The Witch and the Wise man: A Torwali folk tale (امِنی امن)

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Torwali is an indigenous language spoken in the Bahrain and Chail valleys in the upper reaches of the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. With fewer than 150,000 native speakers, the Torwali language is considered endangered. Speakers of the language have been making efforts, such as writing literature and publishing books, to protect and preserve their language, Torwali.

Below is an English rendering of a folktale of Torwali which we used to listen to fondly when we were children.

The folktale is tilted as Aaminey Aman, meaning Me and Myself, is about a witch. It is a story which tells us about the folk wisdom associated with highland people. A witch is a mythical creature that is often depicted as a woman with magical powers, particularly in folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy stories. Witches are commonly associated with magic and spellcasting. In some stories, witches are depicted as heroes or protagonists, while in others, they are villains or antagonists. In many cultures, witches are also associated with pagan beliefs, nature worship, and the cycles of life and death.

Once upon a time, there was an elderly couple who lived in a village up in the mountains of the North. The old man and his old lady were all alone in the world. They had lands and fields where they cultivated crops and vegetables to eat throughout the year. In the summer, they would go to the pastures high up in the remote mountains, while in winter, they stayed in the village. Their hut-like home was the only dwelling in the pasture. Living alone in a remote pasture was not easy, but it was part of their routine every year.

The interesting story happened one year after they shifted to the remote pasture as usual. They were enjoying the calmness and serene peace of the pasture. One day, the elderly man said to his wife, ‘I will go to the village to grind the wheat and make some flour for us, as the flour we bought is running out.’ The elderly woman agreed, and the next morning the man left for the village. Once he was out of sight, the woman busied herself with her routine work, cleaning the hut-like house and the stable where the cattle resided. She opened the stable and brought the buffaloes and bulls out, tying them up near the house’s door.

While she was busy working, a creepy sound came from the mountain in a loud voice: ‘Lady! Untie the bull and then tie it a bit farther from the door.’ The caller seemed to be a female from the tone. The lady was shocked and looked around in every direction in fear. The caller appeared to be unknown. At first, she was afraid, but after a while, she forgot about the call and resumed working. Soon after, the caller shouted again, ‘Lady! I’m telling you to move the bull a bit farther from the door!’ This time, the elderly woman became seriously frightened and thought it could be a witch. She also realized the witch seemed to be afraid of the bull. So, the woman cleverly moved the bull even closer to the door to keep the witch away. After some time, another creepy call came: ‘I’m telling you to move the bull farther from the door, and you are moving it closer?’ In fear, the elderly woman moved the bull even closer to the door in response to the call.

It is well-known that the call or knock of witches can cause severe fever and trembling. The elderly woman also experienced extreme trembling and fever, so she hid herself inside the house. As more calls came, her trembling worsened. She went to the stable and lay down in the hay manger. She covered herself with dry grass to hide from the witch. The witch continued to make creepy sounds throughout the day, but the elderly woman didn’t respond, despite trembling in fear.

When it was time for the sun to set, the elderly man arrived home from the village. As he approached the house, he was met with an eerie silence. He found it strange that his wife was nowhere to be found and the bull was tied near the door. He searched for his wife in the house but found no sign of her. Finally, he found her in the hay manger, covered with grass and trembling. He asked her what had happened, and she told him the story. The elderly man was frightened, but he remained wise.

A bit later, the witch arrived at their home. She had a strange appearance: hair hanging down to her backward-facing feet, a creepy face, and tattered clothes. The witch entered and silently sat on the wooden chair. Then, she began mimicking everything the elderly man did. When he ate, the witch ate. When he stood, she stood. When he drank, she drank. The wise elderly man then had an interesting idea.

When the witch copied a few more of the elderly man’s actions, he finally took some oil and a match. He grabbed his long beard in his hands and poured oil on it. The witch mimicked him and did the same with her long hair. Then, the wise man set fire to his beard using the match. The witch did the same, setting fire to her hair. The man began shouting ‘امِنی امن’ (I did it myself). The witch caught fire and ran away across the pasture from one corner to another, shouting ‘امِنی امن’.

It is narrated that when her fellow witches heard her screams, they wanted to help. They asked her who had put fire to her she replied, naming the man, Aaminey Aman which meant ‘me, myself’! To this the fellow witches replied, “As you did it to you yourself now you have to bear it and we cannot help you”.

This way the wise man saved him and his wife from the wrath of witches!

Ubaid Sahil is a student and writer. He can be reached at ubaidsa9@gmail.com

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