Pakistani Dance: The Dancing Boys of Peshawar

Figure 1.--This 1940 magazine photograph shows boy dancers performing in brightly colored costumes. They are in Peshawar, which at the time was part of the British Raj. We think it was a tradition in Peshawar because it was an important Pashtun city in the tribal area. The photographer noted that at the time he only found such troppes in the Northwest Frontier Territorie. We do not know if this tradition was continued in Pakisdtan after independence (1946). It has continued in neighboring Afghanistan.

We have very little information about the fine arts in Pakistan. There are strict injuctions in the Koran relating to art. We do note both Islazmic art and surviving pre-Islamic traditions. One of these are the dancing boys of Peshawar. This appears to be a surviving artifact of ancient pre-Islamic traditions popular among the Pashtun tribes erstern Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. We know of no information on the origins of these dances, but we suspect they were widesprewad among he momadic peoples of Central Asia. They may, for example, be relsted to the Turlish Whirling Dervishes. Hopefully readers more knowledgeable on this subject will be able to provide more information. They probably pre-dste Alexander's conquest of the area (330 BC). Surviving cultural traditions, not only these daces, but also literary, srtidstic, and musical firms suggest a Persian influence. These dances and accompaning musical instrumentatioin reflect many local cultural taditions. Pashtun culture itself is a mixture of native customs and strong influences from South, Central and Western Asia and the later Islamization. The boy dancers today carry a strong taint of pedestry nd prositution of poor boys sold by their parents. We are not true to what extent this has traditionally been associated with these dancers. As a result, the tradition has been discouraged by many Islamic scholars, not only because of the sexual connotations, but because dance itseld was deemed to sensual. It was banned by the Taliban and Iranian mullahs. The American PBS "Frontline" series in 2010 aired a program, "The dancing boys of Afghanistan". It had little to say about the ancient traditions, but contained horrifying practice called Bacha Bazi, which involves the sale of Afghan boys to wealthy warlords and businessmen so threy can be trained as dancers for male audiences. They are then exploited and traded for sex.


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Created: 11:35 PM 5/3/2010
Last updates: 11:35 PM 5/3/2010