There is a poem that goes like this:
Pomir, feet of the sun,
Man and mountain and river are one.
Through pride in the land and pride in the earth
The people now celebrate a rebirth.
To give is to love, to love is to give;
To sing is to breathe, to dance is to live.
The feet caress the earth below,
Drawing the strength, releasing the flow.
The hands reach up to the sky above,
Catching the beauty, expressing the love.
Freshness and innocence, tenderness, grace –
In this Garden of Eden my soul’s found its place.
Earth, fire, water and air:
The fire’s in my heart, the water’s a tear.
The naturally beautifully “Pomir” or “Pamir” – referred to as “the feet of the sun” and known in the Persian language as “the roof of the world” is a mountainous region in the Gorno-Badakhshan province of eastern Tajikistan. It happens to be, in the words of a former British Ambassador to the central Asian nation, “one of the world’s best kept secrets.”
The Pamiris – original inhabitants of the Pamir mountains – are known for hospitality and their love of tradition. According to the encyclopedia Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia (2014, ABC-CLIO), the Pamiris believe that they descended from the Greek leaders of Alexander the Great’s army that invaded the Pamir mountains around 327 BC. They speak a group of related Eastern Iranian dialects and in addition to Tajikistan, their communities could be found in northeastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Most Pamiris adhere to the Nizari Ismaili branch of Shi’a Islam. Pamiri women, interestingly, enjoy greater freedom than other Tajik women. They can easily work outside the house and participate in public gatherings. They have never been veiled.
Narisa Ladak (born 1986), a Canadian photographer and videographer based in Toronto and New York City, recently worked on a project called “Pamiri Girl”, for which she interviewed and captured young Pamiri immigrant women in Canada and America. Narisa first encountered Pamiri women while she was posted in Kabul, Afghanistan as a Telecom Marketing Manager. She was drawn to them for their graceful personalities. “I was intrigued by how modern these women were, and how their culture and customs were so heavily influenced by the historical rule of their country by the Soviet Union until 1991,” says Narisa. “I wondered how their culture interacted with Islam in a place so physically close to a conservative country like Afghanistan, yet a place so far away in terms of ideologies and customs.”
Narisa photographed Pamiri women wearing traditional Pamiri and Tajik clothing: kurta dresses in brilliant reds and whites, pechak hairpieces braided into their hair and sifc beaded necklaces. “All of the clothing is handmade, embroidered, and patterned in vibrant colors,” explains the photographer, “and much of the fabric is silky or velvet.”
These images and interview pieces were published in The Cut, NY Mag in January 2016. Reproduced by permission of Narisa Ladak.
Shana is wearing a modern version of a traditional Tajik dress, with golden handmade embroidery. “Pamirian dresses are usually white and red, or red, and modern Tajik dresses could be any color,” she says. “The modern dresses are mostly tighter than traditional ones, which are usually wide in size. There are four main regions in Tajikistan and each of them has its own traditional dress style, with different colors, style, and hats. My aunt’s friend made me this dress when I first came to the USA.”
Nilofar is wearing an Aatlas-patterned dress, a color design often seen in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. It’s considered special-occasion attire for birthdays, holidays and weddings. “Every time I wear my traditional clothes I feel a sense of pride, joy, and peace,” she says. “The beautiful colors on my dress not only represent beauty but also my people’s compassion and love for one another. I may live in Canada but my heart will always be in Pamir.”