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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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Timeline Timeline

Nomadic and Sedentary

CIRCA 10000 BCE
THEMES:

Geography & Destiny

Identity & Perception

Reveal Source

האיל הניאוליתי. Natufian-SupportingWall-Elwad. Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. 16 Aug. 2005. Web. 10 Aug. 2010.

Al-Din, Rashid. Mongol Soldiers by Rashid Al-Din 1305. Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. .

Allahdad, perf. Music: Field Recordings. Rec. 10 Nov. 1966. Hiromi Lorraine Sakata, 1966. Super 8.

Asia Society. The Jami Al 'Tawarikh and the Shahnama. Digital image. Asia Society. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. 

Classical Numismatic Group. Antimachusii. Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Web.
Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Cutting Barley in Ghazni - 1920s. 1920s. Photograph. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA.

Dupree, Nancy. 60-R39-9c. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 61-148-C. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 62-108a. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 68-177. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 76-1430. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 82-3235. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 83-692. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A Type of House: A69-499. 1969. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A69-264a. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A69-49a. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A70-12. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A74-114. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A75-150. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. Q2-01278-34. Photograph. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Genghis Khan. Illuminated manuscript. Bibliothèque Nationale De France, Département Des Manuscrits, Division Orientale, Paris, France.

Goats Near Khyber Pass. 1920s. Photograph. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA.

Kanalstein, Eric. Photo of the Day: 6 January 2010. Digital image. UNAMA. Jan. 2010. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. 

KES-1968-A-1337. Photograph. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Q2-01278-16a. Photograph. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Q2-01278-34. Photograph. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Q2-01279-03. Photograph. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Q2-01284-06. Photograph. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Unknown. Afghan Women. Digital image. Courtesy of the British Library Board. Web. 

U.S. Department of State. Female Students of Afghanistan in 2005. Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. 10 June 2005. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. 

Vyas, Raveesh. Bhimbetka Cave Paintings. Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. 24 Feb. 2009. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. 


Producer: Grace Norman

Reveal Transcript

There’s a strong belief in the Westernized world that human development happened in stages. That is, first humans hunted and gathered. Then they arrived at a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. Soon wandering gave way to a settled life and people learned to control the land so it produced food and other resources. Finally, out of agrarian societies grew civilization. Civilization meant a diversified economy and the development of monetary, writing, and other systems that still connect people to this day. Circumstances in some places meant faster development than in others, but still this same theory of stages applied everywhere.

But is this vision of history correct?

Consider the view from another perspective. Ancient tools excavated from pre-history settlements reveal that nomads lived alongside farmers in some of the earliest settlements in human history.

Throughout the course of history, the area that is today Afghanistan has seen many different lifestyles. And they haven’t always existed in the chronological order that we typically imagine. Throughout the region’s history, herders, farmers, nomads, and city-dwellers have existed side-by-side. With the advent of wealthy kingdoms, jazz, and even the Internet, the nomadic and farmer lifestyles have continued to persist.

There is a kind of interrelationship between the sedentary and the nomadic peoples.

Afghanistan is basically a country that has two lifestyles. One, a nomadic, pastoral lifestyle based upon animals and secondly a sedentary, agricultural lifestyle.

The nomadic pastoral lifestyle is based upon sheep and goats and continuous migrations to find grass and water in a very difficult environment in the northern part of Afghanistan. [pause] The settled regions are scattered throughout the country.

Afghanistan is probably one of the early areas of agriculture. It was always possible to combine pastoralism with Afghan and in pastoralism and agriculture in Afghanistan.

That is that Even the people that were full time pastoralists their diet was probably mostly grain, wheat, rice which they traded their animals for. So this is not like a place where you’ve got pastorals on one side and farmers on the other. Here they’re intermixed. And the thing that you can see about pastoral nomads in Afghanistan is that they often migrate out of agricultural areas when they’re doing crops and then after the crops are harvested they come back. So it’s a very closely linked system. And in some cases, in many parts of the country you’ll find people that are pastoralists, they raise animals, but they might have a winter village and use their tents during the spring and summer. Here they’ve always been very closely integrated and economically they’re very symbiotic.

But even with the porous distinction between sedentary and nomadic peoples, there are some big historical patterns that can’t be ignored. Because of the paucity of water in many locations, settlements were relatively small in Afghanistan. The result was there were considerable divisions among different groups in Afghanistan from very early on. There were a tribal linkage, a regional linkage, an occupational linkage, that has continued to the present time. Sometimes [it] created problems, sometimes it created rifts between these various groups.

Often times the sedentary population is dominant in periods when you have a great civilization, a great culture involved. The nomadic groups are pushed aside and their needs are not attended to, their economic needs in particular. Nomadic groups always require goods from the sedentary civilizations. When they don’t get them, they attack and so you have a constant cycle of sedentary, nomadic, nomadic, sedentary rule in Afghan history.

The invasions of the Turkic and Mongol peoples, starting with the Ghaznavids in the 10th century and stretching to the Mongols in the 13th century were based upon their cavalry. The horses gave the Turkic and Mongol peoples a tremendous advantage over the settled civilizations in Afghanistan and undoubtedly facilitated their success. Their ability particularly to shoot bows and arrowsaccurately from their horses gave them a tremendous advantage over the sedentary people and probably is one of the major reasons for the military successes of these Turkic and Mongol peoples in Afghanistan.

But the nomads also have their moments of ruling the region.

What happens is that formally nomadic groups, mostly beginning around 1000 CE but you can find it before, is because they raise horses, they have horse cavalry they become politically dominant. But when they found dynasties they’re no longer Nomads, they’re the descendants of Nomads.

And when nomads come into power, they maintain their nomadic lifestyle as part of their political strategy. So you’ve got to make a distinction between you governments that may have had a Nomadic origin. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re Nomads themselves. However because it’s possible to do pastoralism and agriculture It’s much easier for a group militarily if it does become dominant to maintain a Nomadic way of life at the same time as running an agricultural society as the same time it becomes major land owners. It doesn’t necessarily have to give up the other part of its economy. And in particular if you’re interested in raising horses it’s a good system to keep up because you can raise more animals that way.

Throughout Afghanistan’s history, farmers and nomads have depended on each other, challenged each other, and mutually benefited each other. It is a co-existence that continues to this day.

Western history teaches us that agrarian societies replaced herders and hunters. But is it really so? Some compelling evidence from Afghanistan.

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