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خپله ژبه هم قلا ده هم بلا
Khpala czba hum qala da hum bala da
“It’s your own tongue which either lands you in trouble or protects you from it”
In the above proverb, “tongue” refers not to the body part, but one’s language or speech—indicative of the role and importance of spoken words in the Pashtun culture.
Pashtun people are very sensitive about word choice. There is no place for diplomacy; they are either very polite or very harsh. Most of their social transactions are carried out by word of mouth. They buy and sell, take and give, and enter into relationships all by word of mouth. They don’t keep any written records nor do they feel bound by any paper deal unless it is done through verbal commitment. Hence the importance of language cannot be over emphasized in Pashtun society.
بي ژبې سړۍ
Bi zcbi sara
“A man without words”
A person who doesn’t keep his or her word is like one without a tongue. In Pashto language, there is no marked difference between language and the physical tongue, it depends upon the context. In this context, a man without a language employs a man without a tongue, in simple words, a man with no words of its own. A man who can’t keep his words loses his honour and place in the Pashtun society.
Again, in Pashtun culture, honour occupies a cardinal place, it’s something that a Pashtun values more than life and wealth. Khushal Khan Khatak, a legendary pashto poet reckons to a Pashtun honour in these words:
په خپل ننګ او نام چې راشم لیونی شم
ننګیالی د زمانې خوشال خټک یم
Pa khpal nang ao naam chi rasham lewanayi sham
Nangyalay da zamani khushal khatam yum
“I lose my mind when it comes to my name and honour”
“I am the bravest (honourable) the one and only Khushal Khan khatak”
Pashto literature is overburdened with phrases for honour, bravery and loyalty which are expressed through word of mouth. In another Pashto proverb, the importance of spoken words is described in these words.
پښتون په ژبه مسلمان دی
Pashtun pa czba musalmaan day
“Pashtun is Muslim because of verbal commitment”
Pashtuns are considered staunch and uncompromising Muslims, mainly because Pashtuns think that their forefathers gave a verbal allegiance to Islam and they are bound to remain loyal to Islam.
When someone tries to understand Pashtun or the culture of the Pashtun, he/s can’t miss out the vital importance of spoken commitment or spoken words in this culture.