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Tajikistan and Nowruz: Renewal, forgiveness and solidarity

Vashan seizes the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and come together to ease the burden of shared problems.

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Cutting carrots for the oshi palav (all photos Eurasianet)

Nowruz, the festival of the spring equinox, a ritual celebration of renewal, has for many years in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia presented an much-loved occasion for piling up food, dancing, singing and partying all week long.

Vashan, a village of around 1,500 people tucked behind a crop of hills running alongside the Zarafshan River in northwest Tajikistan, seizes the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and come together as a community to ease the burden of shared problems.

Apologies for past slights are offered and forgiveness is granted. The village imam musters the villagers and together with the community’s other figureheads – the school principal and the chief councilor – they decide how best to pool their resources.

"This tradition has been with us since time immemorial,” Vashan imam Mehriddin Nabiyev told Eurasianet on March 17. “As long as I can recall, on the eve of Nowruz, we would get together to discuss the village’s troubles and come up with ways to solve them.”

Some years, money is collected to pay for somebody’s urgent medical treatment or the cost of university studies. This year, Vashan decided to mount a giant effort to repair flood-stricken sections of the windy road joining the village to the highway, a few kilometers away. Workers not busy on the roadwork were tasked with planting a dozen or so apple trees in the garden of Vashan’s communal meeting space. In addition, women tended to the exhausting chores that are a daily feature of village life.

Early in the day on March 18, a villager volunteered a sheep for slaughter with which to cook oshi palav to feed the laborers. Another brought 50 kilos worth of rice. The midday meal – men and women eating separately – proceeded with little ceremony amid chat and laughter. After lunch, prayers were said and everyone returned to work.

Nabiyev said everybody happily gets involved in the hashar, as the tradition of collective labor is known, and stumps up the cash needed to pay for materials.

“We’ll see now how much renting the equipment has cost us. Afterward, we will all pitch in some money, everybody according to their abilities. That is how we solve our problems,” he said.

Tajikistan and Nowruz: Renewal, forgiveness and solidarity

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