Marriage as Warfare

After decades of ferocious fighting, the Swat wife usually triumphs over her beleaguered husband.


In this system, men constantly maneuver for power and honor. Loyalties shift easily. As one family becomes strong, others unite against it. Some families rise, but are soon torn apart by internal dissension. As the modern Pakhtun writer Ghani Khan has observed, "The Pakhtun have not become a great nation because a man would rather burn his house than see his elder brother rule it."

In such an environment, a martial air and genuine willingness to fight are absolute necessities for survival. Even hospitality, the most loving relationship found in society, is tinged with rivalry, as hosts express their strength and dominance through lavish entertainment. The assertion of one's own pride and the denigration of other lineages is therefore the primary emotional stance of the Pakhtun. This stance is not confined to men. The women also consider all men not of their patrilineage to be of inferior quality. Every marriage is thus with an inferior, and the partners are well prepared to fight each other to uphold the honor of their respective houses.

Although the husband tries to ignore his wife, she refuses to be overlooked. Her own pride, instilled by her lineage, demands that she assert herself. The woman's place is in the house, however patrilineal descent prevents her from inheriting land or from participating in struggles over land. Where a man's pride and identity rest in his landholdings, her honor is found in vindicating her superiority in the household. The bruises that inevitably result she regards as marks of honor. If her health is good, if she can avoid being expelled by another wife, and if she has sons, her struggle is likely to end in victory. The aging husband, beset by rivals on all sides, and even besieged by his own sons demanding their share of his land, will accept his wife's rule in exchange for relative peace in the compound.

Small wonder that the Pakhtun man dreams of the mythical friend. This dream, and the ritual of hospitality in which it finds expression, derives from the stern social order, which sets every man against every other, and which prevents any amicable relationship within the family. Deprived of any real opportunity to be affectionate and generous, the Pakhtun male releases these suppressed feelings in the rite of hospitality.

Women, on the other hand, have no great interest in hospitality, although they cook for guests for the sake of their own pride. Unlike the man, who seeks to dominate in a world of opponents, the woman strives only to dominate in the house. The man's goal is impossible, but the woman's is fairly attainable. Women are also united in a community of complaint against their husbands. They do not engage in life and death struggles over land, and in consequence, their enmities are less deep than the men's. Despite the travails and bruises of marriage, women tend to succeed in their goals, while men spend their time pursuing a chimera of friendship.

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