If literacy rates were measured by a nation’s proverbs and poetry, Afghanistan would be one of the most literate countries on earth. These two forms of the oral tradition have been embraced for centuries and reveal the heart and soul of the Afghan people.
Proverbs are part of every culture and have been for thousands of years. Francis Bacon said that the wit, genius, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs. Here are some common Afghan proverbs which provide unique insights into the ancient culture.
There is a path to even the tallest mountain.
Hindu Kush Mountains
The mountains are our people.
The harsh land is integral to this nomadic herder culture with deep roots in high pastures. “Koh-o mar-domon moya,” a saying goes: “The mountains are our people.” Qala-e Sabzi.
A warm fire is better than a delicious meal.
Refugees return to their bombed out neighborhood in Herat
If there is only bread and onions, still have a happy face.
In a ditch where water has flowed, it will flow again.
Irrigation channel, Kandahar
Many drops make a river.
Between Sarobi and Kabul
A real friend is one who takes the hand of his friend in times of distress and helplessness.
Not even the five fingers of our hands are alike.
Textile Dyer, Kabul
There is blessing in action.
Bakery run by Afghan widows
Brick Workers, Bamiyan Province
First a friend then a brother.
In Afghanistan, the tradition of poetry writing and recitation dates back a thousand years. To lend credibility to an argument, the preface, “The poet says…” denies the listener the opportunity to disagree. Although many do not read or write, they can recite long passages of both classic and modern poetry.
If leadership rests inside the lion’s jaw,
So be it. Go snatch it from his jaws.
Your lot shall be greatness, prestige, honor and glory.
If all fails, face death like a man.
Hanzala of Badghis – 9th century poet
Wounded Afghan fighter outside of Jalalabad
Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust
My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Mastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!
Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan
Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls …
- Saib-e-Tabrizi, 17th century poet
Nomads at prayer at sunrise
The earth opens her warm arms
to embrace me
The earth is my mother
She understands the sorrow
of my wandering
is an old crow
the very top of an aspen
a thousand times a day
Perhaps life is a crow
that each dawn
dips its blackened beak
in the holy well of the sun
Perhaps life is the grief-stricken earth
who has opened up her bloodied arms to me
And here I give thanks
on the brink of ‘victory’
- Partaw Naderi