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PEOPLE: NO LAND TO CALL THEIR OWN

Updated June 18, 2017
With his herd of sheep a Kochi man moves on to find shelter | Photo by Abdul Mujeeb Goraya / White Star
With his herd of sheep a Kochi man moves on to find shelter | Photo by Abdul Mujeeb Goraya / White Star

A cluster of black and white tents near the Zhob River along the Wala Akram Road in the suburb of Zhob city provides an eye-catching view. The families, residing in the tents are neither internally-displaced persons nor refugees. In fact, they are Afghan nomads known as Kochis (a derivative of the Pashto word ‘Koch’ meaning migration) and are locally called Pawanda and Kadwal — a Pakhtun tribe.

Visiting the area gives a glimpse of their daily routine. It is indeed another world — as far removed from the ‘modern’ world as one can get but for the Kochis life goes on as usual. A Kochi man can be seen sitting outside his black tent awaiting the arrival of his flock of sheep. Nearby, a young Kochi woman in a dazzling colourful dress, embellished with mirrors and sequins, is preparing tea in a blackened old kettle on a bushfire clouding the air with smoke. Next to their tent another woman is kneading dough to bake bread, while their kids are playing or running around.

Adam Khan, a 47-year-old Kochi man, owns hundreds of sheep, goats, donkeys and camels — someone whom the Kochis would consider rich. But despite belonging to a well-off family, Khan seems unhappy with his people’s way of life. “Whether it is a chilly winter or sizzling summer, we have to live in a tent,” he says.

Kochis migrate between Pakistan and Afghanistan every year, following in the footsteps of their ancestors

While life may be harsh for Kochi women, their nomadic existence means they are able to lead a more liberal lifestyle — Kochi women don’t use the veil as conservative Pakhtun woman traditionally do. The women are often busy contributing to the community — collecting water, making dairy products and cooking food. They spend their free time embroidering traditional designs on clothes and weaving rugs. The newly-wed brides can easily be spotted as they wear brightly coloured dresses which are heavily embroidered and decorated with traditional mirrors and sequins that clink as they move.

Kochi girls passing through the Zhob River along with their cattle
Kochi girls passing through the Zhob River along with their cattle

The Kochi people are always on the move, migrating to Pakistan in the autumn and returning to Afghanistan in the spring and follow the historical caravan routes during their semi-annual migrations. Accompanied by their herds of cattle and carrying items of daily use, they travel on foot using the same route as their ancestors did for hundreds of years from Damaan to Khurasan. The Kochis speak a rustic dialect of the Pashto language and live on the margins of main cities. According to the UN, an estimated two million Kochis make this annual migration.

During their travels, the Kochis are accompanied by fierce dogs that protect the caravans, the camps and people. These dogs are often colloquially reffered to as the Kochi breed as well. Children and the elderly, travel the thousands of kilometres on camels and donkeys. Zareen, a Kochi, says that their destination depends on weather and season, adding that “the grazing this year is better compared to previous years following heavy winter rains.”

A Kochi family sits outside their tent
A Kochi family sits outside their tent

The Kochi people are always on the move, migrating to Pakistan in the autumn and returning to Afghanistan in the spring and follow the historical caravan routes during their semi-annual migrations.

Given that they are herders, the Kochi’s main source of income is their livestock. All their basic needs — such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, ghee, meat and wool — come from their goats and sheep. “To obtain other basic necessities, we sell a sheep or goat in the local market,” points out Zareen.

Though they contribute immensely to the local market in terms of dairy items, meat and wool during their semi-annual migration, according to Khan, the people of nearby villages do not allow them to set camps on their grazing land though they stay everywhere temporarily.

A family collecting grass to feed their animals | Photo by Abdul Mujeeb Goraya / White Star
A family collecting grass to feed their animals | Photo by Abdul Mujeeb Goraya / White Star

“We have neither Pakistani nor Afghan nationality, and this is the major cause of our problems, as no government cares to address our problems,” says Adam Khan.

A tent perched in the mountainous area to provide shelter to cattle
A tent perched in the mountainous area to provide shelter to cattle

Kochi women prepare food for the family
Kochi women prepare food for the family

Kochi women carry dried wood branches for cooking | Photos by the writer
Kochi women carry dried wood branches for cooking | Photos by the writer

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 18th, 2017