Afghanistan’s Poetry in Motion

GEOGRAPHY

“I am chasing you like a drone/You have become al-Qaida/there’s no trace of you.”

Trucks painted in vivid colors and lettered with poems are part of the cultural landscape along the dusty roads of Afghanistan.

The short poems take the form of landays, a style native to Afghanistan and other Pashto regions. The verses are read by passers-by, discussed in homes and shops, and inspire responsesThemes range from tribal honor, politics and religion, to war, love, and homesickness. (Afghanistan Analysts Network)

Use our resources to better understand how landays reflect the cultural landscape of Afghanistan.

Industrial trucks emblazoned with verse are part of the geography of Afghanistan. Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic

Industrial trucks emblazoned with verse are part of the geography of Afghanistan.
Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The lead paragraph in the Afghanistan Analysts Network article says that the poetry-laden trucks are most common in Afghanistan’s south and east. Look at our map of “Afghanistan and Pakistan Ethnic Groups.” Why do students think the poems would be more familiar in cities such as Kandahar (Qandahar on the map) or Kabul than Mazar-i-Sharif, in Afghanistan’s north?
    • Landays, the poems seen on the truck, are a type of folk poem among the Pashto (or Pashtun) people of Central Asia. Pashtuns are the majority ethno-linguistic group in Afghanistan, with strongest concentrations in the southern and eastern part of the country.
  • Watch our short “picture of practice” video “I Am From.” In it, a teacher outlines how to analyze a poem. Have students choose a landay or two from the Afghanistan Analysts Network article, or from this article from the Poetry Foundation. (NOTE: The Poetry Foundation article includes adult language and themes.) Analyze the poems using the methods in the “I Am From” video.
    • Who wrote this poem?
    • What struggles are they facing? Be specific!
    • What senses are the poets using?
    • Using one-word answers, how do these poems make you feel or react?
    • Can this collection of short answers give a “cultural landscape” to the anonymous poets of Afghanistan?
  • Epigrams are probably the closest English-language version of landays. Read more about epigrams in our “media spotlight.” Do students think any of these poems could fit in the cultural landscape of Afghanistan? Why?
    • Benjamin Franklin’s “Little strokes/Fell great oaks” is a spectacular epigram, and as relevant in modern Afghanistan as it was in 1770s America. Why?
  • Thousands, perhaps millions, of Afghans discuss the truck-poems. Do students think Western audiences discuss poetry? In what form? Why or why not?
    • Sure they do! Poems take many forms.

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