Everywhere in Appalachia is the same. Everywhere in Appalachia is different. While the region and people may be different in one aspect, they are still the same in a larger focus. In the same sense that a Californian and a Bostonian are both Americans, a South Carolinian and Virginian who live in the mountains are both Appalachians. It just depends on how big of a tribe you are looking for.
Many in Appalachia have a close knit connection with their family and friends. Often we treat our friends like family, and when we talk about our extended family, we are including these non-blood relatives. This is, whether we realize it or not, our way of establishing our tribe. But what does that mean?
Appalachistan and Tribes
Tribalism is the belief that the natural form of societal group is the tribe, or the family and friends of an individual who share interests, habits, lifestyles, and language.
From our tribes, we gather our moral code. Most everyone in Appalachia has a similar one. Respect for ones elders, truthfulness, honor, family, etc. These connections we share build us into the larger tribe of Appalachians, with our smaller tribes serving as the building blocks for our society.
When you step back and look globally, you will find another group of mountain folk with similar views. Would it surprise you to find out that these people are the Pashtuns?
Graveyard of Empires
These are the hardy people of the Hindu Kush in a land known as the Graveyard of Empires. The pashtuns have inhabited their lands since at least the 1st millennium BC; during which, most of their mountainous territory had remained outside of government control. Their resistance to outside control and the fierce terrain they live in gave rise to Pashtunwali, or the “Code of Life”.
The three main principles of Pashtunwali are Hospitality, Asylum, Justice and Revenge. Hospitality and a profound respect is given to all visitors; regardless of race, religion, national affiliation, or economic status. This is done without any hope of remuneration or favor. Asylum refers to protection given to a person against their enemies. People are protected at all costs; even those running from the law must be given refuge until the situation can be clarified. Justice and Revenge is taken against a wrongdoer. No time limit restricts the period in which revenge can be taken.
These are followed by:
- Bravery – A pashtun must defend his land, property, and family from incursions. They should always stand bravely against tyranny and be able to defend the honor of their name.
- Loyalty – Pashtuns owe loyalty to their family, friends, and tribe members. Disloyalty is a matter of shame for their families and themselves.
- Kindness – Pashtuns should act in the welfare of others
- Arbitration – Disputes are solved through the Jirga(a tribal assembly involving all adult males)
- Faith – A notion of trust or faith in God
- Respect and Pride – Pashtuns must respect themselves and others, especially those they do not know in order to have pride in their people. Respect begins at home among family members and relatives. Not having this quality deems one unworthy of being a pashtun.
- Female Honor – A pashtun must defend the honor of women at all costs and protect them from vocal and physical harm.
- Honor – A pashtun must defend the weak around them.
- Chivalry/Courage – A pashtun must demonstrate courage.
- Country – A pashtun is obliged to protect the lands of the pashtuns.
Most, if not all of the tenants of Pashtunwali could be applied to Appalachian moral codes as they exist in it by one form or another. Hospitality is shown by offering food or drink. Asylum is shown by distrust of law enforcement and an understanding that you will protect someone in your care. Justice and Revenge is akin to us making amends for a wrong we have done to another. The list goes on.
Now these codes, both in Pashtunistan and Appalachia, are not exclusive. While the majority of us follow the code, be it lose or strict, there are those in both cultures beyond the pale. As in every society, there will be some who resist these codes or reject them entirely but they remain the minority.
While those on the outside may look upon our code and Pashtunwali as a dated concept that is “foolish or unnecessary,” let you be reminded that these arose from a people living in a hostile world where both the land and people from outside were actively trying to kill them. We are raised with these codes in the 21st century because the land and outside people are still hostile.
War Never Changes
Our adversaries in modern day Appalachia may no longer be natives and foreign soldiers, but they are politicians who believe we are backwards and they cannot comprehend a world where you may need a gun to protect yourself because the sheriff is forty minutes away. They cannot fathom a place where people volunteer to put out fires for no pay. The bugmen believe your owning that new pickup that you always wanted and need because you live in a rugged environment is killing the environment, but their private jets are not. They believe our broken system is acceptable but you need to pay at least 10 million dollars to Pakistan for gender studies programs.
We keep these codes because we don’t trust you, outsider. You tax us to keep us down and then send our money elsewhere. Or you regulate our livelihoods out of existence. You offer little help to better the lives of Appalachians. Those of us who join your military, you send abroad to fight in regions of the world like Pashtunistan, where we know you’ll never win. We know this because we see the pashtuns and are reminded of home. And we know that if the roles were reversed, we would be fighting for our homes and our tribe.