Back to the Pamirs: “With our own hands”






Photo credit: Jamila Haider

Photo credit: Jamila Haider

By Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven

Latofat, a school Principal in Bartang valley, the most remote valley of the Pamir Mountains, sometimes wondered if the two foreigners who, four years ago,  showed up at her door unannounced saying they were collecting recipes about Pamiri food would ever return. She was also a bit sceptical about whether there would ever be a book. When she heard that we were returning to Siponj village, with books in tow, she said she simply could not wait to see the book. “With Our Own Hands: A celebration of food and life in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan” has arrived back in the Pamirs, and 1500 copies have started to be distributed to every community in the Afghan and Tajik Pamirs. The book began as a simple recipe book, to fulfil a promise to a grandmother and to document the rich unwritten knowledge about the unique agricultural biodiversity in the Pamirs. Over the course of 5 years, the book became much more. Nearly 700 pages of English, Tajik and Dari text and many photographs, describe the domestication of the mountains, the influence of the Silk Road, the importance of wild food, the resilience of transhumance and bring into sharp focus conflicting futures of the region. In October, 5000 kg of book travelled from the Netherlands where they were published, over land to Tajikistan.

Latofat is the Principal of the school in Siponj village in Bartang Valley. The village is often completely isolated in the winter months when snow closes in the valley. Perhaps because of this isolation, the valley maintains a ‘pure’ Pamiri language and is home to some of the strongest traditions in the Pamirs. The school in Siponj celebrates an annual national food day, where students ask their grandparents and elders how to make traditional foods from the unique agriculture all around them. Four years ago, we ate many different dishes, like Baht, Khomnigul, and Boj. We took some photos of the beautiful and proud children, and with those, we conclude the book. This day brought us a lot of hope – that food, tradition and knowledge have a place not just in preserving the past, but also in imagining the future of the Pamirs.

Read the full story in the Newsletter of the Agricultural Biodiversity Community