BY FAZAL AMIN BEG
This paper I had written in 2006 in result of my fiel study in Xinjiang Region of China that I visited in summer , and am publishing it Online on this website.
Section 2 of this paper begins with introduction and also specifies the objectives as well as the methodology it employed. Section-3 deals ahead with a brief orientation to the Wakhi tajik and Kirghiz Turk communities in relation with their language and locations . Section-4 is pertaining to the field study findings in a greater length: demographic guesstimation, encounters, peoples perceptions and experiences within the five counties of Kashghar and Khutan prefectures in Xinjiang Region. Section-5 of the paper consequently reaches to the conclusion and also it suggests some productive recommendations for the researchers and other related stakeholders.
This study is about two contrasted ethno-linguistic and religious communities, the Wakhi Tajik and Kirghiz Turk of Xinjiang (pronounced as Shinjiang) who have been living side by side with each other on the Roof of the World for centuries, and remained in varying tides of relationship in history: sometimes in fraternity and sometimes in rivalry. However, it should be noted from the outset that the main and broader focus of this study revolves around the Chinese Wakhi and Tajik communities in the Kashghar and Khutan prefactures of Xinjiang, though some aspects of kirghiz community were also explored separately and specifically in line with their existing locations and population estimation made by the natives themselves.
Scholars and researchers of different disciplines have been carrying out diverse studies on such communities of small population in Xinjiang but there is still (in August 2006) a great dearth of knowledge on the demography due to the Chinese government’s strict policies, regulations and reluctance or scepticism in officially providing/releasing the reliable statistical information, especially on the minorities in China due to Han dominancy in political spheres at different levels.
Though, highly challenging in terms of enabling environment within the country, it was interesting to accept such challenges and to attempt to take an academic initiative and have an intensive but extensive survey on the subject matter I thus left for the field in Xinjiang and returned with enriched data on the objectives I had set to achieve.
2.1. Objectives of the Study
Broadly speaking, the field trip of three weeks mainly attempted to explore and understand these minority ethno-linguistic entities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China in diferent anthropological and holistic contexts. However, the specific objectives were:
1. Travel around and explore and identify the existing locations and know a guesstimated population size of the Wakhi community within the Kashghar and Khutan prefectures, and also look for the presence of Kirghiz community if they also live around the Wakhi dwelling areas;
2. Search for the kinship relations of the Chinese Wakhi Tajik community of Xinjiang with the contiguous regions across the national borders;
3. Observe the state and fate of Chinese Wakhi language as part of an indigenous cultural heritage at intangible level within Xinjiang that how the native speakers receive and perceive their mother tongue or what strategies have been taken for the preservation and promotion; and
4. Refresh and re-establish the academic relationship with the respondents who I met in November 2000 during my MPhil field study, in addition to broaden contacts at different levels in the social strata with the Tajiks (Wakhis & Sariqolis) and Kirghiz in order to know adequately about these communities ahead.
Getting an advice from Prof Hermann Kreutzmann, Chair, Institute of Geography, Free University, Berlin, I thus ventured for the survey in order to know about the locations and demography (and few other related facets such as the kinship relations, if possible) of these two minority ethnic groups in different counties (locally called Nohiya) of Xinjiang through first-hand information.
Before leaving for the feield, I had already prepared the data collection instruements like interview guide and checklists for this qualitative study (although an aspect of quantitative data was also involved but the purpose of this aspect was not strict rather to base on guesstimation.
I employed Two types of sampling methods in use: the snowball and purposive. Snowball was befitting in the areas where I needed to ask for better respondents through the already interviewed respondents and he or she would then recommend others related. While purposive sampling was effective in those area where I or my resourcepersons already knew the respondents and I needed to choose the best or significant among them.
Along with my physical assistant/guide, I departed for China from Gilgit via the land route (over the Khunzhrav Pass in Hunza valley) on 31st July and arrived at Tashkurghan (the former Sariqol State) on August 1, 2006. I started collecting data in the field from the day one as I have my contacts and resource persons there while conducting my MPhil field study. I spent totally three weeks in the field by personally visiting five counties (four within the Kashghar Prefecture) and one within the Khutan Prefecture) . I met with and gathered information out of over 150 related people (being my respondents) and 30 key informants.
In addition, it’s also noteworthy that as a visitor or tourist, for one of the purposes in hand, the researcher visited different locales to trace out and know the possible kinship relationships of the Pakistani Wakhis (including my own). Consequently, it proved to be a good strategy along with a fixed objective. In this regard, the data on the households and population of the Wakhis as well as Kirghiz were also noted to a considerable extent. I thus made an attempt in all locations to inquire and search out the genealogy/lineage of the respective respondents in order to see if their family members/kinspersons are in Hunza or Ishkoman valley of the Ghizer district in the Northern Pakistan.
In the post-fieldwork phase, I continued to keep contact with the key resource persons and informants to get further information and verify different aspects of the data, wherever deemed necessary.
3. A Brief Background of the targeted Cultural Communities
The Wakhi Pamiri community (known in China as Tajik along with Sariqoli language community) belong to the ancient Eastern Iranian stock who are also termed as a branch of Pamiri group. Although, they are in small population, they mainly live in the mountain regions of the four modern nation states: Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and China. After these countries, we could witness the Wakhi communities of Tajikistan in thousands of number permeantly settled in Russia, mainly concentrated in the main city centers such as Moscow. Besides, dozens of Wakhi families (more or less a hundred individuals) from Afghan Wakhan do live permanently in the modern Turkey ; and in the same manner some families from the main countries of their dwelling also live in North America (USA and Canada) on permanent basis having their green cards.
It is noteworthy that by now all Wakhi Tajiks belong to the Shia Ismaili faith in Islam. For instance, if someone says s/he is a Wakhi, it could easily and undoubtedly be perceived that s/he is an Ismaili. Their total population in Xinjiang is lesser than 20,000; while their overall population in all countries of their dwelling is lesser than 100,000.
Dominantly spending pastoral life, the yurt dwelling Kirghiz community are of the Turkic origin. Apart from the modern Kirgizstan, the Kirghiz people also live as minority in China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Turkey and other countries. In Xinjiang, their estimated population in result of the survey may be more or less 20,000 individuals. Religiously, the Kirghiz community are affined with the Sunni school of thought in Islam.
4. Travel in the Anthropological Landscape of the respective Cultural Communities
4.1. Locations of The Chinese Wakhi Tajiks
The Wakhi Tajiks of Xinjiang (China) mainly live in two prefectures (somehow similar to districts) called Kashghar and Khutan. Within Kashghar prefecture, Wakhi community lives in four counties namely Tashkrughan Tajik Autonomous County, and the counties of Yarkand, Poskam and Karghelik); while within the Khutan prefecture, they live in Guma county.
Under a county, there are further smaller administrative structures called Yiza in Uyghur and Tajik languages (Gungshi in Mandarin Chinese) that are headed by a Shan Jang . Under a Yiza or Gungshi, there are Kants (villages/hamlets). A Yiza thus somehow seems like a tehsil (magistracy), n administrative structure under a sub-division or sub-district in Pakistan (e.g., Gojal or Aliabad tehsil in Hunza).
4.2. Wakhi Demography in the Counties
In line with this intensive survey of August 2006 (though could not be termed final), based on respondents’ information and estimation, there are in total more than 1183 households of Wakhis in these counties, excluding Poskam County .
Conservatively, depending on the number of these households (i.e., 1183) multiplied by 9 persons per housed in average, the figure increases to 10,647. According to the respondents’ random estimation, there are 3,000 (three thousand) Wakhi population in the Poskam county, and when it is added with 10,647, the total population of the Wakhi Tajiks reach to 13,647 individuals in all counties of Xinjiang.
Specialized or general readers may raise questions that how come 9 members per households could be there? Justifications follow as under.
The Chinese marriage and child procreation laws, promulgated in the first half of 1980s allow the ethnic minorities in the rural areas to produce maximum three children; while in the urban areas, the minority ethnicities cannot produce more than 2 children.
Before promulgation of the marriage and child procreation law of 1980s, the Wakhi Tajiks, like other minorities would produce more than 3 children. The author witnessed many conjugal partners having more than 3 children. Some would have even 6 or 8 children. Even in some instances, polygyny were also found that lead towards more than three children, which ultimately multiplies the number of population.
When we talk of average persons in a household, we need to understand that majority of the Wakhi Tajiks live either in extended or joint family system in contrast ot more nuclear families. It means that a household would accommodate more than two nuclear families within itself. In average therefore a household would possess 9 or 10 people.
4.3. The Kirghiz Turks of Xinjiang
The Kirghiz Turks of China, like the Wakhi Tajiks, are also concentrated more in the mountain regions in Xinjiang. They have an ethnic autonomous oblast with the name of Kizil Su Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast (KSKAO). Besides this, the Kirghiz, in small number, also dwell in the Tashkurghan Tajik Autonomous County, Karghelik and Guma counties.
The Kirghiz respondents described their total population in Xinjiang as 14,000 (fourteen thousand individuals), but an estimation based on the households multiplied by 9 did not reach to the targeted/described figure.
4.4. Settlement’s and Estimated Population of the Wakhi and Kirghiz in the Target Areas
In result of my intensive investigation through the respondents, some statistical details of the demography of the
Wakhi and Kirghiz communities I’m going to share in the following table.
|Do||Dafdor||260||0||Respondents from Dafdor|
|Do||Payik||0||75||Respondent of Payik (age 81)|
|Wucha (also Wuchey)||All kants||020||0||Wakhi respondents varying numbers of households found, 20 is the middle/average number.|
|Miryang||All kands||002||0||Wakhi respondents|
|Tagharma (Tagharmi)||–||030||–||Sariqoli and Wakhi respondents|
|Total of Tashkurghan||–||–||480||195|
|Aqtu Kirgiz Kizilsu Oblast||Subash Dadu||Dadu||0||?||Estimation by respondents|
|Moji||0||?||Estimation (needs to be checked)|
|Chaqarghel||0||?||Estimation (needs to be checked)|
|Total of AKKO||–||–||0||650 x 6 +2000||1000+1000 individuals for Moji and Chaqerghel added with the total.|
|Yarkand||Zarafshat||100||0||This estimation is uncertain and needs to be checked from Salaman Hoji, head of this Yiza.|
|Total of Yarkand||–||–||100||0||.|
|Poskam||–||–||?||0||This Nohiya (county) includes Buyluq, Oykũr, Oq Tam, Tughchi, Tolqichi, Ishi Su, Sayli. (Wakhi respondents)
|Total of Poskam||–||–||?||0|
|Kũkyor Yiza||Oq Michit||060||–||This Kũkyor is a Wakhi settled Yiza and is separate from the Kirghiz Kũkyor .|
|Total of Karghelik||–||–||355||200|
|Guma||Chupan||Shushur||030||0||I’m not certain about the county of Chupan|
|?||Qushtagh||004||0||Initially, the households and population of this Yiza was described as 200 households & 900 & 880 individuals in contrast to 202 households/751 individuals.|
|Total of Guma
|–||–||248 HH||150 HH|
|Grand Total||0248 +
|3,000 individuals is an estimation of Poskam County.|
|1183 x6||975 x 6 + 2000|
Table : Demographic Data on the Wakhi and Kirghiz Minorities/ethnic groups of Xinjiang.
Source: Author’s Own Survey, August 2006.
It should be noted again that the above figures are based on guesstimation and even the list of villages would need to be further verified. Additional villages/hamlets could be anticipated to get included within the list, as I could not make my way to reach each individual village but, of course, did go to many of them within all counties. However, the above data can at least provide an impressive opportunity to look into and analyse the states of affairs with a deeper and ample insight on the subject matter in qualitative terms.
4.5. Transformation of Earlier Identities into Tajik
It was a point of deliberation to note that the Chinese government has politically lumped together different ethnic groups into Tajik ethno-linguistic identity. For instance, over a hundred Burushaski speakers of Hunza who had fled Hunza State along with the then ruler, Mir Safdar Ali Khan in 1891 and took refuge in Yarkand; and the NagarKuts (dwellers of Nagar), speaking Kajuna or Shina having different ethnic makeup or background, who were traded to Yarkand as slaves by Hunzukuts in the past and their descendent continue, are also termed as Tajiks in Chinese parlance.
The earlier Burusho migrants (Burushaski speakers)and Kajun ethnic groups are mainly found in Yarkand County, the former especially and dominantly in Zarafshat Yiza. Though, certain characteristics are found common between the Tajiks of Hunza and these Chinese neo-Tajiks; but one thing, differing clearly, is the adoption of the language.
It’s noteworthy that among the Hunza Wakhi and Burushaski communities, as could b observed and evidenced today, a majority of the clan groups as migrants in the valley from different geographical areeas, have got their earlier linguistic identities shifted for the Wakhi and Burushaski languages respectively thus leading to earlier language identities loss, but in terms of common identities, at least in linguistic domain, they are termed as Wakhi and Burusho. In contrast, among the Chinese Tajiks, though there is language loss for the earlier Wakhi, Burushaski and Shina language speakers in Yarkand county due to acculturation in Uyghur or Yarkandi culture but these earlier language communities have been allied with and are lumped together as Tajiks in symbolic term despite the fact they do not speak either Wakhi or Burushaski or Shina rather are Yarkandi or Uyghur speakers for the last couples of generations. Conversely, these minority ethnic groups have adopted Uyghur language, but are called Tajiks, although Tajik in linguistic terms in China could be either Wakhi or Sariqoli (distortedly as Sarikoli).
However, the case of neo-Uyghur speakers (in result of their earlier language loss from Wakhi or Burushaski or Shina to Yarkandi/Uyghur) we may find somehow in its nature as common with that of Kashmiri migrants in Gilgit center who are termed as Kashiro or Kashrotis (Kashmiris despite the fact they now speak S̃hina and cannot speak Kashmiri) but they have retained their earlier ethnic or linguistic identity within themselves.
We also need to understand that in Chinese context, knowingly or unknowingly Tajik may also refer to, a greater extent, the Ismailis within Shia Islam, despite the fact that Tajiks in broader term cannot necessarily be Ismailis in the context of Afghanistan, Tajikistan or other regions. But in China, all Wakhi and almost all Sariqoli language speakers could be found belonging to the Isma’ili faith.
The Sayyids or Khujas who are basically ethnically Arabs (tracing their descent either from the Prophet Muhammad or his first paternal cousin Imam Ali), have already lost, long time ago, their actual language (i.e., Arabic) with the passage of time due to their out-migration from Arabia and mingling with other linguistic groups to preach Islam. They however retain their ethnic identity (apart from their language which they have compromised and lost and adjusted within the local context) by customarily prefering and/or strictly following the endogamy (within their own lineage/clans/tribes).
Among the Wakhi, Sariqoli and other Pamiri language communities, the Sayyids are evidenced borrowing Persian language that makes them distinctive in many ways from the commoners. Persian is thus effectively practiced and spoken at varying scales in the houses and among the families of Sayyids and Khujas within the counties I visited in Xinjiang, despite the, fact they are in small number of population. One of the logical reasons before hand seems availability of Islamic literatures (devotional, philosophical, spiritual and so on) in Persian which consequently also led towards a social upstanding of the Sayyids or Khujas and their families among their target communities. However, it should be noted that these Syeds and khujas are also identified as Tajiks in China among the Tajik communities.
4.6. Ethnic or Linguistic Identities within the Chinese Adminstrative Structures
It was interesting to encounter with and understand different kinds of development within the Chinese thoughts and approaches particularly with structural identities in administration. If an ethnicity or language community is found in majority at any geographical location (small or big), within the administrative structure they have at least been recognized and denominated behind their respective identities. For instance, if we look at Xinjiang itself, it’s behind the Uyghur language community, known as “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” In the same manner, we can evidence Tashkurghan which is officially known behind the Tajik community as “Tashkurghan Tajik Autonomous County.” Such approaches thus continue down to the structures of Yiza (or Nohiya as known in Tajik vernaculars).
Although, the Tajik communities live in different geographical locations of both the Kashghar and Khutan Prefectures, they are officially termed and known at grassroots level by their ethnic identities. For example, there are three Yizas (or also termed as Nohiya in the Tajik vernaculars; and Gungshis in Mandarine Chinese that refers in some way to magistracies) within Kashghar Prefectures that are known officially behind the Tajik ethnicity as these magistracies are either entirely or predominantly dweled by the Tajik people. These Yizas include Zarafshot or Zarafshon Tojik Milli Yiza under Yarkand County; Buyluq Tojik Milli Yiza within Poskam County; and Nawabod Tojik Milli Yiza under Guma County.
4.7. Immigration Pressure and and A Demographic Shift of the Indigenous Tajik Population of Tashkurghan County
Like hunza valley and Gilgit-Baltistan Region in the Northern Pakistan, Tashkurghan is one of the most strategic Chinese counties as it is an important international borders union among Central and South Asia that connects China with Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan through its invaluable and highest mountain passes of an average 4,000 feet high above sea level.
Although, the strategic nature of such locations play their vital roles in national or regional or international contexts, for the local and indigenous communities they prove to be both blessing and disaster. It becomes a blessing for the natives only if the native leaderships are well aware of their national and global politics and development in addition with their strong will of defending the genuine and fundamental rights of the indigenous communities. But if the indigenous leadership at various level of societal fabrics, particularly in political realm, is either ignorant, not thoughtful and courageous, or insincere with regard to these important considerations, such strategic nature of geography then turns out to be disasters to the local and indigenous communities in many respects. One of the disasters thus could be seen in terms of occupation of the indigenous resources by the non-indigenous people. A Wakhi proverb rightly befits and indicates it in this manner: “Vich-e pũrki wezg k̃he dest-e pũrki tra vich kẽt̃etk” (meaning: the external rat has threw out the internal rat). In five years period since 2000 (when I was following my fieldwork in Tashkurghan), I have been witnessing at present (in August 2006) such notions of usurpation of indigenous rights and resources by the external rats in Tashkurghan as we (native of Gilgit-Baltistan) have been experiencing the roles of external rats in our strategic Region for the last few decades.
Tashkurghan is moving towards a demographic shift in the hands of non-locals and non-indigenous people, particularly the Han Chinese, Uyghurs and others, who have reached on the regional hotspot. Apparently, they are the businesspersons and traders but it’s being foreseen that the natural cum other resources will be occupied from the indigenous community members provided the leaderships at various scales did not play their utmost roles to protect the rights of the indigenous communities and then continue for development considerately along with other people in the region.
At present in 2006, Tashkurghan has began experiencing huge pressure of demographic shift and contributing towards series of negative consequences on the indigenous population. But how this phenomenon could genuinely, rightly, positively and productively be coped in favour of the local population is a serious and big question mark. The local population in general and the leaders in particularly were observed that they could not raise their genuine voices due to the Government’s intimidating and aggressive policies and strategies, as are seen with respect to Uyghur ethnic groups in Xinjiang region. But it was interesting to see that the local and indigenous population thinks the Government’s policies highly beneficial to them and in reciprocity they show their loyalty to the Government instead of getting their deserving royalty from it if the State is like a mother to them in different perspectives. This brought me towards another Wakhi proverb like the gem: “Abash en noghurdumer tat yoy bech k̃hẽn”k” (In time of pressure, call (unwillingly) a bear as father/uncle).
4.8. Trans-border Kinship Relationships
In Hunza, time and again, different categories of families and clan groups would remind, narrate and advocate their kinship relations with China, particularly within the former Sariqol State and Yarkand, so it was a source and point of great interest and reference for me to look for them if they do exist in reality once I’m in China.
Although, I was in Xinjiang for my fieldwork in November 2000, my particular focus was on Dafdor Yiza and Tashkurghan with specific reference to Kinship and marriage system of the Wakhi community and could not go out of the theme and area. Throughout this visit in August 2006 of Xinjiang, my motivation and attention was broad on the entire Wakhi settlements in Xinjiang so to follow the set objectives of the study in hand in an effective and holistic manner.
In result of this navigation in the anthropological landscape of the target community, it was fascinating to find and evidence enormous kinship relations of Chinese Wakhi rather broadly as Chinese Tajiks with Hunza, Ghizer and Chitral valleys in the Northern Pakistan, on the one hand; and with Wakhan of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, on the other.the related kinship relations the respondents illustrated in terms of consanguine (blood) relationship, affine (marriage relationship) and fictive or foster relationships with series of families, clans and tribes in trans-border context as described above.
There is no doubt to mention that the families or clans emigrated from Wakhan to Xinjiang in the nineteenth century or earlier have their intimate kinship relations together, and, in the same manner, it also holds true for the Chinese Wakhi relationships with the Wakhi emigrants of Wakhan to the valleys of Chitral, Ghizer or Hunza. But it’s important to be noted here that in Hunza, the linguistically speaking Wakhi of different villages I explored and found their kinship bonds with their Chinese counterparts within the counties of Tashkurghan, Yarkand and Poskam, although, further investigations need to be made.
On the other, the kinship relations (consanguine and affine) of broader Chinese Tajiks (Wakhi, Sariqolis nd others) I evidenced specifically in line with families of the rulers of Hunza, and enormous families and clans of different villages of upper, central and lower Hunza as well as with Ishkoman and Yarkhun valleys in the Northern Pakistan. But it’s a pity that there is still a huge divide and no encounter of many of the families yet due to the strict Chinese regulations. It’s a pity that for the sake of its broader political unity, the Chinese Government has been so insensitive towards union of such families who are disintegrated from each other for over a long time.
4.9. The Fate of Wakhi Language in Xinjiang: Linguistic Loss and Identity Crisis
A tragic phenomenon was evidenced with the Wakhi Tajiks of Xinjiang, especially in the Yarkand, Poskam and Karghelik counties. A sizeable number of the Wakhi peple (more or less five thousand of individuals) have lost their mother tongue and they now speak only the Uyghur language—a lingua franca of Xinjiang. When their family history is enquired and their genealogy/lineage is traced, they are mostly emigrants of Wakhan. The people introduce themselves in Uyghur language and identify themselves very proudly as Tajiks but cannot speak the language itself.
The reasons for this phenomenon within these counties, which they related, are Uyghur (and Mandarin Chinese) as requirement for their education and economy surrounding them within their environment. Besides, absence of any orthography for Wakhi language and absence of proper patronage have lead the peoples mother tongue to come the extinction stage.
In Khutan Prefecture, the Wakhi language was evidenced spoken mostly by the elders of Nawabod Tajik Mili Yiza, 15 kilometers ahead of Kilian Yiza within Guma county .The youth of these Yizas are seen getting alienation from their mother or father tongue as Wakhi.
In response to a question regarding their established relations or contacts within linguistic and/or broader cultural context with the Tajiks of Kashghar Prefecture, it was remarkable to note a grievance that during the Golden Jubilee Festival of Tashkurghan Tajik Autonomous County, the Tajiks of Guma county were not invited. Despite the fact, the Tajiks of these Yizas raised fund and around 150,000 yuen they contributed to the Golden Jubilee of Tashkrughan in order to express and share their joy being Tajiks, but unfortunately they couldn’t get the due recognition, the respondents described.
The people of Guma County thus feel an identity crisis and they think to do something towards their language preservation and promotion. The wise Wakhi people of the County may think to do something, it is encouraging, but to what extent the Chinese regulations or the existing policies allow them to facilitate their ideas, intents and initiatives may be a big question mark, though the Chinese Government is bound to the protection of Human Rights at broader scale as a signatory of the United Nations.
4.10. A Point of Consideeration and A Ray of Hope
With regard to some tangible level of cultural aspects such as the dressing codes, it’s interesting to note that the Chinese Government has been so gracious and has made it an official voice, in a sense, that the Tajik women in Tashkurghan county, for instance, could be seen walking with their traditional caps and dresses. Similarly, other aspects of tangible side such as establishment of museums, denomination of the respective ethnic or linguistic groups majority or dominant population of their indigenous locations with there names ass Tajik or otherwise and the like are appreciable, indeed. But when we observe the intangible cultural aspects such the state and fate of languages such as that of Wakhi, no serious or effective measure or sensitivity in a true manner was witnessed to preserve and promote them meaningfully either through related literacy mechanisms for the preservation an promotion of such vulnerable languages like Wakhi, or representation of such languages of small population in the radio stations and television channels or otherwise for their promotion (as we can evidence, for instance, such productive approaches in Radio Pakistan for Wakhi or official television channels in Pakistan where the regional languages are being officially patronized), and the like.
However, one of the effective approaches for Chinese Wakhi language’s promotion we can see (and a ray of hope emerges) in line with performing arts, particularly through music, dance and songs in their mother tongues performed at various occasions and in the concerts and bars. The Wakhi youth are seen attracted towards and taking active participation in them. More particularly, we can also evidence various types of Wakhi poets that have been positively contributing towards promotion of their language choosing music as an effective and intimate couple or mate for promotion of their poetry. Besides, some local researchers on the language and history are also seen emerging on varying levels of literary surface.
4.11. Refreshing and Establishing the Relationships
One of the objectives, as cited above, of the Xinjiang Mission was to refresh my previously established and newly broaden relationships with the Chinese Tajiks (Wakhis and Sariqolis). This was very successful indeed. During my visit, I met more than 150 individual respondents of different background.
Along with my team (composed of Pakistani and Chinese), I met different categories of respondents such as scholars on history, religious leaders (e.g., Pirs), the government officials (retired and on services, and the general peoples. Being educated Pakistani Wakhis, at all places, the Chinese Wakhi community members very warmly received, welcomed and entertained us. More particularly, it is worthy to mention, at a place called Nawabod Yiza within Guma County (Khutan district), a musical night was arranged to honour us, which was very interesting and unforgettable. In this manner, impressive rapport developed within the community and great acceptability of our presence and information sharing came up on the subject matter.
4.12. Respect of indigenous Cultural Values as Outsiders
One of the genuine lessons I learned in the field in Tashkurghan County in this trip was my refusal to a host of his offer of slaughtering a Pamiri sheep that he had very compassionately and affectionately offered to us for having us in his house as guests. This consequently turned out negative in offending the host instead of positive gesture as I had thought. The message the host and his family perceived as an insult despite the fact I very politely regreted their offer of the food due to our time’s constraint on the one hand; and to save the sheep as part of important resources to the host, on the other. Alternatively, I needed to have a compromise and promise with him and re-adjust my schedule that after my return from Khutan and Kashgar, I’d re-visit the family and that sheep may then be slaughtered to us as his guests so that his offer is honoured and likewise, particularly we as his guests were honoured. In this regard, I kept my word and after arrival in Tashkurghan, I re-visited the family and they were happy .
It’s therefore obvious that among other societal fabrics, culture is one of the dominant parts of the concerned communities. A culture is thus governed by its set value system. We, as anthropologists, researchers and visitors, therefore need to be highly cautious about and respect such important aspects of the indigenous people, their cultural values and sensitivities.
It was thus touching to encounter with the Chinese Wakhi community and witnessing their invaluable hospitality, which we may not find to that extent in other countries where they live. During our visit to different valleys, in three weeks’ period, more than 20 Pamiri sheep the hosts/relatives slaughtered (8 sheep in one night at Baldir valley alone) to us.
It should be noteworthy that slaughtering Pamiri sheep for us being Wakhi guests has a series of vital meanings behind as it’s not mere confined within cooking meet dishes or food. The meanings are diverse such as respect and affection for the guests, acceptance within the family and society, good wishes, abiding by and contributing towards the set value system of their respective culture, expression of humane nature of the hosts and so on. In addition, meeting with the compassionate Pirs (i.e., religious leaders) in different counties was invigorating and source of great encouragement, help and inspiration for me in the field.
5. Sum UP, Conclusions and Recommendations
Travelling in the rugged and adventurous mountain valleys of the Karakoram and Kun Lun, passing over the world’s marvellous Khunzhrav Pass (distortedly and incorrectly written as Khunjerab),crossing through the enchanting Dafdor settlement of Wakhi community and the generous Tashkurghan county, sailing through a most beautiful lake of Bulun Qul, driving on the impressive oasis of Kashghar and Yarkand, enjoying the breeze of Zarafshan river, navigating towards the hospitable Poskam and Qargheliq (=Karghelik), cruising a flank of the monstrous Taklamakan Desert in six hours and reaching Guma in Kiliang and Nawabad Tajik Mili Yiza in addition to the extended hospitality of many great friends and relatives in all counties and city centers proved to be a landmark and unforgettable emory and achievement of my life, indeed. Great navigation on the anthropological landscapes in all counties taught me a lot, that I might not have learned so rapidly from the related literatures in such a lively manner, which I did acquire from the field in a short span of time within all moments and breath from the respondents, resourcepersons, key informants and hosts.
It is noteworthy that the term “Tajik” in Chinese parlance and official records is an extended term to represent and illustrate Wakhi and Sariqoli communities: the two branches of Pamiri languages within greater Iranian languages family. But it should be noted that it’s not necessary that Tajik could be entirely for the Pamiri ethno-linguistic communities but also illustrates as an umbrella for those they are non-Pamiri language speakers. For instance, the Sayyids or Khujas, who were earlier as Arabs but they have become part of Tajik community witin their respective societies. In the same manner, the fugitives of Hunza valley in the Northern Pakistan, who fled the former Hunza State in 1891 in result of British invasion on and conquest of Hunza, a sizeable number of them took political asylum in Yarkand. They were the Burushaski and Shina speakers and they are also termed as Tajik.
Excluding the families living in different city centers of Xinjiang Region or China, the Wakhi Tajik or Wakhi Pamiri community was evidenced living permantly in five counties including Tashkurghan, Yarkand, Poskam and Qarghelik (all within Kashghar Prefecture as well as in Guma County within Khutan Prefecture of Xinjiang. It was interesting to find that the Kirghiz Turk community were also witnessed living within the cultural geography of the Wakhi in Tashkurghan, Qarghelik and Guma counties.
To what extent the Chinese Government has bestowed autonomy upon its citizens is though a big question mark, we can, at least, observe that within its administrative structures they are seen as autonomous, wherever the minority ethno-linguistic communities are present in line with their indigenous dominance in their respective geographical locations at any scale (whether bigger, middle or smaller). Xinjiang itself is a prime example, designated behind the Uyghur ethno-linguistic community and officially termed as “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” In the same way, at county level, we can evidence Tashkurghan and Kizil Su that are officially named as “Tashkurghan Tajik Autonomous County” and “Kizil Su Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast.” At smaller scale, for instance, three Yizas of the Tajiks are officially termed as “Zarafshot or Zarafshon Tojik Milli Yiza” under Yarkand County; “Buyluq Tojik Milli Yiza” within Poskam County; and Nawabod Tojik Milli Yiza” within Guma County.
Although, ethnically, linguistically and religiously different to a significant level, the mutual interests of Wakhi and Kirghiz have observingly made them interdependent and they live with cultural pluralism in the respective counties in many ways. Being minority cultural communities, their mutual interests are to live in peace, sustain their economic ties (Wakhi being agro-pastoral and the Kirghiz being pastoral) and care for each other in a broader context.
Thoughtful, honest, wise and equitable steps and strategies need to be taken by both the indigenous and local leaders on the one hand, and the Chinese government officials, political representatives and leaders at national level, on the other, to fully ensure the protection of the basic human rights among the minority cultural communities in Xinjiang.
The intensified flow of immigration and settling of Han and other Chinese citizens other than the indigenous communities which should never be at the cost of the fate and destiny of the indigenous communities that lead towards devouring of their fundamental rights and resources, as we could witness in Tashkrughan Tajik County in particular and Xinjiang in general.
The Chinese government’s scepticism regarding its national security and interests (besides the Han Chinese interests) will continue and the minority cultural groups data may not be easily and correctly available officially because of their political interests. Extensive, independent and more scientific investigation would therefore be required to conduct more studies objectively on such themes such as the human rights, demography and other facets of the minority ethnic, linguistic, religious and economic groups in Xinjiang.
Having a trustable relation and upstanding image before the Chinese Government, the Chinese Tajik or Pamiri communities of Xinjiang are thus invaluable resources for the Government. But it should be noted on top that the productive kinship relations of these Chinese Tajik communities are invaluable assets for cultural diplomacy of China and can prove highly effective in improving trans-border relations in different development contexts as huge number of the kinspersons inhabit across the borders in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. However, a serious sense of official responsibilities and sensitiveness in humane ways and trust would be imperative (in contrast to arrogant ways of showing one’s might as right) to opt and realize such important notions, where by the important ethno-linguistic communities of small population on the trans-border regions could rather should be considered and designated as “true and live ambassadors of their respective nation or so-called civilization states.”
For over the years, the Chinese Government is evidenced investing significantly more on the tangible aspects of culture, which is not bad though linked internally in priority with tourism promotion and revenues generation. The intangible aspect of culture such as language preservation and promotion sounds less attention. It’s however important to understand and realize that intangible heritages stand first and in the core of tangible aspects . Equal priority needs to be given to the intangible heritage preservation and promotion.
Until and unless the Chinese Government encourages and fosters the local civil society organizations around different thematic areas within Xinjiang, particularly within the ethno-linguistic communities of small population , many desiring and requiring development aspects (such as that of intangible cultural heritages, particularly language preservation and promotion) will be prone to serious consequences as we could witness in Yarkand, Poskam and Qarghlik counties were thousands of Wakhi community members lost their mother tongue. It’s a huge blow on the face of insensitive Chinese Government vis-à-vis fundamental human rights for not taking care of such important language rights of humanity on the surface of the Earth. On the other, it doesn’t encourages local communities to take serious and lawful initiatives for safeguarding their basic rights and development issues.
It’s imperative to all those including visitors, tourists, researchers, scholars, journalists, politicians, traders, businesspersons, religious-persons, employees, students, or whatsoever they may be who enter among the cultural communities of Xinjiang should be aware of the basic and indigenous value systems and pay due respect to the values the cultural communities have carried on and flourished for centuries and passed on in tradition to different generations.
Prospective Themes Areas for the Future Studies
At the end, out of series of subject areas, I’m going to suggest some prospective, interesting and productive themes that need to be studied in an academic domain in future but due to the political scepticism and fear in the mindset of the Chinese government, such studies lag behind, unfortunately.
1. Multiculturalism and Trans-border trade and economic development.
2. Multicultural Potentials and Trans-border Tourism Development between Central and South Asia.
3. A holistic Study of the Mountain Corridor: Hunza versus Tashkurghan in Comparison.
4. Trans-border Cultural Linkages for Economic and Environmental Development.
5. Cross examination of Kinship and Marriage Systems among the Pamiris (Wakhis and Sariqolis) and Kirghiz within Chinese counties, and among the Tajiks of other nation states.
6. Death ceremonies of the Tajiks and Kirghiz in China
7. Trans-border Rites and rituals of Chinese Tajiks in Comparison.
8. Studies of Trans-border Folksongs of the Chinese Tajiks and Kirghiz.
9. A thorough Study of Language Loss and Identity Crisis of the Chinese Tajiks in Kashghar Prefecture.
10. New language Identities: Neo-Tajiks and Neo-Uyghurs within Kashgar and Khutan Prefectures of Xinjiang.
11. An many more.
I owe a deepest gratitude to Professor Dr. Hermann Kreutzmann, Chair of the Institute of Geography, Free University, Berlin (Germany), for his compassionate support and mentorship.
I’m so grateful to all my respected resourcepersons, key informants, friends and relatives in Xinjiang . Without their kind cooperation and facilitation, this study never had come up to this stage.
Special thanks also goes to the related Chinese officials for permiting me to go to meet my friends and relatives in different counties of Xinjiang.
A high indebtedness and appreciation goes to my friends, Hayder Murad and Niyatullah, for their physical assistance in holding my hands as it was this year onward I became day time dependendnt to walk freely due to my visual impairment inheriting RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa).