Yaghnobi recluses - the mystic people of Tajikistan

For a European, a trip to Yaghnob is a journey through time. The way of life has not changed here for several hundred years: people plow the land with a wooden plow, instead of money they often pay with flour, grain and sheep, and if someone gets sick, they call not a doctor, but a mullah and a healer.

Snow in Yaghnob falls in late November - early December, cutting off the valley from the outside world for almost half a year.

The descendants of the ancient Sogdians hid in the mountains from the troops of Alexander the Great and the Mongol khans. They returned here after the forced resettlement started by Soviet officials, and still live according to old customs.

Yaghnobi people
Impregnable valley

Yaghnob is a high-mountainous region in the north-west of Tajikistan, between the Gissar and Zeravshan ranges. In the middle of the 19th century, there were about 30 villages here, in the valley of the Yagnob River and its tributary, the small Kul River, at an altitude of 2500 to 3000 m above sea level, now there are only 14.

You can enter the valley only in one place, other paths block a narrow gorge on one side, and the Yaghnob wall on the other. This northern spur of the Gissar Range (Tajiks call it Zamin Karor, that is, “calm land”, where there are no earthquakes) only experienced climbers dare to storm. As soon as snow falls in the mountains, and this usually happens in early December, it becomes almost impossible to penetrate Yagnob: few roads are covered by avalanches, and it is incredibly difficult and dangerous to move along the icy mountain paths knee-deep in snow. In summer, the way here is also not easy: the road is laid only to the village of Naumetkan, that is, up to about a third of the valley, you have to go further along narrow goat trails. For an unprepared person, and even with things behind his back, this is a difficult test.

Yaghnob valley

But it was here that the inhabitants of Sogdiana once hid from the invasions of foreigners - the troops of Alexander the Great, the hordes of Genghis Khan ... According to legend, at the beginning of the VIII century, the ruler Devashtich saved his people from the Arab conquerors, dividing the Sogdians into three groups and sending Matcha to hard-to-reach areas , Falgar (northern part of the Pamirs) and Yaghnob.

In 1883, in the oldest German geographical journal Petermanns geographische Mitteilungen, an article by the French ethnographer Guillaume Capus appeared entitled “The Yaghnob Valley and Its Inhabitants” (Das JagnauTal und seine Bewohner), and the “Yagnob riddle” was discussed as a unique social phenomenon. At the beginning of the 20th century, several ethnographic and medical-anthropological expeditions visited Yaghnob. The main thing that interested scientists was how the Yaghnobis differ from the surrounding mountain Tajiks, whether they were affected by the process of assimilation. It turned out that according to anthropological data, both of them belong to the same Caucasoid type near the Pamirs. But the data of ethnographers and linguists testified: the inhabitants of the Yagnob river valley still managed to preserve both ethnic integrity and language - the only direct descendant of the language of ancient Sogdiana.

Yaghnobi and Sogdian languages

The Yaghnobi language - Zivok - belongs to the eastern group of Iranian languages ​​​​(there is another living representative of this branch - Ossetian) and is a continuation of one of the dialects of the Sogdian language. The number of carriers, according to various sources, is from 1,500 to 12,000 people. Most of them live in the Sughd region - in Yaghnob and the Zafarabad region, but not all Yaghnobis speak the language of their ancestors; for many, Tajik has become their native language. The Sogdian language was spoken by the inhabitants of the state of Sogd (Sogdiana) and its colonies. The kinship with Yaghnobi was revealed in the analysis of written sources found in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in China, but also in Japan, Kazakhstan, India, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Inscriptions have been preserved on the walls of buildings, stone steles, ceramic vessels, bone and stone products, but more often these are manuscripts on paper, parchment and silk. Sogdian remained the main language in the Zeravshan basin and in Semirechye until the 9th century, when the process of its displacement by Persian and Turkic languages ​​began.

Yaghnobi family
Climate and living

Climatic conditions in the villages are different depending on the altitude: the higher, the colder. The average July temperature in the western part, that is, in the lower villages, is +20–25 °C. In the eastern part, in the villages of Pskan and Kiriont, it is not higher than +15 °C. Winters are generally mild, with temperatures rarely falling below -5-7°C.


They plow here, harnessing oxen that pulls a wooden plow. They reap and harvest grass for livestock with homemade crooked sickles. In Soviet times, they tried to organize collective farms in Yagnob, they even supplied tractors and combines here. But bulky cars did not take root in the mountains: using them on rocky slopes is inconvenient and dangerous, and there are few qualified mechanics among the local population, to put it mildly.


The Yaghnobis build houses from unhewn flat slate stones, plastering them with clay and dung. Harvested hay is stored in huge sheaves right on the roofs of barns and sheds. 10–20 m from the house, as a rule, there is an open kitchen with a tandoor, a pantry for food and kitchen utensils, a “bathroom” (a room with several stone trestle beds smeared with clay, on which you can put a kettle or a jug of water) and a toilet "backlash-closet" systems.


There is practically no furniture in the rooms, with the possible exception of trestle beds - a kind of podiums that occupy almost the entire space: they sleep, eat, and just sit on them, resting after work. In one of the walls there are niches with wooden shelves where things and utensils are stored. For heating in the center of the room, sandals are sometimes arranged - a small (25–30 cm) depression in the earthen floor, above it is a table with low legs. In cold weather, smoldering dung is lowered into the hole under the table, and the inhabitants of the house gathered around gradually warm up.


Men dress differently. Youth, one might say, is modern: in jeans, T-shirts, sports jackets and suits that can be bought at the market in the regional center. Old men wear thick quilted robes and skullcaps. Women are dressed less diversely and more traditionally: in long loose-fitting dresses and straight, spacious trousers that do not restrict movement, as a rule, this bright, multi-colored attire looks very elegant. Women and girls do not go without headscarves, but they do not hide their hair and do not cover their faces when they see strangers.


The only reliable source of food in Yaghnob was and remains livestock: sheep, goats, cows. They give meat and milk, and, if necessary, money: at the end of summer, on certain days, the owners select animals for sale and descend with them to the mouth of the valley, where buyers are waiting for them at a once and for all appointed place.


Goat's and cow's milk, as a rule, are mixed and made ksinishta ruhan - butter (it is beaten by hand in narrow high churns hollowed out from a whole tree trunk), kaymak - fatty thick cream, katyk - sour milk. For the winter, kurut is prepared in Yagnob: the curd from cow and goat milk is squeezed well, salt is added, balls with a diameter of two to five centimeters are rolled from it and dried in the sun until they become hard as a stone.


Until recently, they felt and spun sheep's wool, wove carpets and bedspreads from it, sewed warm men's dressing gowns, wove belts from bull skin and made kurpachs - mattresses on which in Asia they lie and sit around a tablecloth spread on the floor, dastarkhona. But now the wool and skins are being thrown away, no one needs them. And women no longer weave, do not spin, and almost do not knit. It’s easier to go down to the valley once a season, sell a few sheep and buy cheap Chinese rags that caring salesmen bring to the lower villages.


There are other "signs of modernity" in Yaghnob. Satellite dishes look fantastic on the roofs of antediluvian houses. In the lower villages, to which the road was laid, some people have cars - mostly unpretentious UAZs and fields. As long as the weather allows, that is, about 6–7 months a year, they go “to the region”, bring food and building materials: who is richer (mainly those who have a lot of sheep and cows; in Yaghnobi, wealth and livestock are called one and in the same word - “pier”) has been trying in recent years to build houses not from stones, but from bricks, and to level the walls not with clay, but with a cement mixture.


Schools, though not in every village, but still there. One of the locals, who is more literate, teaches children to write and count, for which he receives a state salary - 150-160 somoni per month. But you can't even buy a sack of flour for such a salary, and besides, there is enough of your own, "real" work in the field and at home. So there are fewer and fewer people who want to work in the field of public education every year. However, they rarely study here beyond the fourth grade - and there is no time, and by and large there is no need. But here's what's interesting: the ethnographer Mikhail Andreev, in his 1927 expedition notes, claimed that local "women made money by copying religious books." This means that they could read and write not only in their native Yaghnobi, but also in Arabic! In modern Yagnob, such connoisseurs, unfortunately, are practically not found.

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