Malalai: the Joan of Arc of Afghanistan

 

When Malala Yousafzay was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I of course, had to scour the web to find some info on her. And you should check out my post “Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi and the Nobel Prize 2014” to read about how and why she earned the prize. As I read about her, I came across a line that mentioned that she was named after Malalai, an Afghan heroine. So, off I went again in search of info on Malalai. I was all set to gather and collate and draft something, when I came across this blog by Garen Ewing, http://www.garenewing.co.uk/angloafghanwar/biography/malalai.php, which I happily share with you here! Indeed, I am happy to celebrate two young women (Malala and Malalai) who dedicated their lives to working for human rights!!

 

Malalai
Afghan heroine of Maiwand

While in Britain, no one has heard of her, in Afghanstan Malalai (or Malala) is a legend. Smaller facts in the story vary slightly, but although it is Ayub Khan who became known as the Victor of Maiwand, it is said that it was Malalai who actually saved the day.

She was a native of Khig, a tiny village on the edge of the Maiwand battlefield, and the daughter of a shepard. Both her father and fiancée joined with Ayub’s army in the attack on the British on July 27th 1880 (which some say was also her wedding day), and like many women, Malalai was there to help tend to the wounded and provide water and spare weapons. Eventually there came a point in the battle where the Afghan army, despite their superior numbers, started to lose morale and the tide seemed to be turning in favour of the British. Seeing this, Malalai took off her veil and shouted out:

“Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand,
By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!”

This gave many of the Afghan fighters and ghazis a new resolve and they redoubled their efforts. At that moment one of the leading flag-bearers fell from a British bullet, and Malalai went forward and held up the flag (some versions say she made a flag out of her veil), singing a landai:

“With a drop of my sweetheart’s blood,
Shed in defense of the Motherland,
Will I put a beauty spot on my forehead,
Such as would put to shame the rose in the garden,”

But then Malalai was herself struck down and killed. However, her words had spurred on her countrymen and soon the British lines gave way, broke and turned, leading to a disastrous retreat back to Kandahar and the biggest defeat for the Anglo-Indian army in the Second Afghan War. Ayub Khan afterwards gave a special honour to Malalai and she was buried at her village, where her grave can still be found.

British sources, unsurprisingly, do not mention Malalai. Her actions may not have been noticed by any of the British, or they may not have seemed as consequential as they were to the Afghans. Afghan women are very rarely mentioned at all in the reports and narratives of the war (Hensman mentions that one woman was found among the dead at Ahmed Khel). Interestingly, it is the Afghans who provide some of the evidence for one of the other legends born at the battle of Maiwand, as it is from one of Ayub’s artillery colonels that we learn some of the details of the famous last stand of the 66th, clutching to their company colours, in a Khig garden, where indeed the fallen bodies were later found to be lying.

As well as Malalai, there were many other factors in the Afgan’s favour on that day, including preferential terrain and positioning, superior numbers, skilled use of outnumbering artillery, and perhaps some bad decisions on the British side of things. But certainly her actions were enough to turn her into a national hero where she is still revered today. Schools, hospitals and even a women’s magazine have been named after her. It is also a popular girl’s name, with Malalai Joya a rare female voice in post-Taliban Afghan politics.

Article by Garen Ewing ©2005. Separate from other articles on this website, I grant a creative commons license so this article may be used elsewhere to spread the word about Malalai. Please include this credit line.

 

 

Malalai of Maiwand
Da_Maiwand_MalalaiA drawing of Malalai holding Ayub Khan’s flag at the battlefield of Maiwand in July 1880
Born 1861
Khig, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Died July 1880 (aged 18–19)
Maiwand, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
Nationality Afghan
Other names Malalai Nia, Malala and Malalai of Maiwand
Ethnicity Pashtun
Known for Battle of Maiwand

 

Advertisements

Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye

Red Brocade

Naomi Shihab Nye

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

 Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

 No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

 I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea. 

© 2002 by Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.

 

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri. Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother a Swiss-German-American . She spent her adolsecnece in Ramallah, Palestine; the Old City in Jerusalem; and San Antonio, Texas. Her experiences of cultural difference weaves throughout her writings. She is known for bringing a fresh perspective to the ordinary within her writing.

She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas where she continues to live and work.

Naomi told Contemporary Authors: “ I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late – there’s that rich possibility of noticing more in the meantime . . . poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”

I hope you enjoy Naomi’s poem and that you go out and explore more of her writings. I hope we all take a breath and pause to notice the shimmer of abundance that surrounds us. . . . Let us pause and feed each other, nurture each other until we are such good friends that we don’t care about the past or the details, that we simply cherish the humanity and dignity of each other. Let us take the time to brew a cup of fairness and justice for each other even as we snip fresh mint for that tea.

Remembering Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She grew up in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. She was indeed a renaissance woman, an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist. Reading her autobiographical books both broke and opened my heart. You might start with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which was nominated for the National Book Award and then explore her other books from there. Be sure to read her poetry. Her poems will take your breath away and inspire you!

A few highlights from her illustrious career include her acceptance of a lifetime appointment as In 1982 she accepted a lifetime appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1982. In 1993, at Bill Clinton’s request, she wrote and delivered a poem, “On The Pulse of the Morning,” for his inauguration as president of the United States. In 2000, she received the National Medal of Arts, and in 2010 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.

 

One of my favorite poems by her is Still I Rise was written in 1978. Maya Angelou hold the copyright, it was published by Random House, Inc.

 

And Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise. 

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
 
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
 
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
 
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
 
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
 
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

You really need to read this out loud … with more than a touch of sassiness, even as you feel the pain and terror. Read it and feel the determination to survival and excellence. Read it and know that hope is always possible where ever there is breath to inspire and act!