Tariq Aziz & Abdul Sattar

SHANGLA/MARDAN: People have gathered in a hujra (male drawing room) in Mera village in district Shangla to mourn the death of a deceased person and pray for the departed soul. Likewise, women of the neighborhood have also gathered at the house with the female members of the bereaved family.

Mourning over the death of someone’s family member and sharing grieves of the bereaved family is one of the common values in Pakhtun society. People commonly visit the bereaved family for condolence and offering prayers. They also share meals with the deceased’s family members for at least three days.

But the coronavirus pandemic has somehow also affected this common practice. The mourning gatherings and funeral prayers which used to be attended by hundreds or sometimes thousands of people, are restricted to small gatherings and hardly participated by a few dozen people in certain areas.

A few months ago, Nazir Ahmad’s father had died of corona in the same village. His funeral prayer was attended by a few people. The district administration even didn’t allow Nazir’s family to hold the Qul ritual on the third day of the mourning. As per the local traditions, relatives and neighbors of the deceased congregate, recite Fatiha for the departed soul and eat the feast prepared by the family of the deceased person on the third day.

“My father’s funeral prayer was offered in Bisham and unfortunately very few people attended the prayer. It really hurt all our family members. Normally, a large number of people participate in funeral prayers in our ancestral village,” he regrets.

Pakistan is currently facing the second wave of the coronavirus but neither the government nor the public people are taking the pandemic seriously. When the government imposed a lockdown in March to avoid the risk of spread of the virus, people were warned to follow the SOPs and they responded well by observing social distancing. However, they are no more following the guidelines as is evident from crowded weddings and funeral processions.

Though people are trying to come out of the situation and return to their normal life, experts and social scientists believe that the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on Pakhtun culture will be far-reaching.

Hujra, a pivotal part of the Pakhtun culture, also faced the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. For centuries, hujra remained a symbol of unity, hospitality, and other social activities. It is still considered a place for informal education, as people of different ages sit together and discuss different social and political issues. Local council meetings are also held in hujra where people resolve bilateral issues through jirgas. Besides, hujra also hosts wedding ceremonies and mourning sessions in rural culture.

However, hujra culture is also fading as a fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Wakeel Khan, a local villager says people avoid attending crowded places due to the fear of the spread of the virus, as a result, hujras are getting deserted.

The coronavirus pandemic also impacted the culture of holding wedding ceremonies with traditional pomp and show. In Pakhtun society, friends, family members, and relatives are invited to the wedding receptions, locally called walima. But this time, people preferred to celebrate their weddings simply.

Asim Hussain, a resident of Shangla district, says he wanted to hold his wedding reception as per previous traditions. “Normally, we arrange music programs, mehndibaraat and invite guests at walima but unfortunately, I did nothing and held a simple ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Asim informs.

The pandemic’s impact on the Pakhtun’s culture and tradition can be gauged from the fact that the annual event of traditional game makha was also canceled due to fear of the spread of the coronavirus. Makha is a traditional archery sport popular among the Yousufzai tribe. It is played with an oversize bow and a long arrow.

Amjad Yousufzai, the provincial president of the makha tells TNN that the annual tournament of makha is one of the salient features of their culture and they have been holding it for the last 20 years in the Katlang area of district Mardan. But the same could not be held this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The event normally continues for 15 to 20 days and a large number of people from the surrounding villages and even Swabi district come here to watch the competitions,” Yousafzai informs. He adds that the postponement of the event disappointed the players as well as the general public.

Amjad however, hopes that as the lockdown is over, he will continue efforts to organize the annual makha event to entertain the players and the public.

The coronavirus lockdown has also put negative impacts on the habits of school children. Instead of going to playgrounds and physically participating in sports events, many kids have been preferring playing online games on mobile gadgets at home.

Javeria, a mother of two children, says her kids are not taking interest in studies and physical activities and become addicted to online games. “It is all due to the lockdown. When the schools were closed, we did not allow them to go outside and instead forced them to stay home. During this period, they spent most of their time playing games on mobile and laptop. Now they do not even take their lunch and dinner on time and insist on playing with the electronic gadgets,” she continues.

Jehanzeb Khan, director of sports and physical education at the Daggar Degree College, Buner, says it is very dangerous that the majority of the kids are spending more time with mobile gadgets and playing online games. He thinks this practice will affect the mental growth of the children.

Jehanzeb Khan suggests that parents should encourage their children to participate in physical games and even make arrangements inside their homes for the children. “Some games can even be played indoor like badminton. Parents should encourage their kids to play games physically instead of spending time with mobile. Other traditional games which can be played with family members are also helpful,” he continues.