ESḤĀQZĪ (sometimes shortened as Sāqzī, Sākzī, or even Sāgzī; sg. Esḥāqzay), an important Pashtun tribe of Afghanistan, member of the Panjpāy section of the Dorrānī confederation. It was the Afghan tribe with the largest pastoralist nomadic component in 1357 Š./1978: 10,600 families, i.e., nearly 60,000 persons or 7.5 percent of the total estimated nomadic population of Afghanistan, out of which only 1,941 (18%) were semi–nomadic. It is, however, difficult to estimate the total strength of the tribe since it also includes an unknown number of sedentary peasants and town dwellers (see DORRĀNĪ for old estimates). A figure of about 200,000, as suggested erroneously for Esḥāqzī nomads alone, may not be too far off the mark (Tavakolian 1982a, p. 107, n. 4).

The geographical distribution of the tribe shows the dualism typical to those Pashtun tribes who have massively taken part in the colonization of North Afghanistan, a process in which the Esḥāqzī played a leading role. Since Nāder Shah’s times they had been located in southwest Afghanistan, around Nawzād and Mūsā Qalʿa, from where nomadic families used to migrate with their flocks to the Ḡōr (Ḡūr) mountains in summer and to Dašt-e Bakwā in winter. They held several hereditary offices in the tribally-organized government of Aḥmad Shah (r. 1160-87/1747-73). In the late 18th century they took foot in northern Sīstān (Elphinstone, p. 399; Gazetteer of Afghanistan II, pp. 128, 184, 234). But the decisive step in the territorial expansion of the tribe dates back to late 19th century.

From 1886, the Esḥāqzī under Tājū Khan of the Ḵānīḵēl subtribe from Nawzād began to migrate to northwest Afghanistan (Tapper, 1973, pp. 63 ff.), and infiltrations from southern Afghanistan went on during decades, until the 1960s (Tavakolian, 1979, p. 9). In the mid-20th century they therefore constituted a numerically important and socially dominant element of the population of northern Afghanistan, with colonies scattered from Golrān in the west to Qaṭaḡan in the east (Balland). The change of winter area from southwest to north Afghanistan enabled most of them to retain their former summer pastures in Ḡōr. It would seem, however, that this picture has come to an end during the 1980s when most Esḥāqzī of central north Afghanistan forcedly left for their original southern districts or refugee camps in southern Khorasan, where Esḥāqzī tribesmen might constitute 2.7 percent of the Afghan refugees (Tapper, 1991, p. XVI; Papoli-Yazdi, p. 62).

In 1907, out of an estimated 20,000 nomadic Pashtun families who spent the winter in northern Afghanistan, 9,900, i.e., half of them, were reported to be Esḥāqzī, of whom 7,000 lived in the present–day province of Jawzjān; the tribe, moreover, included some 22,200 nomadic families in southwest Afghanistan, mostly in what was then known as the Pošt-e Rūd district, i.e., the right bank of the Helmand river. In 1978, the “northern” nomadic and semi-nomadic Esḥāqzī accounted for 7,500 families, out of which 1,939 wintered in the Sar-e Pol district of Jawzjān, and another 2,080 in the Golrān district of Herat province, their two main areas of concentration. A comparison between these figures emphasizes the general trend of decline in pastoral nomadism in Afghanistan: two out of three former Esḥāqzī nomadic families would have become sedentary peasants, much less, however, in northern than in southern Afghanistan (Table 1). The drought of the early 1970s sharply accelerated the process, but it remains to be ascertained how long its effects will have lasted (one third of the nomads of the Šēḵānzī subtribe had settled down according to Tavakolian, 1984, p. 287).

The internal structure of the Esḥāqzī tribe is poorly known. The eponymous ancestor, Esḥāq, is said to have been a contemporary of one Sayyed Abū Moslem Boḵārī, who lived some “ten generations” ago (Tapper and Tapper, 1982, p. 169). From the former’s marriage with Hawā is issued the Hawāzī (i.e., Hawā’s descendants) subtribe, and from the marriage of the two daughters of Esḥāq’s son ʿĪdī with Abū Moslem’s great-grandsons ʿOmar and Mūsā comes the Mandī(n)zī subtribe (from Mandīn, Abū Moslem’s wife of reputedly Sayyed origin). The fact that the two basic subtribes of the Esḥāqzī bear a name derived from their respective feminine ancestors is altogether noteworthy within the Pashtun’s strict patrilineal system of descent. The Hawāzī are further subdivided into the Meṣrīḵēl, ʿOmarzī, ʿĪdīzī, Paḵīzī, Kōtīzī, and Dawlatzī subsections. The Mandī(n)zī include the Šēḵānzī, Nāmanzī, Bābakzī, and Bārānzī on ʿOmar’s side, and the Kamōzī (further subdivided into Akbarḵēl, Aḵtarḵēl, Amānḵēl, and Ṣūfīḵēl), Ḵānīḵēl, Čakōzī (also Čōkāzī), Maḥmūdḵēl, and Mūsāzī (including a Naẓarzī subsection) on Mūsā’s side (Tapper and Tapper, 1982, p. 170). Further subtribal units with uncertain genealogical status include the Pīrōzī (further divided into Madakzī and Laḡōzī), Āḵondḵēl, Bādīnzī, Sīāmōzī, Tōrḵēl, Panīzī, and Ḍākī (a geographical name, most uncommon in Pashtun tribal denomination), all listed in the Afghan Nomad Survey. Another source adds the Moḥammadkēl, Porhanzī, Aḥmadzī, Ḵōšmīrḵēl, Ḵānōzī, Ḵaderzī, and ʿĪsāzī subsections, and records a somewhat different tradition of genealogical splitting among the Esḥāqzī (Glatzer, pp. 117 f.).

As far as the nomadic component of each subtribe is concerned, the most powerful ones in 1978, numbering more than 1,200 nomadic families each (including semi-nomads), were the Šēḵānzī and ʿOmarzī, both massively, though not entirely, located in northern Afghanistan. In decreasing order, the Nāmanzī, Aḵtarḵēl, Pīrōzī, Bābakzī, Maḥmūdḵēl, Ḵānīḵēl, Čakōzī/Čōkāzī, ʿĪdīzī, Ṣūfīḵēl, Bārānzī, Akbarḵēl, Āḵondḵēl, and Ḍākī amounted at between 900 and 100 nomadic families, with all other subtribes numbering less than 100 nomadic families.

It has been convincingly argued that this segmentary organization, coupled with an overall strong tribal solidarity, has been instrumental in Esḥāqzī’s successful encroachments over large tracts of pasture lands in northern Afghanistan: lineages “provide means of social and economic cooperation, political corporateness and autonomy, and collective adaptation within an ethnically diverse and economically fragmented region” (Tavakolian, 1982b, p. 20). Tribal extra-lineage endogamy is therefore quite frequent: 25 percent of all marriages recorded among the Šēḵānzī of Golrān involve two different Esḥāqzī lineages (Tavakolian, 1982b, p. 96), and the Pīrōzī of Sar-e Pol show a basically similar pattern (Tapper, 1991, p. 95).



D. Balland, Afghanistan: Nomadismus und Halbnomadismus, Wiesbaden, 1989 (TAVO map n. A X 12).

M. Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, London, 1815, repr. Graz, 1969.

B. Glatzer, Nomaden von Gharjistān, Wiesbaden, 1977.

Saiyid Iftikhar-ud-Din, Report of the Tour in Afghanistan of H.M. Amir Habib-ulla Khan, 1907, Simla, 1908.

C. M. MacGregor, Central Asia II: A Contribution towards the Better Knowledge of the Topography, Ethnology, Resources, and History of Afghānistān, Calcutta, 1871.

M.H. Papoli-Yazdi, “Cultures et géopolitique en Iran: Les réfugiés afghans dans le Khorâssân,” Géographie et Cultures 3, 1992, pp. 57-70.

N. Tapper, “The Advent of Pashtûn mâldârs in North-Western Afghanistan,” BSO(A)S 36/1, 1973, pp. 55-79; repr. with minor revisions as “Abd al-Rahman’s North-West Frontier: The Pashtun Colonization of Afghan Turkistan,” in R. Tapper, ed., The Conflict of Tribe and State in Iran and Afghanistan, London and New York, 1983, pp. 233-61.

Idem, Bartered Brides: Politics, Gender and Marriage in an Afghan Tribal Society, Cambridge, 1991 (the author makes a large use of pseudonyms; the so-called “Maduzai” subtribe of the Esḥāqzī, on which she focuses, is actually the Pīrōzī subtribe).

N. Tapper and R. Tapper, “The Role of Pastoral Nomads in a Region of Northern Afghanistan,” final report to Social Science Research Council on Project HR 1141, London, 1972 (unpubl.).

Idem, “Marriage Preferences and Ethnic Relations among Durrani Pashtuns of Afghan Turkestan,” Folk 24, 1982, pp. 157-77.

B. Tavakolian, “Sheikhanzai Pastoral Nomads of Northwest Afghanistan,” Newsletter of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples 4, 1979, pp. 9-16.

Idem, “A Cultural Analysis of Sheikhanzai Economic Behavior,” in Culture and Ecology: Eclectic Perspectives, American Anthropological Association Special Publication 15, 1982a, pp. 95-109.

Idem, “Segmentary Lineage Theory and Sheikhanzai Practice,” Nomadic Peoples 11, 1982b, pp. 17-22.

Idem, “Religiosity, Values and Economic Change among Sheikhanzai Nomads,” in A. A. Ahmed and D. M. Hart, eds., Islam in Tribal Society, London and Boston, 1984, pp. 287-301.

(Daniel Balland)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 19, 2012

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