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The world is established through the work of existence : the performance of Gham-Khadi among Pukhtun Bibiane in Northern Pakistan.



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Ahmed, Amineh A. 


This thesis explores the social lives of elite Pukhtun women or Bibiane in northern Pakistan, with an ethnographic focus on the enactment of particular life-cycle or gham-khadi ceremonies (funerals and weddings). The widely used Pukhto term ghamkhadi both refers to specific segregated gatherings and designates the emotions of sorrow (gham) and joy (khada) which they elicit. In the local understanding, gham-khadi comprises a system of life, in which happiness and sadness are understood as indissoluble, and are celebrated communally within networks of reciprocal social obligations. Bibiane's social role entails preparation for and attendance at gham-khadi, according to a stylized set of performances thought integral to Pukhtun identity or Pukhtunwali (ideal Pukhtun practices). In this sense, the "women's work" of gham-khadi links with another indigenous term, tieest-roý.g ar, which I translate as the "work of existence", and through which Bibiane maintain the fabric of life by sustaining social inter- and intra-family relationships. Ethnographic fieldwork, conducted in Islamabad and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP or "Frontier") regions of Swat and Mardan between 1996-1998 and 1999-2001, suggests the extent to which Bibiane's sense of their gham-khadi obligations underpins their understanding of their personhood. In the process, the thesis unfolds a Pukhtun construction of work divergent from professionalism or physical labour, in which work produces not things, but social relations and transactions. This thesis, therefore, seeks to contribute to anthropological debate on a number of issues. First, it seeks to establish the distinctive sociality of Pukhtun Bibiane in terms of their participation, within and beyond the household, in gham-khadi festivities, joining them with hundreds of individuals from different families and social backgrounds. Second, the thesis makes a case for documenting the lives of a grouping of elite South Asian women, contesting their conventional representation as "idle" by illustrating their commitment to various forms of work within familial and social contexts. Third, it describes the segregated zones of gham-khadi as a space of female agency. Reconstructing the terms of this agency helps us to revise previous anthropological accounts of Pukhtun society, which project Pukhlunwali in predominantly masculine terms, while depicting gham-khadi as an entirely feminine category. Bibiane's gham-khadi performances allow a reflection upon Pukhtunwali and wider Pukhtun society as currently undergoing transformation. Fourth, as a contribution to Frontier ethnography, the thesis lays especial emphasis on gham-khadi as a transregional phenomenon, given the relocation of most Pukhtun families to the cosmopolitan capital Islamabad. Since gham-khadi is held at families' ancestral homes (kille-koroona), new variations and interpretations of conventional practices penetrate to the village context of Swat and Mardan. Ceremonies are especially subject to negotiation as relatively young convent-educated married Bibiane take issue with their "customs" (rewaý) from a scriptural Islamic perspective. More broadly, the dissertation contributes to various anthropological topics, notably the nature and expression of elite cultures and issues of sociality, funerals and marriage, custom and religion, space and gender, morality and reason, and social role and personhood within the contexts of Middle- Eastern and South Asian Islam.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge