Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Pashtun war ballad – The Marwats' raid into Isa Khel

Ballad is a poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas. Traditional ballads are typically of unknown authorship, having been passed on orally from one generation to the next as part of the folk culture.

This ballad was composed about 1750 AD, to celebrate a successful foray of the Marwats into Tarna (Isa Khel) against the Niazis, whose chief settlements at the mouth of the Kuram they burnt. Only a fragment of it remained when Septimus Smet Thorburn recorded its translation in 1876.
"The Marwats and Niazis are at war",
A boy called out beside me.
"On the west of the Tanga fine dust has risen,"
A Marwat shouts - a long deep halloo.
The Marwats had strength - they heeded not the drum.
Before early afternoon prayers they had prepared their army;
Before late afternoon prayers fires blazed at Tarna. 
"The Marwat swords [1] are flashing, come forth from your shelter.
Begu, son of Hathi Khan, is upon you."
Isakki brought home a white beard and a red sword;
In the field he swooped like a falcon.
Amongst the Dilkhozais was Atal, a brave warrior:
He brought back a spear broken in the enemy's breast
Kalandar, son of Mamut, is the star of the morning;
With one thrust he made such havoc with his spear
That the Adamzais were sacrifices to it.
The fire of the Niazis blazed like burning faggots;
The Marwats rushed into it like blind men. 
For a man self praise is unlawful,
But the clothes of Shekhi, my brother [2] , were reddened with blood. Who was looking?

1- The women of the Isa Khels are the speakers. They are supposed to be trying to rouse their men to fight.
2- The poet is the speaker

A Marwat elder, c.1908. From "Among the wild tribes of the Afghan frontier"

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