Poetry and Permaculture

By Jheri St. James

Shohi Hamadon ba mulki Khatlon khob ast,
Andar barash oftobi tobon khob ast.
Said Muhammad on guhari poknazhot,
Khujistaliqo mohi Khuroson khob ast.*

“This is in the south of Tajikistan on the way to Kurgan Teppa”
(best77 on www.flickr.com)

In order to understand Tajik culture it is necessary to look back to the time of Transoxiana (an area that lies between the Amu Darya and Sir Darya rivers and modern northwest Afghanistan), and the centers of civilization of the Nile, Mesopotamia and the banks of the Yangtze. The Tajik’s ancestors were Scythian proto-Indo-European tribesmen, nomads of the Eurasian steppes, and were among the first to settle in Central Asia, about 4,000 years ago. Historically, Tajiks and Persians share a mutual language and are related as part of the larger group of Iranian peoples. Tajik culture can be divided into two areas—Metropolitan and Nishopur Khiva (no longer part of the country). More modern centers include Dushanbe (the capital), Khudjand, Kulob, Panjikent and Istarvshan.

Tajikistan is known for being intolerant of various religious faiths, carrying out actions such as banning certain religions outright and demolishing religious buildings. Tajikistan became completely independent in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and is now in the process of strengthening democracy and transitioning to a free market economy. The country remains the poorest in the former Soviet sphere. Tajikistan is in the early stages of seeking World Trade Organization membership and has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace.

Everyone who thought about me or missed me,
Let God be his friend,
Everyone who didn’t appreciate us,
Let him benefit from life,
Everyone who did harm as an enemy,
All flowers that flourish, let’s be non-spiniferous.
In the two worlds we don’t have enmity.
Everyone who hurts us, let him have a lot of pleasure

(Translation of a Tajik poem by Manizha Tilavova, friend of Common Ground 191)

* * *

Our soil collector was Mr. Mukaddas Kurbanova, a member of the Assistant Communication Office of UNICEF in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund, working so children worldwide can be nurtured through education, medical care and protected environments.

His collection was made from an area called Khatlon, where there is a mausoleum of Mir Said Hamadani (also known as Shah-e-Hamadan), a Persian poet and prominent Shafi’I muslim scholar, very prominent in spreading Islam in Kashmir. Khatlon is the most populous province in Tajikistan; its capital is the city of Qurghonteppa. With a total population of 2,149,500,000 in 2000, this is a large city with the population mainly engaged with agricultural activities, especially cotton growing and cattle raising, both activities of the soil. Only two to three percent of the population works in the industrial sector.

Mr. Kurbanova wrote to us on January 16, 2007. “I heard about your project from a colleague of mine, Bobur Turdiev, from UNICEF Uzbekistan office. I’m not really aware about it and don’t know what is expected from our side. But will be mostly happy to contribute to make sure more people would know about Tajikistan. Thanks and best regards, Mukaddas”. On the 29th, his email read, “I plan to go on 6 February to the south part of the country, where we have a number of historical sites. If this will not be too late, we can collect the soil there and send it to you. Let me know if this suits you. Regards.”

(Map of Khatlon Location)

This soil went on a long journey, somewhat longer than the geographical distance from Tajikistan to the U.S. On the 12th of March, 2007, the State Quarantine Office of the Republic of Tajikistan, State Inspection on Quarantine of Plants in the Republic of Tajikistan, issued its Certificate of Quarantine Expertise to Mr. Muhammed Khajaeva Parvenna for the “soil from the square of the mausoleum of Mir Said Ali Hamdoni, Kulab city of Khatlon Oblast” for the destination point, “Laboratory, Los Angeles, USA, for presentation in the World exhibition of soil from 191 countries.” It was stamped, signed, x-rayed and fumigated by the Head of Laboratory, Sr. Agriculturist.

Other papers in the file are in the Tajik language, but whatever they say, the soil was placed in the hands of DHL on March 14, 2007 from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, from where it went to London, then on to New York City, where it hit another clearance delay from March 19 to April 3, finally shipping again to Westchester, California. All that for a box of dirt. ‘Whew!’ in any language…and sincere appreciation for all the people involved in choosing, collecting and sending this particular sample of Mother Earth.

* * *

Modern Tajik literature and its history is colored by issues of standardization of the Tajik language. Tajik literary centers include the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand (currently in present-day Uzbekistan). During the Soviet era, the principle literary output was social-realist in nature. Tajiks in Tajikistan describe all major literary works written in Persian until the 20th century as Tajik, regardless of ethnicity and native region of the author.

The prophet Zoroaster was born in the Balkh area. Zoroastrianism was adopted by Persian emperors as a state religion and was practiced in central Asia until being overrun by the Arabs. The Shahs of Somoni made Bukhara their residence and a focal point for art and science as well as an administrative center. In this period, the personal interest and support of the Shahs in the arts and sciences, along with international trade, and the relatively stable political situation in the Silk Road region, all contributed to Tajik literature, art and science at its zenith.

Another cultural revival came 1000 years after the Samanid period, this time due to the Soviets (1860-1917). They introduced modern drama, opera and ballet. Since independence, there has been a revival attempt to foster a sense of national identity. Novelist Taimur Zulfikarov and professors Rahim Masov and Bozor Sobir are prominent in these efforts.

The largest celebration to come from the pre-Islamic period is Navruz, which means, “New Day”. On March 21 or 22, the cultivation of the land begins, and many families visit relatives, throw out old belongings, clean house and play field games. Special dishes are served and other pre-Islamic Tajik traditions like fire-jumping, dancing around the fire, and fighting ‘devils’ with fire still occur in the more remote regions.

Statue to Ismail Somoni, national hero of Tajikistan

The word "permaculture" was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and one of his students, David Holmgren. It is a contraction of "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture." Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community building movement, which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place them in the landscape. This synergy is further enhanced by mimicking patterns found in nature. This little photo album says so much about the country of Tajikistan, its spontaneous permaculture, and place in the panoply of countries on this earth, resting place of all humans, living and not living--artists, writers, farm workers, politicians, men/women, young/old….”one picture is worth a thousand words”…except for poetry.

Isolated settlement of Bulunkul, Pamirs, Tajiksitan

There’s a lot of soil in Tajikistan. It took several weeks to get this shipment of about two cups to the studio of Gary Simpson, conceptual artist for Common Ground 191. Some time was spent researching the writing of Mir Said Ali Hamadani, with no luck online for some time. Then, at the last minute, Manizha Tilavova sent this:

King of Hamadon is sleeping in Khatlon,
Sun is shining next to him.
Said Mohammad is that clean priceless one,
Like a moon of Khuroon is sleeping.

(*Translation of poem in Tajik at beginning.)

The word for peace in Tajikistan is “sulh”, and we wish “sulh” to our collector and to Tajikistan.

(All photos came from www.flickr.com)






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