Pashtun culture

Pashtun culture (Pashto: پښتني هڅوب) is based on Islam and Pashtunwali, which is an ancient way of life, as well as speaking of the Pashto language and wearing Pashtun dress. The culture of the Pashtun people is highlighted since at least the time of Herodotus (484-425 BC) or Alexander the Great, when he explored the Afghanistan and Pakistan region in 330 BC. The Pashtun culture has little outside influence, and, over the ages, has retained a great degree of purity.

Holidays and special events

The biggest holidays for Pashtuns are the Islamic Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, followed by Afghan Independence Day (August 19) and Pakistan Independence Day (August 14). The arrival of Sparlay or spring, known as Naw-Wraz (New Day), is also celebrated by some Pashtuns. It is an ancient annual Pashtun festival which celebrates both the beginning of spring and the New Year. Amongst some Pashtuns, Sheshbeeyeh, a prelude festival to Nava Wroz, is also celebrated. This tradition still survives, mainly amongst the southerners, in Bannu and Waziristan.[1] During holidays, Pashtuns set up festivals in which they usually attend mosques to make special prayers, have cookouts in parks, and go to fairs.

Pashto poetry

Afghanistan and K.P.K. were noted for its poetic language even before the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan. The Pata Khazana contains Pashto poetry written as far back as the 8th century. Some notable poets from the region of Afghanistan-Pakistan include Amir Kror Suri, Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Nazo Tokhi, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Timur Shah Durrani, Shuja Shah Durrani, Ghulam Muhammad Tarzi, and Khan Abdul Ghani Khan.[2]

Pashtun men usually gather at special events and listen to Pashto poetry. There are TV programs which broadcast such events to the wider Pashtun audiences. One such program is on AVT Khyber channel in Pakistan, with Amanullah Kakar as the presenter.

Music and dances

Main article: Pashto music
A man playing a rubab in Farah, Afghanistan

Traditional Pashto music is mostly klasik ghazals, using rubab or sitar, tabla, portable harmonium, flute and several other musical instruments. Today's modern Pashto music is influenced by neighboring music such as Bollywood filmi as well as western or European music.

Below is a list of the main known styles of Attan in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All of thes may be practiced and mixed by Pashtuns in other valleys, and it's not uncommon to see Pashtuns of one province being better at a different region's style.[3][4] Pashto: اتڼ; ALA-LC Romanization: Ataṇ, also referred to as Atan or Attan, are the following:

Attan dance

In this dance, the dancers perform to the beat of the music. It is typically performed by men and women. It involves 2-5 steps, ending with a clap given while facing the center, after which the process is repeated. The hips and arms are put in a sequential movement including left and right tilts, with the wrists twisting in sequence. Ultimately a hand is projected outward and brought in a 'scoop-like' fashion towards the center where the other hand meets it for a clap. This dance is typically performed with the musician dictating the duration and speed.

Khattak dance

Main article: Khattak dance
A group of dancers performing Khattak dance in Pakistan

The Khattak dance is performed by the Khattak tribe, mainly in Pakistan but also in some eastern parts of Afghanistan.

Mahsud Attan (sance)

This is a unique dance routine using rifles performed by the Mahsud tribe of Pashtuns in South Waziristan. Originally it was performed at times of war, but later became a cultural dance. The dancers dance empty handed and require only large drums. Nowadays it is performed with guns in the dancers' hands; loaded guns are taken in one hand, and to the beat of the drum the dancers move forward in a circle. After taking two and a half steps, each dancer turns about and cocks the gun. All the dancers do this in a uniform manner, and by completing the turning steps they fire in the air simultaneously. The sound of the guns seems to be a single big bang.

Waziri dance

Waziristan, a region of Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, is a large area and has a particular Pashtun culture. Two drummers and a flute player play a particular tune. All the Wazirs stand around them. Two people leave the circle, go dancing towards the drummers, and come back dancing in the same manner. While performing, both people turn around twice, once facing each other, and once facing the opposite direction. After doing this separately, they march while dancing to the assembled crowd. As they reach the circle, another pair of performers move forward in the same fashion.


Main article: Pashtun dress
Pashtun dress of Pakistan and Afghanistan

Pashtun men usually wear a Partūg-Kamees in Pashto (sometimes worn with a pakul or paṭkay). In the Kandahar region young men usually wear different type of hat similar to a topi and in the Peshawar region they wear white kufis instead. Leaders or tribal chiefs sometimes wear a karakul hat, like Hamid Karzai and others. The Pashtun Lūngai (or Paṭkay) is the most worn headpiece in Afghanistan, with different tribes having different styles and colours to indicate what tribe or region they come from.

Women and girls wear traditional long dresses and cover their hair with a light piece of cloth.


Pashtun cuisine vary among Afghanistani districts. Pashtuns are known for their large varieties of dried fruit and yogurt based dishes. Yogurt called maste is usually made by the Pashtuns themselves in their own homes. Chai (tea) plays a big role in Pashtun gatherings and is served with dried fruits and kulcha (biscuit). Desserts such as firni (custard) are also very popular.




Buzkashi and polo

Further information: Buzkashi

Some Pashtuns in Central Asia participate in buzkashi, which is a sport introduced in the region during the Mongol period from the 13th century onward. The word buz means "goat" and kashi means "dragging" or "pulling" in the Persian language. The basic objective is to carry the headless carcass of a calf or goat around a flag and back to the starting point while on horseback with other riders trying to do the same thing by taking the carcass away. This is not a team sport, it is every man for himself, which becomes apparent as soon as the game starts. It is played on a large open dusty field which does not appear to have many boundaries. The game is a microcosm of power politics in Afghanistan. Although buskashi is primarily an individual sport, alliances are built up between various players. Between the alliances, the strongest players finally take control (or in this case the remnants of a headless calf) and ride off to victory.


See also


  1. Lt. j.g. Keith Goodsell (March 7, 2011). "Key Afghan, US leadership plant trees for Farmer's Day". United States Central Command. Retrieved 2012-12-03.
  2. Afghanistan Online, Classical Dari and Pashto Poets
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