Mataloona and Mizh

Panache and Poise

By Sophiya Qadeer | March 2021


Mataloona and Mizh by Akbar S. Ahmed is an inspirational, thought-provoking and a much-yearned-for rendition of the Pakhtun language, history and culture. The author is an Islamic scholar, poet, playwright and filmmaker, and has been described as the “leading authority on contemporary Islam” by the BBC. His book comprises two parts, Mataloona, the section listing and explaining a diverse variety of Pakhtun proverbs and Mizh, which is a frontier classic carrying out an exegesis into Pakhtun culture, predominantly focusing on the Mahsud tribe, its leadership dynamics, organizational structure and historical depths.

Mataloona is an awe-inspiring section of the book that features the beauty of the Pakhtun language, sheds light on the fecundity and vitality that this language encapsulates. As we see the world transforming into a global village, the banes of an extremely fast-paced, super-practical life in today’s world have mitigated the practicality of most languages that were previously revered in academic and social circles with panache and poise. However, Ahmed’s book is a powerful contribution to the literary pool of linguistics and anthropological discourse, which convincingly highlights the need to restore and subsequently revive the use of languages that are slowly losing their efficacy. The book not only evokes emotions, but also plays a substantive role in identifying how “proverbs reflect a great deal of the social thinking of a people”. Mataloona shows how people think and react and how this emotive quality of their reactions is then illustrated through the proverbial semantics. It is phenomenal how this book showcases the traditional and rustic life in Pakistan’s north-west frontier.

Mataloona highlights how proverbs in every language — despite the divisions and differences in the origins of these languages, their contemporaneity and of the cultures in which these languages fall — encompass many similarities in terms of evoking sentiments and translating attitudes of the people in every era. An example is the attention-grabbing Pakhto proverb, transliterated as, “Grandmother died and her fever ended”, which equals the Shakespearean proverb, “Death is the end of all. He who dies pays all debts.” These proverbial similarities, therefore, bring cultures and peoples closer in a very interesting way.

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