MIER (Mother-tongue Institute for Education and Research) is an organization working on language promotion and culture documentation in the District of Chitral. Chitral is one of the few linguistically diverse districts of Pakistan, with as many as 14 languages being used simultaneously.
A year ago, the organization undertook a project to publish a calendar for the Khowar language, the lingua franca of the district. During the process of gathering data for this project, we got into a very interesting as well as challenging situation regarding the Khowar names for the months of the year. Data collection was accomplished via telephone, cell phone, recorders, internet, and hand-written letters, as well as personally visiting and talking with stakeholders in areas where there are no cell phone networks, landline telephones, or internet.
The challenge that we encountered was that every Khowar-speaking region or village has its own distinct name for particular months. Moreover, many educated people and youths were not even aware that these cultural names exist, a negligence for which I was unable to judge who should be blamed.
The basic reason to contact people in a variety of areas was to learn what names are commonly used for months within a Chitrali Year. I came across many interesting things in this process, one of which is that the educated people and school-going children do not even know the the Khowar names. They have either been completely forgotten or the elders never taught these names to the younger generation. Should we blame the frequent use of English and Urdu names in schools, offices, and market places, or the oblivion of the locals towards the importance of maintaining the use of their mother tongue?
Wherever we place the blame, the fact is that the mother tongue in Chitral is struggling for its very survival. The irony is that this is an issue not because locals ignore their prime identity, but because people at the helm of local society show complete ignorance regarding this issue. Only elders and uneducated women folk, those who have not been given the option to become further educated and learn other languages, are singing the songs we actually want to listen to. One gets upset thinking what will be the fate of these beautiful names once these elders leave this world. At the same time, modernity and education seem to be demanding the extradition of mother tongues. Media outlets do not emphasize the importance of vernacular languages, as they fear losing business if they report in ways that appeal only to small audiences or communities representing a certain language. In Chitral's case, the second impediment is the complete unavailability of media outlets run by local people.
Though I met dozens of locals in areas I visited who were not even able to tell me the Khowar names for the months, what is more interesting was those who did know the Khowar names. For these names differed in various parts of the district. However, there are six names, three at the beginning of the year and three at the end, that are common in every calendar in the various parts of Chitral. The months written in green in table above show these common names , with little change in their placement and order in almost every part of Khowar-speaking areas.
Some of the differing names are named after a particular activity or celebration, which is celebrated in one specific area but is alien to other parts of the district. Weather also has played some role in forming differing names. For instance, people in Mulkhow historically change their residence according to the seasons, moving to hilly areas in summer to avoid hot days and descending to the plain or lower areas in winter. The event of leaving lower homes for hilly areas would take place with great celebration, and this month took the name of LASHTAR NISIK, which literally means “leaving down homes”resulting in both an activity and a name for this month that do not exist in other Khowar-speaking regions.
For those people who are mainly dependant on cultivation and cattle farming for their livelihoods, work time is fixed based on the position of the sun, which is another factor leading towards the creation of names for pauses during the day and months. People forecast the weather by looking at the sky and the behavior of the sun and prepare their fields for crops based on these predictions. An entire cycle of cultivation and harvest takes place within a particular time limit, and is given a relevant title. KISHMAN and GOMLEHTI are the titles commonly used for the duration of the cultivation process. However, the placement or order of these months differs as the field preparation chore takes place in lower Chitral well before areas situated in suburban parts of the district. Therefore, the placement of this month in the calendar cannot be fixed at one point of the year for all regions.
The agreed-upom six months, related to the winter season comprising January, February, March and October, November and December, have no known naming or positioning conflict as winter falls simultaneously or with only minor discrepancies throughout the district. The months of Alijan (February) and Shadagh (March) coincide with the passage of migratory birds through Chitral during those months.
After the Khowar Calendar was completed, there were some differences of opinion on some of the month names with people arguing about some of the discrepancies described above. I encouraged them to express their concerns and then presented to them why the publishers used certain names and why differing names were not included. Subsequently, most of the arguing was resolved and people accepted our version of the titles as being the most logical and least controversial, which was encouraging.
We would like to thank all those who helped us get useful suggestions for the Khowar Calendar. We collected data regarding the names of the Khowar months from a variety of sources, contacting people in a variety of areas who were known to use Khowar names for the months of the year in their area. People living in remote locations who were reachable via cell phone and social sites were also contacted and consulted on the commonality of month names in the Khowar Community. Emails were also exchanged with contributors to Khowar Literature, who gave their commendable analysis of our results.
Farid Ahmad Raza, President Mother-tongue Institute for Education and research (MIER) is a linguist and researcher, working on language and culture promotion and documentation and multilingual education in District Chitral.
Editor in chief a journal Khowar Nama for Khowar language.