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History and the Heroic Pakhtun Charles Lindholm; Michael E. Meeker Man, New Series, Vol. 16, No.

3. (Sep., 1981), pp. 463-468.

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History and the heroic Pakhtun I f a continued ability to stir controversy 1 s the mark o f a classic, then Fredrik Barth's work on 1s assured a place in anthropology Swat (19590) beside that o f Evans-Pritchard on the Nuer and Malinowski on the Trobriands. Micha51 Meeker (1980) has joined the ranks o f commentators who have alternately extended, applauded or disputed Barth's original analysis. For a time, the pendulum ofcriticism seemed to have swung against Barth. Asad (1972)castigated him for ignoring class differences in portraying the Swatis as free lndivlduals engaged in dyadic contracts. Ahmed (1976)wrote an extended rebuttal o f Barth's views on the role o f the Salnt in Swat, as offering too much o f an elitist viewpoint and over-emphasising the role o f violence. Meeker's article presents another perspective, redeeming Barth from many o f those crltlques which had been most accepted, while simultaneously attacking him from a new direction. As one who has done extensive fieldwork in Swat, I found much o f Meeker's work a welcome corrective, but also found some o f ~t questionable. I would like to set right some o f his factual errors and to discuss a much deeper problem: h ~ conjectural s approach to hlstory. The major value o f Meeker's article i s to reassert the Swat Pakhtun as pre-eminently a political man, a man for whom land i s more o f a political tool than a source o f l ~ v e l ~ h o o Polit~cs d. and political manipulation are at the core o f Pakhtun social life In Swat, a picture upheld in Ahmed's recent (1980)study o f a related people and in m y own work Lindholm (1977;1979). Therefore, Meeker says, Barth was correct in focuslng on political leadership and strategy. Barth's plcture o f factlons cutting across the community and forming two grand blocs is also approved by Meeker and validated in m y own research. But Meeker's rebukes to Barth are more problematic. He says that Saints are not mediators but rather figures ofsolace in a land o f senseless violence. They embody morality which 'could be conceived In Swat only in a realm apart from political life' (Meeker 1980: 697-8). Thls is in line with Meeker's consistent depiction o f Swat as a society torn by irresolvable contradictions and historical tragedy. In fact, Meeker's major criticism is that Barth has mystified an image o f order In a society pulled asunder by disorder. Thus the men's house, seen by Barth a s a centre o f Swati social life, is viewed by Meeker as socially marginal; a place from which armed brigands voyage forth in 'heroic' ventures o f violence and pillage which rend the natural community o f the village. In Meeker's view the polity (or non-polity) o f Swat i s a consequence o f conquest by the Yusufzai Pakhtun o f the indigenous local farming community four hundred years ago. This 'disaster' led to the Imposition o f mobile 'heroes', governed by codes o f honour and valour, upon a pre-exlstent 'territorial community o f agr~cultural production' (Meeker 1980: 692). The result was four centuries o f terror and v~olence. Swat's anarchic society, in Meeker's analysis, rests upon a fundamental opposition between the 'heroic' life o f violence and war and the peaceful co-operation necessary for intensive agriculture. Hierarchies are prevented from arising because o f the 'heroic' self-image o f the Pakhtun elite, who refuse to co-operate with one another, and because o f ~vesh,an Institutionalised redistribution o f lands and villages whlch prevented the elite from forming close ties with their tenants. But the contradictions o f Swat are too great to be malntalned, Meeker clams, and he points to the breakdown o f the wesh, the rise o f 'feudal'landlords, and the emergence o f a King in Swat as proofs ofmovement toward centralisation: 'constant thrusts towards the formation o f a wider-based religious or political authority were specifically driven by a revulsion against agrarian landowners wlth heroic identltles' (Meeker 1980: 694). Barth's fault is thus in seeing Swat as a system, whereas it is really an antl-system, out o f balance and chaotlc, maintained only by violence and social disintegration. ' I f its tribal anarchy were so adaptive, ~ t political s aesthetics so satisfying, ~ t political s structure so balanced, society in Swat should have been free ofstralns, and therefore free o f change and dissent' (Meeker 1980: 699). All thls is very much in line with the recent and valuable revisionist trend in anthropology towards a focus on conflict rather than consensus In social organisation. But is it accurate? Let me begin with a look at Swati social structure, a subject notably ignored by Meeker, who speaks o f anarchy but not o f order. Violence in Swat i s not unstructured, as Barth has been careful to point out, and as Ahmed (1980)and I



(1981)have discussed at length from slightly economy which obliged near relatives to remain different perspectives. The structure in question spatially close and to battle over a fixed sum o f is, o f course, the much maligned but nonethe- land constantly fragmented by partible inheriless quite real segmentary lineage organisation, tance. Surrounded by his patrilineal rivals, the which operates in Swat under the considerable Pakhtun can survive only through continual constraints o f a dense population and an agri- struggle. Where nomad oppositions are genercultural economy (for another example, see ally between large groups fighting over grazing land or raiding one another for the mobile booty Salim 1962). The oppositions between near neighbours o f can~elsor sheep, the Pakhtun faces his own leading to the formation o f cross-cutting blocs cousins in eternal competition over a mutual do not arise simply because o f the 'Pakhtun patrimony in land. Individual alliances are notion o f honour and valour' as Meeker sug- therefore made and broken with more distantly gests (1980:690). Rather, close neighbours are related men who themselves are involved in the patrilateral parallel cousins who are rivals for the same personal and localised antagonisms, property o f their common ancestor. Tarbuu~uali, thereby creatlng the fluld party blocs. It is essen~nstitutionalised opposition between paternal tial, however, to note that genealogical concousins. is a consequenceoEa land tenure system nexlon takes precedence over party in cases o f structured genealogically. As a result, proxim- vengeance. When a man is killed, his party allies ity in space is ~somorphicwith genealogical do not avenge him; that duty falls upon near proximity in the patriline. Genealogical struc- relatives, Including those who have been his turing and opposition holds throughout the daily opponents. Furthermore, should a man be Valley, so that individuals stand opposed to killed, his opposing cousins will not protect his nelghbours wlthin a ward, wards opposed to killer, even i f he is a party ally. (See Salzman other wards within a vlllage, and villages op- 1978a, 19786 contra Peters 1967 on this polnt.) posed to neighbouring villages according to Indeed, all violence in Swat is highly structured genealogical distance within a district. Finally, on the two principles o f genealogical segmentawith the former taking prethe whole valley stands united agalnst external tion and tarl~urwali, cedence (Lindholm 1981). By ignoring the oropponents. This seems clear. The compl~cationwhich dering function o f kinshlp, Meeker has falsified makes the system appear chaotic is the bloc the real experience o f Swat Pakhtuns, presentoppositions which divide lineages. Villages are ing a portrait o f chaos instead. Violence, in fact, genealogical units against other villages, but is generally a highly restricted affair between they are also internally dlvided In two, with cousins and there is no evidence that internal each division havlng party allies In other vil- violence in the past was ever particularly virulages. This conflict can be reconciled by looking lent. Historically, the most terrlble violence in closely at tarbur~vali and the rules which govern Swat has always been a result o f external intrumen's loyalties. sion, another factor disregarded in Meeker's Tarburwali is the nexus o f the bloc system. In discussion. ordinary life, a man's daily opponent 1s his most This brlngs me to Meeker's account o f the powerful cousln, and he allies with others Swati state arising from popular revulsion against him on the ancient political principle against 'heroic' landlords. This is simply not that 'the enemy o f m y enemy is m y friend'. true. The state o f Swat arose through confrontaThree elen~entsare really ~nvolvedhere: the tion with a powerful colonial force bent on manipulating political Individual, his tempor- subduing the unruly Pakhtun. T o understand ary allies, and his temporary opponents. Obvi- the mechanics o f state evolution in Swat, we ously membership in a bloc 1s hardly fixed, and must look again at structure, particularly in reindividuals can and do switch sides with alacrity gard to the function o f the Saintly class. whenever advantage is perceived. For instance, For Meeker, the cult o f Saints in Swat 1 s i f one cousin is very successful in his political primarily a solace to ordinary men alienated by manoeuvrings, he will quite likely find his allied the vlolence and coercion o f daily life. He does cousins joining his enemies to level him. The not assign them any political role per se, and constant fluidity o f party loyalt~esends In a notes qulte correctly that Saints who do dabble long-term balance ofoppositions (Barth 19596). in politics are often indistinguishable from the Manipulation withln the context o f tarbur~vali Pakhtun. But Barth argues that Saints were also and the subsequent ramifying o f loose, indi- used as mediators In disputes (and m y data corvidual centred party blocs is an important part roborate Barth's view) particularly between vilo f Swati life but not the whole. By focusing lages. Saints are useful as mediators because o f only on the personal aspect o f Swat1 politics, the inability o f disputants to back offbecause o f Meeker places the Pakhtun within a true war o f their rootedness in land, the genealog~cally valeach against all, sustained only by the rarified air idated equality o f all opponents, and the interest o f 'heroic' history. But the party system i s a that all other Pakhtun have in prolonging a dissecondary phenomenon, born o f a land-based pute which does not directly involve them In


CORRESPONDENCE nence is a mystification o f history far more hazardous than Barth's supposed moral humanism. I have hesitated to write such a harsh critique o f Meeker's work, especially since much o f it is theoretically brilliant, and since his concern with tragedy and contradiction in social life is a concern I share. But he has been too quick to make judgements, too reliant upon a preconceived concept o f history and too free with moralising. In conclusion, we might ask why the Swati political system has survived for so long and shown such resilience i f it is so imbalanced and unsatisfying, and why the Pakhtun and their clients have defended their 'anarchy' with such undying strength? Finally, we might ask what it is that makes a social order valid and worth preserving? Sir Evelyn Howell, who worked with the Pakhtun for many years, gave a Pakhtun's answer to this question: ' A civilization has no other end than to produce a fine type ofman. Judged by this standard the social system in which the (Pakhtun)has been evolved must be allowed immeasurably to surpass all others. Therefore, let us keep our independence and have none o f your qanun (law) and your other institutions . . . but stick to our own rewaj (custom) and be men like our fathers before us' (Howell, 1931: xii). Charles Lindholm Barnard College, N e ~ u York Ahmed, Akbar 1976. millennium and cllnrisma Atnorry Pathans. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1980. Pukhtun ecorrotny and society. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Asad, Tala1 1972. Market model, class structure and consent: a reconsideration o f Swat political organisation. Man (N.S.). 7, 7594. leadenhip among Barth, Fredrik 1 9 5 9 ~Political . Swat Pathans. London: Athlone. 19596. Segmentary opposition and the theory o f games: a study o f Pathan organisation. J . R. antllrop. Irrst. 89, 5-21, Howell, Evelyn 1 9 3 1 M i z h : a rnonogrilpll orr Governmerrt's relations with the Mahsud tribe. Simla. Government o f India Press. Lindholm, Charles 1977. The segmentary lineage system: its applicability to Pak~stan'spolitical structure. In Pakistarr's luesterrr borderlarrds (ed) Ainslie Embree. Durham: Carolina Univ. Press. 1979. Contenlporary politics in a. tribal society: Swat District, NWFP, Pakistan. Asiarr Survey 19, 485-505. 1981. The structure o f violence among the Swat Pukhtun. Ethrrology 20, no. 2 . Meeker, Michael 1979. Literature and violence in North Arabia. Cambridge. Univ. Press. 1980. The twilight o f a south Asian

ity life. The men's house is not only the place for planning battle, but also where the jirga o f local elders meets to decide cases and where the ward community gathers to denlonstrate their own unity o f commensal meals and the donat~on of lavish hospitality. From this, let me turn to Meeker's puzzlement over the Pakhtun landlords 'counterintuitive' failure to reunite against their allegedly resentful tenants. This pattern is only counter-intuitive when the system i s seen as hopelessly violent and unrewarding. It is a fact that landlords'did take a good percentage o f their tenant's produce, but at the same time they filled the traditional roles o f patron, judging the tenant's cases, assuring him o f food in times o f famine, even making sure he found a w ~ f eThe . system was also loose enough to allow for upward mobility, and land-grants were awarded by landlords to some favoured tenants, who thereby 'became Pakhtun'. Finally, the hie-style o f the landlord elite, revolving around bravery, honourable action, and generosity, is one which tenants themselves admire and wish to emulate. Meeker claims the recyling o f luesh prohibited close ties from forming, but it seems that most tenants moved with their patrons, leaving only the Saintly lineages and a few other people permanently in the villages. The luesh itself is seen by Meeker as terr~bly unfair, 'an attempt to legitimate and to enshrine violent expropriation o f agrarian resources' (Meeker 1980:688). But could the wesh not be seen as similar to land redistribution among other closed corporate communities, such as the Russian mir, but on a larger scale? There is no need to legitimate conquest; victory itself had done that. The effort instead was to assure the cont~nuedequality o f all parties by red~stributlon. There is no question that the system was too unwieldy to persist on a wide scale for long, but it did function at the D~strictlevel unt~l halted by the Wali. In many villages redistribution continues, and the people themselves call this ~uesh. It i s true that some are landless (though not so many as Meeker intimates), and that domination and exploitation enter in, but so does a sense o f fairness and equity. Throughout h ~ article s Meeker has portrayed classical segmentary systems as 'degenerate', while more centralised organisations are idealised as more efficient, better defined, more co-operative and less fearful (cf.Meeker 1979). The image o f Pakhtun-type societies as degenerate and chaot~c coincides w ~ t h a unilineal view o f evolution and romanticism o f the agrarian community: 'Given the character ofan agrarian society [the luesll] system was essentially unjust and for this reason basically "impermanent"' (Meeker 1980: 688). T o categorise a cultural trait, and, indeed, a whole culture, an unjust and thereby condemned to imperma-

integrity and conlmunal harmony. This kind o f proposal is read by Lindholm as a claim that agrarian peoples are non-violent. Lindholm does not recognise that I have accepted the criticisms o f Asad and Ahmed who argue that Barth has over-emphasised the degree o f conflict in contemporary Swat. Even m y title, which employs the term 'twilight', emphasises that we are dealing with a problem o f long-term political history rather than an attempt to write an ethnography o f political experience in Swat at any given nlonlent. I quote from p. 684: 'In [his book] Barth analyses processes that left in their wake peculiar cultural investments and social arrangements.' I have tried to exanline problems that shaped rather than deAs I have noted, m y article touches upon a stroyed traditions and institutions in Swat. Something must also be said about m y sensitive idealogical issue: the relationship o f approach to anthropology to a certain vision o f man. Dr 'factual errors' and 'co~~jectural Lindholm's reply illustrates m y point. He does history.' Lindholm has revised and blunted not understand that I am discussing a dimension Barth's study in his reply, substituting anumber o f political history in Swat. He believes in an o f ad hot observations in the place o f a bookauthentic and tinleless Pakhtunness, which he length argument that is well developed and conceives as mirrored by a set ofintegrated and highly consistent. But i f he does not accept adaptive institutions. A discussion o f how a re- Barth, I shall cite Ahmed (1976)where we find sort to force played a part in the origins o f a an emphasis on the historicity o f political expolitical tradition is therefore for him an asser- perience in Swat. ( I do not mean to implicate tion that the Pakhtun are savage and violent. Ahmed in m y theses, but only to suggest that Reacting to what he believes to be an insult to a Lindholm has freely adjusted what we know o f people w h o m he knows and respects, he wildly Swat for the purpose o f refuting m y analysis.) Let us begin with Lindholm's attack on m y attributes to me a variety o f conceptions and attitudes (not to mention 'moralisms' and view o f the Pakhtun intrusion into Swat and its 'judgements') that I do not hold and have never close association with the formulation o f the expressed. In m y response, I shall restrict myself wesh system. Ahmed writes: to those which misrepresent the central thrust o f . . . that in the absence o f fine evidence to the m y article. contrary, 'wesh' is to be viewed more as a Nowhere have I written that Swat is or ever mechanism to preserve the mythology o f was 'a land o f senseless violence,' nor have I territorial rights based on tribal conquests used terms and phrases such as 'unstructured,' that underlines Yusufzai brotherhood and 'degenerate,' 'anti-system,' 'war o f each against equality than a recent and recorded land all,' 'four centuries o f terror and violence'. tenure system. It is the conceptualization o f a Preoccupied with converting m y argument into pastoral-nomadic egalitarian social philosa straw man, Lindholm has con~pletely lost ophy which asserts the rights o f every track o f what I have written. Take for example member o f the tribe to equal shares in the his statements that '[Meeker] says that Saints are joint possessions by defining positions within not mediators. . .' and 'he does not assign homologous segmentary groups. In Swat, [Saints] any political role per se. . . .' On however, it served to create both economic pp. 6 9 6 1 7 , I describe the Saints as nlediators 38). and ethnic divisiveness (1976: and peace-makers in at least six different places. O r consider his free play with metaphors. In T h e wesh system in Swat was most certainly order to suggest that the traditional political ideologically associated with tribal conquest. situation in Swat was never wholly at rest and Likewise, the wesh system perpetuated the never in compl?te equilibrium, I have used the legacy o f conquest, that is to say, 'economicand phrases 'off-balance' and 'out-of-kilter.' Lind- ethnic divisiveness'. The discussion o f this issue holm loses sight o f m y point when he claims does not entail a condemnation o f Pakhtun that I have described political experience in Swat culture. a s 'out o f balance and chaotic.' Finally his outFrom here let us move on to Lindholm's rage leads him to overlook the dialectical argument that m y notion o f political evolution character o f m y arguments. Because agrarian in Swat is pure conjecture. Ahmed writes: peoples have a stake in peace and security, the proliferation o f a resort to force in an agrarian As a result [ o fthe end o f 'wesh' in parts o f society fosters a preoccupation with personal 19th century Swat] shifting and ephemeral heroic age: a rereading o f Barth's Study o f Swat. Marl (N.S.) I S ,682-701 Peters, E.L. 1967. Some structural aspects ofthe feud anlong the camel-herding Bedouin o f Cyrenaica. AJrica37, 261-82. Salim, S. M . 1962.Marsh d~vellen oj-theEuphrates delta. London. Athlone. Salzman, Philip 1978a. Does complementary opposition exist? Atn. Anthrop. 80, 53-70, 1978b. Idealogy and change in Middle Eastern tribal societies. Man ( N . S )13, 61837. Wadud, Abdul 1962. The story of Swat. Peshawar. Ferozsons.


CORRESPONDENCE decades, at the expense of the political (1976:65; cf.p.132). This reflects what I have called the 'twilight' of a heroic identity, a form of civility (whose future is uncertain) as the heritage of a more turbulent period in the distant past. In closing, I would comment on Lindholm's image of a political system in Swat ('individuals stand opposed to neighbours', 'wards opposed to other wards', 'villages opposed to neighbouring villages', and so on). This image is meant to illustrate his point that violence is structured in Swat, a matter that I would never question. Rather I would ask him to consider why it is that institutions are oriented around the problenl of political conflict and violence to the degree that they are. What is the historical background of Swat that led to a situation which does not characterise all stateless societies? But then of course I do not accept Lindholm's neat scheme of political segmentation. First, there is the Issue of whether this 'structure' is an idelogical residue of political history rather than a feature of the present. Second, there are concepts of communal solidarity in Swat that can be conceived as a reaction to the past fact and present fiction of political contestation. Lindholm's ultrasegmentarism would be a kind of war against all, if it really represented the essential framework of relationships in Swat, but it does not. As Ahmed tells us, there are Mullahs who represent the sacred Law of Islam and Sufis who have a more mystical perception of the unity of men and the unity of man and God. Historically, this religiosity did not 'complenlent' Pakhtun political involvement; it was to an important degree in opposition to it. Furthermore, Lindholm is quite wrong-no matter how much time he may have spent in Swat-when he suggests that the true Pakhtun recognises 'custom,' but rejects 'legality.' Despite the charm of Howell's 193I quote, one need not read very far in the writings ofBarth or Ahmed to realise that the oppositions between tribal custom and Islanlic law, and therefore between factionalism and community, go back several centuries in Swat. Failing to come to grips with this complexity, Lindholnl reverts to a garbled notion of political segmentation, which he sees as the basis of a tribal regime in Swat. In doing so, he sets back the ethnography of Swat several decades. Fresh from the field, Lindholm's impressions are interesting, but seriously confused by a failure to keep in m ~ n d the difference between past and present. Michael E. Meeker University of'calijbrnia, San Diego

land ownership became permanent and a feudal, hierarchical stratification began to emerge, symbolized by the presence of the Khan's 'hujra' (men's house) and its sociopolitical functions. This is a crucial development in understanding the growth of powerful feudal warlords surrounded by hierarchically ranked and supporting occupational groups and vassals, theoretically equal in the ideological bellefin an egalitarian religious system but exhibiting many castelike qualities of social hierarchy (1976:39). There is no doubt that the wesh system was impermanent. Ahmed (1976: 38) designates the early nineteenth century as the end of universal wesh, thereby demolishing Barth's view of luesh as a decisive feature of contemporary Swat. When Lindholm notes that ~uesh-likepractices persist in Swat today, he invites us to ignore the difference between eighteenth-century 'tribalism' and nineteenth-century 'feudalism' as well as more fundamental contrasts between the latter two periods and contemporary Swat. I a f i also surprised that Lindholm raises the issue of agnatic rivalry. (This issue was treated in the original version of my article, but had to be eliminated for lack of space in the Journal.) He seems to think landowners in stateless societies are everywhere in conflict with their neighbours. O n the contrary, the historical combination of heroic identity, tribal occupation and land-owning is, I contend, what leads to agnatic rivalry and specifically to the equation of the term for 'cousin' with the term for 'enemy'. Interestingly, agnatic rivalry contradicts vengeance obligations; however, the two institutions are closely linked in the political history of Swat. While vengeance obligations reveal the close association of personal identity and a resort to force, agnatic rivalry indicates how this feature of personal identity was embedded in the circun~stances of land tenure. We are dealing with a configuration of institutions which reflects an epoch cf. Ahmed (1976: 43-45). Like wesh, this configuration is not to be found just anywhere, certainly not in Russia and not in Mesopotamia, nor is it fully explained as a logical response to present conditions. Lindholm also feels that I have distorted the role of the men's house (hujra). Ahmed distinguishes between the hujva as a political and a cultural association (1976: 39, 65, 72). Unlike Ahmed, I would argue that the cultural dimension is historically connected with the political dimension. Honour through hospitality and generosity, the ideals and values celebrated in the contemporary men's houses, are the latter-day reflection of past political involvements. Ahmed also describes how the cultural dimension has been growing in importance since the last century and even in recent

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