By Prof. Mumtaz Hussain
Quite a number of places in Chitral are named as “Oweer”, such as Oweer Valley in Mulkhow, Oweer Village in Arkari and Owirk Village in Lotkuh. One cannot easily make a relationship between these places but a little research may yield some interesting results about this curious nomenclature.
One village named “Oweer” is in the Biar area (Mastuj Sub-Tehsil). It is popularly known as Charun-Oweer, because it is situated above the village Charun. Unlike other settlements in the area, this village is situated a few kilometers off the road, on an elevated platform, formed by a glacial activity during the last ice age. Probably, the site was a great glacial lake in those days, as it is a round-shaped depression measuring a mile across with a narrow opening towards the west. No perennial stream runs through the village, and it depends upon a number of springs for irrigation and drinking purposes. The waters of the springs have a very good quality. It is believed that one of these springs has got medicinal qualities for the treatment of goiter. People from other villages used to take away bottles of this water for the treatment of the disease. This belief was supported by the fact that the disease was unknown in Charun-Oweer.
Its relative high altitude (7500 to 8000 feet) gives the village a more pleasant climate in the summers. The land is of fertile nature and gives good yield. The village is famed for its wheat of the Chitrali verity. It is unmatched, both in yield and quality.
In the past, the village was surrounded by thick forests of Juniper (Saruz) and Ash tree (Tur). Deforestation has, however, reduced the area totally void of forest cover now.
Charun-Oweer is accessible from Koragh village by a jeep road of six kilometers. Another road of the same length connects it to Booni towards the north.
The village seems to be inhabited long before the surrounding villages like Booni and Charun had come into existence. The waters from the springs could have been very easily diverted to the plains for irrigation. One had not to dig long water channels as it was necessary in other villages fed by large streams. The slopes bounding the village were rich in juniper (Saruz) and Ash tree (Tur) forests, as well as Mushen fodder. The spot was out of sight for the frequently passing invaders who looted the settlements along the road. One proof for this assumption is that very old graves are found at odd spots far away from the present human settlements in the village. The graves are not directed towards the Makkah and clearly belong to some of the pre-Islamic religions of very ancient times.
Among the present clans, the Moghlekey are surly the oldest one. They are called the Bumki for this reason. The story of their origin is a well-known and interesting one. It goes like this: One of the Mehtars of a very old time had come to watch a polo match in the Khandan Junali. People from the surrounding villages complained to him that a human-like creature, living in the juniper forests across the river above the present hamlet of Driano, plunders houses and herds frequently. The Mehtar sent his men and the creature was caught and brought produced before him at Khandan Lasht. The creature was actually a wild man (Adam-e-Jangali). He was so wild that he caught one of the Mehtar’s men and sat upon him. The Mehtar kept the wild man with him, and ultimately he was tamed and turned into a civilized being. Then, the Mehtar settled him in the present village of Charun-Oweer which was then uninhabited. The man was named as Mogholek, whose descendants remained a single household for more than 15 generations till the beginning of the last century.
Two other lineages, Moghley and Murad Begey, seem to be the next. Ancestors of both these lineages are said to have come with the legendary Hasham Begum from the Gilgit area. They settled here after the tragedy of Hasham Begum. Then came the Mashuqey lineage. They also claim a Gilgit origin or to be more accurate a Chilas origin. These people also claim to be part of the famous Choke-Machoke tradition.
Shaghotey came here from Muzhgol, sometimes in the beginning of the 19th century, while Khoshahmadey moved up from Charun in the middle of that century.
The village was inhabited long before the advent of Islam. The pre-Islamic period was not as distant as it looks to us. However, in my opinion, excluding Moghlekey, all the present lineages came here in the Islamic era. Some remnants of the pre-Islamic period are still found in the village. One spot at the lower end of Muldeh is called Bashaleni (Bashali of the Kalash). Another spot, near the primary school of the village, is called Hon Khashkeer. There were some traces of a ruined building till 1970s. The building was probably the village temple in the pre-Islamic days. Some elders had told me that it was called Jeshtanan But. Doesn’t it sound like Jeshtekhan of the Kalash!
However, it will be unfair to call those people Kalash as they were as much Khow as we are. They spoke the same language and led a life not much different from ours. They only differed in religion. That religion surely had many practices and beliefs common with the Kalash, but it was, anyway, a distinct one. It had its own deities, beliefs and customs, with small variations within the Khowar speaking area. For example, Chakast (a white coloured mountain overlooking the Charun-Oweer village) was a sacred mountain for this village. It was believed to be the abode of Cheerphenaki, one of the daughters of the fairy queen living at Terichmir. She controlled the mountains and the pastures, and was invoked by whoever wanted to go up there. Another interesting site is the Gulkhan. In the upper part of the village, near some springs, there was an open hearth since very old times. It was called Gulkhan (“fire place” in Persian), and was much revered. Its origin goes back to the pre-Islamic times and points to the presence of strong Zoroastrian elements in the pre-Islamic religion of Khow people. When Islam came here, and the people became followers of the Pir of Buringdast, a building was erected on the spot to house the Pir on his yearly visits to the village. The building was called Piro Gulkhan. The ruins of the building were cleared in the 1970s to erect the present mosque there. The spot has retained its sacredness for centuries on the face of changing faiths.
Problems and Issues:
Rapid population growth in the past has set great stress on the natural resources i.e. pasture, water, forests and land. Deforestation and overgrazing has caused great environmental damage, resulting in devastating flash floods and reduces water volumes in springs. Nothing has been done so far by the government or any NGO to redress environmental issues.
Water shortage has been always a major problem. This issue was aggravated during the long drought periods of the last decade. The recently completed water supply project, with the help of AKDN’s Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP) has made a lot of difference for the village. Road communication has always been source of discomforts for the people, due to long distance from the main road. A well-kept road, preferably with black top is one of the major demands here.
Quality education is another big issue. Ever dropping standards of the government schools has compelled people everywhere to look towards private sector. This village is no exception. But here no good private school is nearby. This issue has made many people migrate from the village, permanently or temporarily.
Prof Mumtaz also writes about Chitral’s culture and traditions at www.mahraka.com. He can be contacted at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org