Photo Source: Tomas Balkus - Flickr Creative Commons
Map Source: People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
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From ancient times, Afghanistan has been the crossroads of Asia, inviting both trade and invasion. The region has been trampled by armies of infamous conquerors; Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane as well as recent ones vying for British, Russian and Iranian interests. At the center of that cross - long before borders defined the convergence of Iran, Russia and Afghanistan - was Iran's Khorasan Province that included part of modern Afghanistan. The traditional home of the ethnically mixed Aimaq tribes stretched from northeastern Iran into western and central Afghanistan, where they still reside. A small group also lives in Tajikistan and others are refugees in Iran.
Not an ethnically distinct people group, the larger tribal society is the Char Aimaq, first known as the chahar (four) Eimaks (Mongolian for tribes), a designation recognizing its make-up of four major tribes: Taimani, Firozkohi, Timuri and Jamshidi. These four are further comprised of some 250 sub-tribes. Never politically united, tribal alliances joined them for protection against invaders. Aimaq are known as formidable warriors. For such a large population, little has been recorded about them, leaving them relatively obscure.
Once nomadic peoples, they were forced by cycles of severe drought and war into semi-nomadic lives, traveling seasonally to graze decimated herds and/or subsisting as sedentary farmers and carpet weavers in mud-brick villages.
Aimaq live principally in Badghis, Ghor and Herat Provinces where agriculture and animal husbandry provide an economic base. Nearby, the Aimaq "capital", Chaghcharan, and the ancient city of Herat lend economic, political and spiritual influence.
Well-watered land produces rice, cotton, grapes, wheat, and melons. Most Aimaq no longer possess sizable herds (by which wealth is counted), but they might graze sheep year-round in this climate. Surplus produce brings income in Herat markets as do high-quality Herat Baloch rugs.
Certain characteristics apply to most Aimaq subgroups. Few speak their traditional languages. The dialects they speak today resemble Dari (Afghan eastern Farsi) mixed with words of Mongolian and Turkic origin. Researchers are attempting to determine if the Aimaq may be speaking Dari that is influenced by individual manners of speaking within their villages. They speak Dari in schools.
The staple food, eaten at every meal, is thick, whole wheat bread baked in mud ovens. Rice, chickpeas, potatoes, and summer garden vegetables accompany chicken, eggs or lamb (for guests or celebrations). They drink dugh, a beverage made with yogurt, salt, pepper and water.
Some Aimaq tribes endure severe winters and sparse rainfall regularly interrupted by drought. Semi-nomadic and poor Aimaq tribes grow dry crops like wheat, melons and fodder to feed animals that must be stabled in winter.
Women enhance drab lives by wearing brightly colored clothes sewn with glittering sequins over white or colored tumbons (pants). Outside their homes, women modestly wear the chadder namoz, a dark head-to-toe covering, and many still don a burka when in Herat. Men are seen in turbans or round caps with rough-textured cloaks draped around their shoulders.
Based on clan and extended family, the Aimaq are led by men and trace ancestors through male lines. Even so, Aimaq women exercise unusual privileges compared to other rural Afghan people groups in that they meet with the men and freely voice opinions, even with strangers present. Marriage is the most important life event celebrated among the Aimaq. They celebrate weddings with much dancing to rhythms beaten on flat drums. By tradition, parents arrange marriages in early childhood. Marriage takes place when a girl is 13 or 14, usually to a blood relative slightly older, 16-20, or as a second wife to a much older man in his 40s. Uniquely among the Taimani and Firozhoki, girls marry at age 18 and may reject a father's choice of husband. Traditionally, a bride moves immediately into the home of her husband's family following the wedding rites. There are unusual instances, however, of a groom moving into his future in-law's compound for two or more years of service before they perform the marriage ceremony.
Aimaq tribal customs remain stronger than Afghan nationalism, due in part to long-enjoyed independence and geographical distance from the central government in Kabul. Tribal law vested in village leaders usually prevails over government authority and even some Islamic rules.
As with the great majority of Afghans, Hanafi Sunni Islam is the belief system among the Aimaq tribes. They are not averse to resorting to pre-Islamic practices if they face drought or a poor crop. In such times, virgins might perform pre-Islamic dances begging for rainfall.
Sunni Islam is an important part of the Aimaq identity, but there are other things they identify with, perhaps even more. Their subtribes, clans and extended families are very important to them. For this reason, those who take them the gospel will need to make inroads into each of these splintered communities.
All Aimaq tribes need enough rain for their crops and herds to flourish. For them to flourish spiritually, they need a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is nearly unknown among them.
Pray for an abundant crop for each Aimaq tribe this year as a testimony of God's power and love.
Pray for the gospel to penetrate each Aimaq tribe, blessing them in every way.
Pray for Holy Spirit anointed workers to go to them, taking Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Pray for dreams and visions of Jesus to come to Aimaq elders, opening their communities to the only Savior.