Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A day in the life of the Sarikoli people

Recently got done watching this episode of CCTV’s Travelogue with He Tianran, as he visits an ethnic Tajik village on the Datong River. Please give it a watch when you can!

Life for the Tajik people is clearly not easy: the land is rough and dry, not easy to farm. The people of this village grow apricots, which at the time Mr He visits them are in bloom. And see the sparse vegetation which they have to feed their sheep! Yet they show a truly kenotic hospitality and warmth toward strangers, including Han Chinese people, as well as toward each other. They have to work together as a village, and help each other mutually, in order to survive. As Mr He says, even though the Sarikoli Tajiks have been sedentary for generations now, a lot of these traditions are carried over from when they were still nomads. And they still produce artwork of intense, vibrant, colourful beauty; and actively maintain their traditional music and dance. (They also clearly have a healthy love of cats.) These are all things that I truly appreciate about the Central Asian Silk Road cultures generally. Also the fact that, quite sensibly, they don’t ruin their milk tea with tonnes of processed sugar or tapioca. There is a lesson there, I believe.

One of the aspects of Tajik life that Mr He does not mention here, but which is vital to the Sarikoli and Wakhi identity, is their devotion to the Nizâri ’Ismâ‘îli branch of Islâm, an antique lineage of Shî‘a Islâm which traditionally places a strong emphasis on reason and on social justice. The head of their religion is His Majesty Karîm al-Ḥusayn Šâh, the fourth Âġâ Khân. Âġâ Khân last visited his followers in China in 2012. As Mr He notes, Tajik children seem to be growing up bilingual in both Mandarin and their home language, while the adults speak their home language (Sarikoli or Wakhi) almost exclusively.

It is also amazing seeing these high Western Xinjiang landscapes; Tashkurgan, of course, lies close to the gæostrategically-vital Khunjerab Pass. The Sarikoli and Wakhi peoples have a strong sense of honour and duty as well, and many of them belong to families who have served in the Chinese border guard likewise for generations, keeping a close watch on the Pass. Again, I am left admiring the Tajiks of Xinjiang, with their strong and deeply-felt senses of civic duty and mutual obligation. Though the Tajiks of Xinjiang are only a bit more than forty thousand in number, they occupy a key position in regard to China’s gæopolitical ambitions, and I hope that the Chinese state continues to extend them the gratitude and admiration that they are due, and also accords due respect to their religious faith.

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