The tribal areas of Pakistan have for too long only been associated with war, terrorism and stories of human tragedies. Little is known of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) beyond the acronym or the number of displaced people belonging to this area. People in other parts of Pakistan are rarely aware of the most basic facts about Fata such as its ‘special status’ and that the Constitution does not apply to the tribal region, while the media’s coverage barely ever goes beyond these stories of war and conflict.
In all this, the stories and culture of the people of Fata have been lost. A feature published in this paper recently, told a story of a Fata that almost never makes it to the national media. Focusing on the traditional dress worn by women of the area, called Ganr Khat, it gave a glimpse into Fata’s culture as it once was. The Ganr Khat is an outfit of many colours and embellishments, shaped as a frock and made from 30-35 metres of cloth. The dress, mostly worn at weddings, was made when many women got together to sew as they sang traditional songs. A series of wedding rituals revolved around the traditional dress. The completion of this dress for the bride was celebrated in an occasion where both men and women came together and performed the Attan dance. As religious conservatism swept the country, few traces of these cultural traditions are now left. The fact that little is known about the culture of a region that makes it to the news every other day is astonishing, and raises questions regarding whether most of Pakistan even recognises Fata as its own. For years, it has remained inaccessible and used as a playground for proxy wars, but the media and society seem content with viewing it only within the boundaries of the narrative of extremism. Fata remains under siege socially and culturally, while the rest of Pakistan conveniently ignores that it, too, was once a place where music, dance and colour were integral parts of its culture.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2016.
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