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The other archaeologist

Fainda Mand Haji is not an antiquarian in the real sense of the word, nor is he a treasure hunter. But he has developed a romance for things archaeological

The other archaeologist

Speaking from an academic and scientific position, a historian of archaeology in the subcontinent would enumerate many things associated with great names. In this way, development of knowledge about Indian antiquity would be appreciated. However, we need to develop a new kind of awareness which recognises the importance of those local workers in archaeology who serve as guides, labourers and other marginal collaborators.

It can be argued that if the unrecognised role played by the locals, both in the pre-and post-1947 periods, was not available to archaeologists, South Asian archaeologies would have developed along different trajectories.

And the shortcomings would certainly have been due to lack of scholastic and subaltern collaboration.

I am not concerned here with a professional archaeologist or his subaltern collaborator. I intend to bring to the fore a vulgus view of archaeological remains. All this centres on the person of Fainda Mand Haji, an 80-year old resident of Ser village in Malam Jabba Valley, Swat. He belongs to a Gujjar family and for his subsistence depends on herding and small-scale farming. Long ago, he bought a tract of cultivable land for himself but preferred to live as tenant of a Pakhtun family.

Fainda Mand Haji is not an antiquarian in the real sense of the word, nor is he a treasure hunter. But he has developed a romance for things archaeological predicated certainly upon treasure-fetish. Still, I do not know about his involvement in a single instance of treasure hunting. There is, however, an amusing exception. About three decades ago, his landlord quarrelled with him about a ‘find’ – a very prized and unique sculpture.

The hard-pressed Haji was harried to concede the ownership rights with respect to the purported valuable. Perhaps the find was nothing more than a rumour. With Haji’s persistent stand, the issue slowly disappeared save a faint memory of it.

Irrespective of all this, Haji is still more than a treasure hunter and less than what Professor K. Paddayya calls ‘the other archaeologist’. I have reasons for saying this.

Labourers, school teachers and other government servants of the area have been educated regarding the importance and potential of heritage and archaeology over the last few decades. This collaboration is not totally one-directional.

I often discuss issues related to archaeological remnants of the area with Fainda Mand Haji. He generally, and with keen interest, makes connections between archaeological remains and the possible hidden treasure somewhere in the surroundings. But what is important is his interpretations of place names.

The famous Nangrial site (a steep mountain), which contains rock carvings, stupa remains and ruins of a fort, highly fascinates Haji. There is confusion about the meanings of place names in Gandhara and scholars have recently shown interest in such matters. Haji gives his own interpretation of Nangrial which is not less amusing. According to him, it consists of two words, i.e. Nag (large sack) and riyal (Saudi currency) which, as a whole, points to the prosperity and riches of King Nangra.

Nangra is popularly believed in Malam Jabba Valley to have once been the king of Nangrial and the surrounding areas. Haji’s definition is influenced by the treasure-hunting context of the place. Many valuables, such as sculptures, coins and beads have been dug out of Nangrial. The various rock reliefs are also taken as indicators of a certain hidden treasure. Similarly, there is another place called Chalgut, opposite to what was once a large stupa in Manglawar as documented by Sir Aurel Stein in 1926. From this place were reported rock carvings consisting of four different images of Buddhist deities.

Haji is of the view that Chalgut is the distorted form of Chhar-but (چہا ر بت). Chhar-but means four images as were also seen by Stein. It was, Haji says, due to the presence of these reliefs that the area got its name, Chalgut (originally Chhar-but).

It is interesting to note that Haji clearly remembers the four images at Chalgut. They have long disappeared, most probably during the reign of the second Wali of Swat (1949-1969), when the Malam Jabba Road was being built. When I was following in the footsteps of Aurel Stein for the purpose of making a comprehensive fieldwork for my PhD thesis, it was Haji, and Haji alone, who helped me rediscover the site of these vanished images. He also guided me to another forgotten site.

Stein has mentioned a site called, Sangota-parkha near Manglawar. I asked a number of people concerning the whereabouts of Sangota-parkha. No one except Haji could help me in this respect. He knew the site and led me to it for examination.

All this warrants some reflection with respect to the context of archaeological research in South Asia. First, there has been a misconception since the colonial period that locals are unabashedly involved in treasure-hunting and, hence, the destruction of heritage. We accept that we could hardly repudiate this blame. However, the fact of the matter is that this mannerial perversion is due largely to European antiquarianism itself.

Locals were incentivised to procure treasure for their lords. Since then treasure-hunting has been pursued as a career in South Asia. However, the intensity of this gruesome situation can be decreased by a prudent programme. Post-colonial scholarship gives us bright prospects here. Professor Paddayya shows as to how the Archaeology Department of the Deccan College has made possible a productive engagement between archaeologists and inhabitants of Southern India.

Labourers, school teachers and other government servants of the area have been educated regarding the importance and potential of heritage and archaeology over the last few decades. This collaboration is not totally one-directional. The locals are considered active partners in archaeological operations. This last point is vital. It provides the opportunity to these ‘other archaeologists’ of Paddayya to give their opinion about archaeological data. They could be called lexicons of conventional knowledge and their presence, and due recognition, could help the discipline and profession of archaeology develop innovative and productive perspectives.

In Pakistan, this kind of understanding is very important. So far, neither local nor foreign archaeologists have diligently valued local ingenuity beyond hiring passive labourers for excavations. They must reconsider their approach of professional elitism vis-à-vis the multiple sections of society and their potential involvement in archaeology and heritage management. Pakistani archaeology will always be on the receiving end of wanting ‘the other archaeologists’.

Rafiullah Khan

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The author has done his PhD in History/ Archaeology. He is serving as Assistant Professor at Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam university, Islamabad.

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