HINDU KUSH 1959 BY FOSCO MARAINI
Fosco Maraini (1912-2004) was an Italian anthropologist, photographer and mountaineer who led a scientific-cum-mountaineering expedition to the Hindu Kush massif in northern Pakistan in 1959. His book about it, Paropàmiso. Nella terra dei Kafiri, dove quattro mondi si incontrano (Bari, 1963) was translated from the Italian by Peter Green and published by Hamish Hamilton of London in 1964 as Where Four Worlds Meet. Hindu Kush 1959, from which the passage presented here is taken.
Both the photos here were taken by Maraini and included in his book.
Chapter Four. The Road from Peshawar.
This chapter describes Maraini’s travels north from Peshawar in the Pathan-inhabited North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
Our route skirted the frontiers of Swat, went right across Dir, and at last emerged in Chitral, where we were to spend a couple of months. Meanwhile we had pulled up at our second road-block. This time it was only a kind of customs post. Once again our papers were examined by a group of most elegant military officials, all with splendid moustachios and a bristling beltful of weapons, who ended by saluting us in most amiable fashion.
About mid-day we reached the foot of the mountains, which had changed from that distant hazy blue into a brown, rocky, and (I must confess) rather unpleasant consistency when seen from close quarters. Here we reached the third and most important road-block, at which all our documents were examined with even more minutely captions care than on previous inspections. Above us was a vast black notice-board, inscribed with a lengthy text in white, which embodied all the rules and restrictions applicable to the three categories of traveller imaginable here: Pakistanis, Local Residents, and Foreigners. One curious sub-section informed the reader that foreign women were ‘admitted beyond these limits only if escorted by a responsible male escort’; and even so they could not (naturally) ‘stray off the main road without special authority from the Political Agent’. Here one caught an intense, genuine, and indeed positively incandescent breath of that sexual fanaticism concerning the mysteries of the boudoir which is occasionally discernible in the piazza of some mountain village in Southern Italy, or one of the more remote Mediterranean islands.
But here the situation is complicated by a third factor of a rather curious sort. It is not only love between man and woman which — via the medium of various accepted conventions — spreads its invisible, deadly web abroad behind walls, veils, and every other sort of camouflage; there also exists love between man and man, which has been institutionalized rather in the manner adopted by the ancient Greeks or the medieval Japanese, and concentrates especially on the relationship between an adult and a young boy.
Everyone talks about it quite openly. ‘If you want a woman here,’ one Peshawar official told me, laughingly, after a few rounds of whisky, ‘you had best pay court to her brother. Once you’ve accommodated him he won’t mind if you go with his sister, ha-ha!’ Another Pakistan official told me, ‘In these parts a father is jolly proud if his boy goes with one of us — it means he’s getting on in the world, being taken up by someone who counts.’
It is an odd fact that pederasty seems to flourish best, on the whole, under two diametrically opposed regimes: in those decadent societies which yield to none in soft luxurious self-indulgence — and also in predominantly military nations, dedicated to nothing but hunting, violent sports, and war. At Sparta — and not only according to Aristotle, who was openly prejudiced on such matters —homosexuality was regarded as normal phenomenon. The same was true of the Japanese samurai, as is shown by a whole class of literature from the Tokugawa period (1603-1867). In one respect a warrior caste may deliberately encourage pederasty, as a means of providing some outlet for the sexual and affective impulses without the need to submit to prolonged petticoat inﬂuence back in camp. Let the women stay at home and think of nothing save rearing sons!
It is certainly true that the Pathans are warriors through and through. To look at life — for a few hours — through the eyes of men brought up in such an atmosphere is a fascinating experience: it clariﬁes so many historical episodes.