Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Love and Elopement in Northern Pakistan./Amour et Enlevements Dans le Nord Du Pakistan

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Love and Elopement in Northern Pakistan./Amour et Enlevements Dans le Nord Du Pakistan

Article excerpt

This article explores concerns over love and sexuality in Chitral--a remote and mountainous region of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province populated primarily by Khowar-speaking Sunni and Shi'a Ismai'li Muslims. (1) It makes connections between these dimensions of Chitrali experience and anthropological work on intimate life (Wikan 1990) and emotional expression (e.g. Ahearn 2001). Matters of the heart are a source of considerable discussion in Chitral, and what I seek to show here is the ways in which these illuminate the complexity of choice-making processes in a Muslim society currently experiencing a high degree of social and political transformation.

As in other Muslim societies (e.g. Pehrson 1966), romantic love is the source of much discussion in Chitral, and, less widely documented in scholarly literature on rural regions of the Muslim world, elopement marriages are also an important feature of Chitrali life (Staley 1982: 108). At first glance it would be tempting to conceptualize elopement marriages in a purdah-focused society like Chitral as acts of resistance against a patriarchal Islamic society (Scott 1990), or as easily 'romanticized' social events which reinforce gendered power relations by mystifying them in the apparent widening of opportunities for individual choice and action (Abu-Lughod 1990). Yet as Abu-Lughod (2000 [1996]) argues, certain types of emotions may be socially acceptable yet non-conformist at the same time, especially when expressed in well-defined 'discourses', such as poetry. Abu-Lughod distinguishes between two types of discourse operative in Bedouin society: a discourse of sentiment deployed to express intimate feelings, and a public discourse in which dominant moral values concerning collective and individual honour are upheld. (2) I, too, see poetic expression in Chitral as a part of the lived experience of Chitralis rather than as belonging to any distinct and imaginative realm divorced from everyday reality, yet in contrast to Abu-Lughod, I emphasize the theoretical importance of recognizing the diversity of ways in which Chitralis themselves actively reflect upon their conceptions and experiences of the emotions.

There is a rich body of anthropological literature that theorizes the complexity of Islamic moral discourse (e.g. Fischer & Abedi 1990; Gilsenan 1982; Lambek 1993). Many ethnographers of Muslim life have explored the ways in which sentiments of romantic love are expressed even in settings where values concerning male honour and female modesty are powerful and influential. Some accounts describe relatively simplistic attitudes concerning the moral propriety of cross-gender love relationships. Lindholm argues that Swat Pukhtuns in northern Pakistan regard their women as 'chattel' (1982: 222), seeing them as necessary objects of exchange in the creation of strategic alliances between patrilines, but having little value as objects of affection: in Swat, men seek romantic relations with politically passive boys and prostitutes (Lindholm 1982; 1995: 63). Other works do indicate that cross-gender love relationships are an important feature of Muslim life. Nancy Tapper has shown that Muslims in northeastern Afghanistan hold a range of moral attitudes towards non-conforming moments of action, including elopement marriage (1991: 224). In his account of a Muslim village community in Sri Lanka, de Munck (2005) also argues that his informants see pre-marital sex in more complex terms than moral opprobrium alone, and shows the ways in which for villagers love can be both a negative and an acceptable 'motive' for marriage (1996: 699). More recently, Masquelier has documented the ways in which new ideas of romantic love are 'making inroads' into African Muslim societies through globalized cultural forms such as Indian films (2005: 68; see also Larkin 1997).

These and other works in the same vein have enriched the anthropological literature on so-called 'codes of honour'. …

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