Minstrel Poetry from the Pamir Mountains
This book is a detailed study of the sung poetry of the Ismâ‘îlîs living in Pamir Mountains, in the region of Badakhshan, situated in the south east of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan, on the border with Afghanistan and China. The Ismâ‘îlîs form a minority within the Shia Islam; Central Asia itself is mainly inhabited by Sunni Muslims.
The Ismâ‘îlîs of Badakhshan have lived in relative isolation for centuries and have developed a rich poetic and musical tradition which has been handed down orally. Although
Badakhshan belongs to the Persian-speaking republic of Tajikistan, the inhabitants of Badakhshan are for the major part speakers of Pamir languages, a group of non-written Eastern-Iranian languages. Persian has been important as a lingua franca and alongside Arabic as the language of religion. The Persian poet and Ismâ‘îlî missionary Nasir-i Khusraw, who lived in the 11th century, is worshipped in Badakhshan as the person who brought the Ismâ‘îlî faith to the Badakhshani people. Persian poetry plays a major role in the religious tradition of the Ismâ‘îlîs of Badakhshan, which is why the emphasis of the present study is on poetry performed during religious gatherings. However, poetry also features prominently in many other social contexts.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent civil war in Tajikistan have led to a revival of the performance of religious music and poetry. In the past decade, the political implications of the religious tradition became more and more emphasised. The renewed contacts between the Ismâ‘îlî community in Badakhshan and the Ismâ‘îlî community worldwide has brought about significant changes in
Badakhshan, of which the implications are yet to be evaluated. The poetic tradition of Badakhshan is a truly living tradition, and its description given in the book can be regarded as a well-documented reflection of the tradition as it was during the crucial years 1992–1993, in the ‘vacuum’ after the collapse of Soviet government and before the growing influence of foreign organisations.
The book has eight chapters, divided in two parts, and a large introduction. In the introduction an overview is given of the history and present life of the Badakhshani Ismâ‘îlîs, while the ensuing chapters each focus on a specific genre of poetry. In each chapter an analysis is given of the nature, topics, background and context of a poetic genre from the Badakhshani tradition. In the last four chapters more emphasis is laid on the poetry in performance, which is of major importance as we are dealing here with a living tradition. The book is accompanied by an extensive anthology containing the transcripts of the poetry recorded during fieldwork. This is poetry in both Persian and Pamir languages. Throughout the study, reference is made to the texts in the anthology. As the orally transmitted poetry is not available in script elsewhere, these texts form a valuable source in themselves for reference and further study. Examples of the sung poetry from Badakhshan have been provided on a CD accompanying the book. This study can be useful in several fields of study: first of all Iranian and Central Asian Studies, and more specifically Persian literature and literary history. But the book may be equally useful for scholars working on Islamology, sociology, political sciences, musicology and antropology.