POPULATION: 1.5–4.3 million (estimate)
LANGUAGE: Dari (Khorasani Persian); Pashtu; Baluchi; Turkic
RELIGION: Islam (Shi'ite Muslim)
The Hazaras live in Afghanistan. Local legends and some native historians trace their ancestry to the biblical figure Yafith (or Japheth), the son of Noah. The Hazaras believe themselves to be descendants of the Turko-Mongol tribes of Asia. However, there is little precise knowledge about their ethnic origins and their history in Afghanistan.
Most of the Hazaras are concentrated in the mountainous central region of Afghanistan. The area that serves as their homeland is known as Hazarajat. Hazaras are also found scattered in other areas of the country in smaller numbers. There is also a Hazara population in Baluchistan, Pakistan.
The exact number of Hazaras is not known because there has never been a complete national census taken in Afghanistan. Estimates of the Hazara population range from about 1.5 million to 4.3 million people (or 7 to 20 percent of the total Afghani population).
Most Hazaras today speak Dari, a form of Persian, also called Khorasani Persian. In addition to Persian, some Hazaras also speak Pashtu, Baluchi, and Turkic.
Hazaras believe in common rural superstitions, such as the evil eye, ghosts, and superstitions involving animals and nighttime. Hazaras enjoy storytelling, sharing tales of their history, ancestors, and heroes.
Hazaras also have many proverbs, including the following examples:
If your father owns the mill, you still must wait your turn to grind your flour. (In business, the customer comes first.)
The sons of wolves will be wolves. (Children will be like their parents.)
Two people are afraid of an empty rifle: the one with the rifle, and the one without it. (A person being threatened feels afraid. But the person doing the threatening is also afraid if he knows he can't follow through on the threat.)
The Hazaras are Shi'ite Muslims, one of the world's two major Islamic sects. Muslims celebrate their religious holidays by going to the mosque for group prayers. Then they return home to large meals with family and visiting relatives.
As Shi'ite Muslims, Hazaras celebrate the two major Islamic holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day celebration that comes after a month of fasting called Ramadan. Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Abraham to obey God's command and sacrifice his son, Isaac. People making a pilgrimage (religious journey) are expected to sacrifice a goat or sheep and offer the meat to the poor. One other holiday celebrated among Hazaras is Nawruz , the Persian New Year.
Special celebrations involving passages to a new stage of life include circumcision for young boys, weddings, and funerals. Once girls reach puberty, they are required to cover their hair with scarves and to spend more of their time indoors. Marriages are arranged by the families of the bride and groom. When a daughter is married, she moves in with her husband's family.
The Hazara people are very hospitable and friendly to guests. They prepare special food for their guests, who are honored with the best seats at mealtime. Most Hazaras eat with their hands, rarely using utensils such as forks and knives.
Generally speaking, Hazaras are poor people with few economic opportunities. However, their living conditions vary depending on their location. Conditions are more harsh for those living in cold climates, where shelter is a greater concern, travel is difficult, and agriculture is poor.
It is customary for extended families to live together in one house, including grandparents and women married to the sons of the household. Newborn babies are usually named by the older people of the household. Grandparents are actively involved in raising their grandchildren. After the death of the grandparents, especially the grandfather, the sons usually begin living in separate households of their own.
The most common clothing among the Hazaras is perahan-u-tunban, a type of clothing that resembles pajamas. Men wear turbans, vests, overcoats, and sweaters over their perahan-u-tunbans. Their clothing is usually made from wool or cotton. Unlike the men, who wear plain-colored clothes, the women usually wear clothes with bright colors and designs. Women usually wear lighter-weight clothes because they remain indoors more of the time. Hazaras do not own large amounts of clothing.
The Hazaras' diet includes a large proportion of high-protein food such as meat and dairy products. They use plenty of oil when cooking. Usually a meal consists of one type of food, rather than a wide selection. However, a variety of foods may be served at meals when guests are present, or may be served in wealthier Hazara households.
Hazaras have two systems of education. The traditional system provides religious instruction and informal home education in practical tasks, according to whether the student is a girl or a boy. The formal education system is that found in schools administered by the government. Most students attend these schools only through the sixth grade. A few of the best students are then sent to Kabul to continue their education.
Hazara social gatherings include music and dancing. Women and men dance separately, each having different styles. Poetry is read and the dambura is played. The dambura is a bowl lute with a long neck and two strings that are plucked. The dambura is also used to accompany the recitation of poetry, epics, and love stories.
Hazaras have many different dubaitis (folk songs). The following is an example:
The stars shone and I lay awake
I was behind the broken wall
As the cock began to crow
I was still waiting for my love.
In rural areas, Hazara men generally work in the fields growing crops. In Kabul, they usually have low-paying, menial jobs such as janitorial work. Most women spend their time inside their homes, tending to household tasks and the needs of their children.
Due to a lack of leisure time, Hazaras do not spend a great deal of time playing sports. Hazaras in some areas take part in the national Afghani game, buzkashi. This is a sport in which as many as 1,000 men on horseback compete for possession of a dead goat or calf. Other sports played by Hazaras include hunting, wrestling, archery, and horse racing.
Hazaras in rural areas have more time for recreation in the winter, when there is less work to do. They tell stories, visit with each other, and drink tea in the evenings.
Hazaras produce handmade coats, overcoats, sweaters, jackets, shoes, hats, gloves, and scarves. These are mostly made by the women and are sold in shops in Kabul and other cities.
The Hazaras are generally poorer and less educated than other Afghanis. As Shi'ite Muslims, they are in the minority in the largely Sunni population of Afghanistan. These differences create tensions between the Hazaras and other Afghanis.
Ali, Sharifah Enayat. Cultures of the World: Afghanistan. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.
Clifford, Mary Louise. The Land and People of Afghanistan. New York: Lippincott, 1989.
Nyrop, Richard F., and Donald M. Seekins, eds. Afghanistan: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1986.