Monday, October 15, 2007

August 10, 2007 Ishkoshim, on the Road Again

The team headed out to Ishkoshim, a 300-kilometer drive along the Panj River east from Khorog. This region is one of the most remote in Badakhshan. For that reason people here seem to have retained more of their connections to ancient practices than in more accessible areas of the Pamirs. During the 2006 TDI visit to the region the team had made a strong connection with the family of Rahim Sarvarkhonov, who live close to the hot springs sacred site in the village of Tughoz. The Saryarkhonov family was able to host the team for their entire 2007 visit. Here in the photo is the traditional welcome to guests of bread and salt.

A visit was made to the Mazar (sacred shrine) of Shohqambari Oftob near the village of Langar, accompanied by the local Khalifa, Mr. Mirzo Bek Mirzo Bekov. The first thing that strikes you is the number of enormous Archa trees, A type of juniper, usually found at high altitudes, they can grow for thousands of years in the mountains but rarely reach a large size. Here at the mazar they have grown to gigantic proportions. The small twigs or needles are used sparingly as incense offerings, the trees themselves are never disturbed and are considered sacred. One of the enormous Archa limbs leans into the entrance of the shrine. On both sides of the entryway are large Mountain Ibex and Marco Polo Sheep horns. During the holidays such as ‘eid-i qurbon, ramazan, 'eid of ashura, and others, the people come and pour oil on the horns. These animals have been venerated over the centuries for the purity of their lives in the wildest places of the mountains. Hearths for fire on either side of the entrance are related to the pre-Islamic period. Practices associated with Zoroastrian and other even earlier traditions, are often incorporated in the sacred sites throughout Badakhshan, and seem to be much in evidence in Ishkoshim. The shrine is now dedicated to an Ismaili teacher, Shohqambari Oftob, however the site's connections with pre-Islamic history is still well remembered by the stewards of the shrine such as the Khalifa, and local people. He relates to us the history of a statue effigy called a Tugh made of metal that was here at the shrine, describing it in great detail. During times of danger and strife in the community it would be brought out to ward off the misfortunes with its presence. In these times of disaster the people would be summoned by the sound of a huge daf (hand drum), called the Dafi Mohammadi, that could be heard throughout the surrounding mountains. Apparently during the Soviet times the statue was hidden for its protection, to this day it has not been relocated.

High on the hills overlooking the Wakhan Valley are the ruins of a medieval fortress, the Zulhasham Castle. A fortress dating from pre-Islamic times, the local story is that the castle was the stronghold of a tyrant king who subjugated and abused the local population during his reign.

Three of the older women from the community, Jonbegim Gulbutaeva, Zarinamo Dildorbekova, and Zebo Zinatshoeva demonstrate a song cycle called Bulbulak. An a’capella lament, sung for relatives when they are gone or far from home. The ladies tell the team that they have remembered these very old versions of this form, passed down from their grandmothers, as they have the opportunity for regular practice together while tending their flocks of goats in the mountains.

Bahodur Rahmatshoev and Zuhrokhon Mataeva are two professional dancers. Together they run an ensemble for dance and music, Lale Badakhshan (Ruby of Badakhshan), at the Cultural House in Ishkoshim Center, where they also have about fifteen young students of traditional dance. They have opportunities to travel regionally for performances and at times attend festivals in other areas or countries. They discuss their conditions and aspirations at great length with the TDI team. They hope to create more opportunities for travel in the future.

Whenever artists participate in the project the team provides color prints and video to the artists and host families. The still photos are often displayed proudly, as the team is pleased to see here at the Culture House in Ishkoshim. Often the TDI photos are the first recent examples that the artists have for display since the early days of the Soviet era.

The TDI team was fortunate to participate in a performance of their group at the home of the Rahimkhon in the village of Vichkut. Facilitated again this year by local music teacher Najimkhon and the professional dancers Bahodur and Zuhrokhon. The music event took place at the home of our host family Rahimkhon in the village of Vichkut. The event was informal and attended by family members of our host family and neighbors. Bahodur and Zuhrokhon had spent the afternoon with us this day discussing their experiences being professional performing artists in Ishkoshim. We were so happy to have them stay with us for the evening’s event. They surprised us and returned after our discussion wearing traditional costumes before the musicians had even finished tuning! The young boys were the first up to dance this night but it was not long before Zuhrokhon took the dance floor and then in her own unique gestural way beckoned each member of the house, including those of us in TDI, up to dance with her.

Observations: In 2006 and again in 2007 Bahodur and Zuhrokhon performed for the TDI team. Since 2006 their group has had more opportunities to attend festivals and been asked to perform outside of the area. The influences of other regional dance forms seemed to be more evident in their presentation this year. They seem to have incorporated more “generic” showmanship as they translate their regionally unique dance traditions for theatrical performance. The pressure to “market” ones art in a difficult economy may contribute to a tendency for homogenization. It points out the importance of providing support for artists regionally, to make it possible for the artists to concentrate some efforts in the revitalization of their regional and historically unique dance heritage.

The team also visited the Bibi Fatima Chashma, a sacred hot springs known for its healing qualities, named after Fatima, the wife of Imam Ali and daughter of the prophet Mohammad, Fatima is venerated throughout the Islamic world. It is certain however that the veneration of this site pre-dates the advent of Islam in the region, (c 700 ad), by many centuries. The story goes that if you are wishing for children one must take stones from inside the spring, one for each desired child and with the accompanying prayers to Bibi Fatima, along with certain behaviors (this last instruction usually delivered with a knowing lift of the eyebrow), your wish for children will surely be granted. The Bibi Fatima waters emerge from a roomy natural cave that is entered by the bathers; men and women are accommodated on an alternating schedule.
Once inside the springs the older women can point out the features within the cave that actually represent the body of Bibi Fatima herself, the arms, legs, feet. Unfortunately at some point in the relatively recent past drunken Russian soldiers had vandalized her hand, one of the most revered features of the lady.

One of the most impressive and prominent features inside of the cave is pictured here to the left, and out of a sense of decorum, we leave it's interpretation to the beholder. It is indeed possible to enter inside of this smaller inner cave as well, the waters are considerably warmer there.