the wall niches as small chests of drawers for dishes and odds and ends, or enlarge them for storing clothes or bedclothes.

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