Tuesday, July 29, 2008

woolio - the festival

July 29 '08

none of us had had a very rest full night - Nafeesha had begun to sport a serious migraine, nadirs cold was in full flow, Nargis' blistered toes were getting steadily worse, i was well, expect for the usual sleep deprived night - an hour or two was all i could muster. even though i make a hell of a tent mate - constantly shifting sides, opening the tent door a few times in the middle of the night for those pesky leaks, blowing my dry as wood nose, getting up for a sip of water, anything but quiet no movement sleep, Kamila slept through most of it and was fine next morning.
so once again under clear blue skies, puffy white clouds, and all the excitement of what was to unfold, we cheerfully headed down to Shuwerth, looking on at a quiet village, seemingly unfazed by the all important day ahead.

we visited Farmans home - were offered yak milk tea and chilpindoq - wheat chapati with layers of yak cheese and butter - pretty delicious stuff once you got to like the taste. no doesn't take too long.
in their customary laid back fashion everyone present then gathered at the village square, men squatting in rows, facing each other, women next to them in a similar fashion, everyone dressed in Sunday best, mostly brilliant reds.
several little boys dragged that evenings congregational dinner to the center - six or seven fatted goats, each given by different families for this auspicious meal - customary prayers were read on the heads of these unsuspecting creatures, before being dragged off to the chopping board and the communal kitchen where the women cooked every part of the animal all day long.
the taste - pure goat!
the mukhi - head priest - then stepped forward - i guess red must be an auspicious color cause even he was wearing a red jacket with a traditional white woolen cap. he started with the first chapter of the Quran, followed by some other suras, then by salutations in Arabic to God, Muhammad, Ali and his family and finally their own imam - perhaps the head of their order - i assume this cause i didn't recognise the last name as one of the imams names that i am familiar with. the surprise element was that to end of the ceremony he began to beseech God for good health, prosperity, protection etc. etc. all in very eloquent poetic Farsi! under this clear blue sky, it was so wonderful to suddenly hear duas being read in your mother tongue, albeit by a vastly different group of people, living in the remotest part of Pakistan, as far from Iran proper as can be! after listening to them speak Wakhi to each other, and having picked a word or phrase or two here and there, it was exciting to suddenly understand an entire little speech!
language - what a unifier of disparate souls.

we then set off to the plains just below the village. women stood in rows, again by order of seniority. men gathered their yaks and began mounting them - some alone, others with a rider, everyone anxious to be on a yak and ride it to Woolio. not everyone had a yak to ride, so many accompanied the whole bunch by foot, an hours walk from where we began. each one of us got to ride behind one of our men. this time saddled - but not much more comfortable than the saddle less ride of the previous day. except the shock factor was alot less severe, and we'd figured out how to adjust our buts to the yak and our riders back in as seamless a fashion as was kosher!
Farman and Nafeesha set out the quickest - theirs was a sprightly yak, and Farman was determined to be the first to reach Woolio.

a few details I've missed mentioning -
this is a community of 200 Wakhi families - speaking an ancient dialect of Farsi called Wakhi.
all Ismaili Muslims - 'shia imamis' as they call themselves.
the standard greeting in wakhi - chez holi - as in 'che haal daari' (in Farsi).
another standard greeting all over the village and all over Ismaili areas " Ya Ali Madaat" the response to which is "Mowla Ali Madaat".
seating order is based on seniority - guests get to sit at the head of the row.
every one stands up to great any new person who enters a room or gathering.
the newcomers kiss the hand of each person who has stood up to greet him/her and the kiss is reciprocated.
applies to men and women alike.
women kiss the hands of male relatives only.
all younger people do this when meeting an elder, whatever the relationship.
younger women don't necessarily cover their hair - but are modestly dressed.
older mamma's wear a cross stitch embroidered pill box hat covered with a duppatta - not sure where the 'older' age sets in - some looked a 100 years old, but were no more than a year or two older or younger than Kamila and myself!

Woolio - a pre-Islamic yak racing festival - a coming of age race for young men and boys who are beginning to master the art of riding/racing a yak. the festival named after a large rock called Woolio, to which everyone is headed and from where the race begins back to the village, aside from the customary prayers to the rock and the Almighty, also entails song, dance and communal eating. a dry bread - I've already forgotten its name - is shared amongst all present, washed down by yak milk tea.
an oily substance has been oozing out from under this rock for as long as any one can tell. the year more oil oozes, their yaks give more milk - it is a very special year. offerings of home grown wheat, and home made yak butter are made to the rock. prayer flags flap around its periphery, and wishes of all sorts are made to the heavens above - if the rock can ooze oil, then surely any ones most outrageous wish can be granted by the same power that gives this rock its miraculously unending supply of oil!

more on the festival later-------------

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