The Influential Clan of Ghulkin, upper Hunza

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The Influential Clan of Ghulkin, upper Hunza

Today if one visits different historical areas and sites in Hunza district, one would surely find it surprising to discover Ghulkin’s historic importance. Ghulkin is a village situated between Gulmit and Sisuni, with probably less than two hundred households. Ancient structures, graves and important events reflect the history of this village. Moreover, during the nineteenth and twentieth century it has not only produced notables who have managed the affairs of the village, but they also played a pivotal role in the administrative structure of Hunza State. One of the clans in Ghulkin, which I believe has always remained pertinent in the power structure is the Qurbon Shoh clan of Nakhcheray tribe.

1. Front view of Mullo Durbeen’s Maktab in Ghulkin- photo by the author in 2015

The well-known Qurban Shoh clan derives its name from a tribesman named Qurbon Shoh, the only son of Mullo Durbeen. After visiting the Maktab of Mullo Durbeen at Ghulkin in 2015, it was much later that I learned that he was father of the renowned man Qurbon Shoh. The Maktab functioned as a place where education was imparted. I personally think education in that time period mainly revolved around religious recitations, perhaps in Persian or Arabic. I suppose Arabic got a late entry into these mountain communities. Many old men and women still remember Persian quotations and poetry. Recitations for both occasions of happiness and sorrow have strong Persian influence. Persian still holds its place in many ways.

2. Side view of Mullo Durbeen’s Matktab- photo by the author in 2015

Discussing Mullo Durbeen’s only son Qurbon Shoh, The Gilgit Mission of 1885-86 refers to him as ‘Ali Gauhar’s father’. On 12th of May the mission nears Bozai Gumbaz. The report says that about 40 years ago (around mid-1840s) a force was sent by the ruler of Hunza (Ghazanfar Khan) under the command of his brother Abdullah Khan to Bozai Gumbaz. Ali Gauhar narrates the event to the mission, as he most probably had heard it from his father. Ali Gauhar says that: “the raid was made when he was a child of three or four.” The aim of the raid was to crush the Kirghiz raiders, who hindered the movement of travelers between Hunza and Wakhan. As a result, majority of the Kirghiz tribesmen were killed, four hundred tents were captured. Kirghiz women and children were sold into slavery. Qurbon Shoh was injured during this fight against the Kirghiz. The authors of the report admit meeting the old man (Qurbon Shoh) at Gulmit village on the 28th of April.

Nisar Karim’s book ‘Between the Pamirs and the Karakorams with Contrast of Tribes’ published in 2018, provides genealogical trees of various tribes in the Upper Hunza region. Qurbon Shoh clan is also included in this work. Karim has shown that Qurbon Shoh had two sons named Ali Gauhar and Ali Jauhar. Ali Gauhar’s son Ali Member later settled in Chipursan, whereas the other sons lived in Ghulkin. All of Ali Jauhar’s descendants lived in Ghulkin. Ali Jauhar was the younger son of Qurbon Shoh.

3. Ali Gauhar- Arbob of Ghulkin. Source: The Gilgit Mission 1885-86

During 1885-6 the Arbob (chieftain) of Ghulkin was Ali Gauhar as mentioned in the confidential report of Gilgit Mission 1885-6. According to this report Ali Gauhar was a blue-eyed man with brown beard. He was about forty years in age and spoke Persian well. In addition, the author mentions:  … “he would relate stories about his country and his forefathers, or else, with head thrown back feet thrust forward in his broad stirrups, would sing a discordant song.”

In Mohammad Nazim Khan’s (ruler of Hunza State from 1892 to 1938) autobiography both Ali Gauhar and his brother Ali Jauhar, are mentioned as the Mottibars (notables) from Ghulkin. Nazim writes that Ali Gauhar of Ghulkin was part of the team that went to Badakhshan to pursue Adina, a gun maker of the Afghan government to come to Hunza for the manufacture a gun. Ali Gauhar went along with Mir Ali Mardan and Fateh Ali Shah. When it was found that the first gun was not cast clean, Ali Gauhar went again with two ironsmiths to Badakhshan. This time he brought a pony load of Badakhshani clay and another gun maker named Dagrez back with his party. After accomplishing the job both gun makers and their families were “given rewards to the value of a thousand rupees”. They were then allowed to return home.

4. Front row: first from left to right is Muhammad Nida (Yarpa and later Arbob), third from left to right is Arbob Muhammad Raza Beg- 1960s. Photo provided by the author.

Ali Jauhar’s grandson Muhammad Raza Beg and Ali Gauhar’s grandson Muhammad Nida later held significant positions during the twentieth century.  Both grandsons served during the rule of Muhammad Jamal Khan (the last ruler of Hunza), who ruled for nearly thirty years. Muhammad Raza Beg served as an Arbob whereas Muhammad Nida initially served as Yarpa (Land Steward) of Chipursan for nineteen years and was later appointed Arbob of Ghulkin. Even after the abolishment of Hunza state in 1974, Muhammad Raza Beg’s son Ali Jauhar (named after Beg’s grandfather) took active part in cultural and political activities of his area.

Oral accounts have it that the last ruler of Hunza asked Arbob Muhammad Nida whether the people of Qurbon Shoh clan were all doing alright. In reply the Arbob said that the men were doing good whereas the women were not. By this he meant that the women were still bossy and quarrelsome. Ali Qurban of Passu, an expert on oral history and genealogy says that the daughters and granddaughters of the Qurbon Shoh clan had very different traits as they were confident, strong headed and domineering women. He forms this opinion as he personally knew many of them. Through his social media account he has already given genealogy of the daughters of Ali Gauhar, but he promises his audience to publish the complete genealogy of the daughters and granddaughters of the Qurbon Shoh clan.

Whether it be the establishing a Maktab, defending territorial interests of the state by fighting Kirghiz invaders, guiding important missions, helping in the manufacture of weapons, decision making as village chieftain or managing pastures as land steward- the Qurbon Shoh clan has always been at the forefront. Their influence was not only limited to village level politics. In fact, in the corridors of power they had central roles on a macro level. This can only be observed by analyzing the documented history and the oral accounts of the locals, which is rare but fascinating.

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