Book publications

Moesgaard Museum’s great commitment to the study of Afghanistan has also resulted in several book publications.

The latest one is Music in Nuristan, published by the museum’s own publisher in 2009. It is based on a number of entirely unique music recordings which have hitherto been hidden away in the Moesgaard archives. Read more about the book by pointing at it with the mouse.

The other books presented here are all parts of a large nomad research project set up by the Danish Carlsberg Foundation.

The original initiator of this project was Klaus Ferdinand from Moesgaard Museum, and apart from the four titles about Afghan nomads mentioned here, the project resulted in many more books about nomads from other parts of the world. All books have been published by the publishing house Rhodos.

The four books shown below deal with Afghan nomads from different perspectives, and together they form a unique and multifaceted image of the Afghan nomadic lifestyle. All authors are anthropologists from Aarhus University, who have had close relations to Moesgaard Museum. All books are based on extended fieldwork in the country.

Despite their differences, the books share a common concern with the challenges and changes that the nomads live through as they are confronted with the national state and the modern world.

Music in Nuristan
By Christer Irgens-Møller, 2009

This book is based on music recordings from Nuristan in Afghanistan, collected by Klaus Ferdinand and Lennart Edelberg between 1953 and 1970.

The material was retrieved from its hiding place in the Moesgaard Museum archives in 2001, as the museum chose to set up an exhibition about Afghanistan following the US-led invasion of the country.

In the process of working with the material it became clear that the old tape recordings were in a very poor condition, necessitating a digitisation. Klaus Ferdinand decided that the music should be analysed at the same time. The task went to the music ethnologist Christer Irgens-Møller, and this book is the outcome.

Nuristan is located in the Hindu Kush mountains northeast of Kabul. The population is scattered across some of the most inaccessible mountain valleys in the world. Being thus isolated, they were not converted to Islam before the late 1800s, and they also managed to uphold parts of their unique musical tradition until the early 1970s. The music and lyrics which are analysed and described in the book are believed to be the only comprehensive documentation of this tradition.

The book is richly illustrated with images of dances and instruments. Exemplars of many of the instruments can be found in the Ethnographic Collections at Moesgaard Museum.
By Gorm Petersen, 1994

Known as 'the land of the nomads', Afghanistan has for centuries had a large and thriving nomadic population which has played a considerable role in the country's political and economic development. The Zala Khan Khel are pastoral nomads who for hundreds of years have migrated between the highlands of Afghanistan and the lowlands of the Indus Valley in search of pasture.

'Afghan Nomads in Transition' traces the history of the Zala Khan Khel from the end of the last century to the present day. Based on field data collected by the author, the book presents a detailed study of the Zala Khan Khel in relations to the politics and economy of the country as a whole.

Following a brief history and geographical description of Afghanistan, the author examines every aspect of their way of life – their genealogy and identity, the infrastructure of their society, the patterns of their migration, their transport, their tents and shelters and the lands they choose to adopt. He shows how their livelihood as nomads have developed and changed dramatically in an interaction with the larger tribal and state society of which they are part.

With 165 outstanding photographs, 'Afghan Nomads in Transition' is a rewardingly full and informative account of a fascinating body of people, providing a greater understanding of nomadism and its changing position in the modern world.
AFGHAN NOMADS - Caravans, conflicts and trade in Afghanistan and British India 1800-1980
By Klaus Ferdinand, 2006

Klaus Ferdinand studied Afghan nomadism from his first visit to the country in 1953 to his death in 2005.

That was a period of tremendous development for the nomads, which the book engaging demonstrates in its description of a rapidly changing culture.

The author documents the traditional lifestyle and culture of the nomads on the basis of prolonged field studies, and in this book he presents a detailed insight into their social, economic and political life.

Through case studies, Klaus Ferdinand describes a number of different groups of Pashtun nomads migrating between the Pakistani lowlands and the Afghan highlands. The book also offers a glimpse into the grand nomad bazaars of central Afghanistan. Finally, the author analyses the relations between the nomads and the resident Hazaras in the highlands, who have suffered a history of oppression and exploitation.
By Asta Olesen, 1994

Asta Olesen has lived with and studied nomadic craftsmen in Afghanistan.

Occupational specialisation among ethnic groups is a significant but largely neglected aspect of rural life in this country. A myriad of communities of artisans, tradesmen and entertainers, each forming a largely endogamous descent group, lead an either settled, nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle.

In her book, Asta Olesen describes the life and work of the migrating Musalli threshers, the Shaykh Mohammadi pedlars and the Ghorbat sievemakers, their historical background and their relations with settled peasants, merchants and other townspeople.

While the Musallis are of Indian and the Ghorbat presumably of Iranian origin and both form occupationally specialised descent groups, the Shaykh Mohammadi have emerged as a spiritual community in Afghanistan, which over time has absorbed various unrelated occupational groups.

With their flourishing myths and legends, the three communities draw on Sufi inspiration for the organisation of their craft guilds, a fact which so far has been little explored in an Afghan context.
By Birthe Frederiksen, 1995

The Hazarbuz is a sub-group of the Pashtun Mohmand. They are engaged in caravan trading in East Afghanistan along the road to Turkestan which for centuries has been linked to the Silk Road, the ancient connection between the Orient and the Occident.

The book traces the socio-economic and political transformation of the Hazarbuz community over the past century. It describes the successive changes from a pastoral way of life to a settled existence in bazaars in Afghanistan and lately in crowded refugee camps in Pakistan, where many Hazarbuz went into exile after 1979. The analysis is based on the author's field data and the scanty literary sources.

The work discusses the historical factors which partly encouraged and partly forced the nomads to engage in transport activities with their camels and, from the 1920s, to turn to trade. While the Hazarbuz exported a variety of products from Afghanistan to the Indus lowlands, their main source of income has been the import and sale of tea in the northern regions of Afghanistan.

The transformation of Hazarbuz pastoral economy is analysed within the wider context of cultural and political change and with particular attention to kinship ideologies, social organisation and notions of solidarity.