DARRA-YE NŪR (Pašaī Därē-i No: Herrlich et al., pp. 343, 858; lit., “valley of light”; a suggested Pashto etymology, in Bābor-nāma, tr. Beveridge, app., pp. xxiii-xxv, is to be rejected), name of a small tributary valley on the right bank of the Konar river in eastern Afghanistan and the corresponding subdistrict of Nangrahār province. The Nūr river rises on the forested Kōṇḍ Ḡar (ca. 4,360 m), a ridge of the Hindu Kush that has been described as a place of pilgrimage (Simpson, p. 803). It flows due south for about 25 km, receiving several tributaries on its right bank, and joins the Konar river near the market town and district seat of Šēwa, at an altitude of 610 m, about 23 km upstream from the confluence of the Konar and the Kābolrūd.

The area seems to have been incorporated into the Afghan state under Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān (1297-1319 /1880-1901; Keiser, 1971, p. 11). Owing to abundant forest game (Nāheż, p. 240) and proximity to the winter palace at Jalālābād, the Darra-ye Nūr was a favorite royal hunting ground. As early as 1327/1909 a road was built from Šēwa through the valley to Qalʿa-ye Šāhī(d) (Pašaī Ḵalšaī; Morgenstierne, p. 22) and then to Šokīālī (or Šogīālī), a village halfway to the source of the Nūr river elevated to the status of administrative center of the area (Kohzad, pp. 1-2).

The subdistrict (ʿalāqadārī) of Darra-ye Nūr covers 336 km2. In 1925 there were about 10,000 inhabitants and in 1358 Š./1979, according to preliminary census returns, 27,606 (Herbordt, p. 208), with a relatively high density of 82 inhabitants per km2. The population, concentrated in scattered settlements ranging from compact villages in the upper valley to either dispersed fortified farmsteads (qalʿa) surrounded by small tenant houses or tiny hamlets in the lower valley, is supported by intensive irrigated double cropping (Keiser, 1971, pp. 38 ff.; idem, 1984, p. 128; Wutt, 1977; idem, 1981, pp. 73 ff.). In the market-oriented wheat-rice system of the semitropical lower valley rice is the main cash crop, whereas in the temperate upper valley the traditional subsistence wheat-maize farming, with declining goat pastoralism, has recently been giving way to commercial poppy production for the narcotics trade (Keiser, 1971, pp. 31 ff.; idem, 1984, pp. 127 ff.; Ovesen, 1983, p. 174; Wutt, 1981, p. 55).

The inhabitants speak the eastern Pašaī language, the so-called laḡmānī or dehgānī Pašaī, but with dialectal variations strong enough to prevent mutual intelligibility, although some standardization of the language seems to have occurred recently (Buddruss, p. 3; Tanner, p. 282; Keiser, 1984, p. 120). They belong to two geographically distinct endogamous clans, the Sūm in upper Darra-ye Nūr and the Šenganek in the lower valley (sometimes called Tajik and Sāfī respectively; Wutt, 1978, p. 43; Ovesen, 1986, pp. 247-48). A third group, allied with the Sūm, is of mixed origin: Čogānī (immigrants from the Kōrdar and Arēt [Oyrēt] valleys in the north and east; Tanner, p. 293) and Čelāsī (from Čelās in the neighboring Čawkī valley (Ovesen, 1981, p. 224); they inhabit Kandak and Šemōl, two high villages in a side valley (Wutt, 1978, p. 44 map). Pashtun families from the Sāfī (Sāpī) tribe, some reputedly of sayyed (claiming descent from the Prophet Moḥammad) origin, have settled in the lower valley and initiated a strong pashtunization process (Kohzad, p. 5; Wutt, 1981, p. 65).

The Sūm are numerically and socially dominant. They claim descent from a common ancestor (possibly a Tajik Naqšbandī pīr), who is said to have come through the Kašmūnd range from the upper Alīngār about ten generations ago and to have converted the valley population to Islam. This tradition suggests a religious, rather than a patrilineal, affiliation and casts doubt on the belief that the Sūm were latecomers to the Darra-ye Nūr (Keiser, 1974, p. 449). The conversion must therefore have taken place later than that of the upper Alīngār in about 990/1582 (Moḥammad Khan). In fact, Islam had already reached the Darra-ye Nūr from a different direction, and the process of islamization lasted for centuries. In 411/1020, when the Ghaznavid Sultan Maḥmūd launched a first successful campaign of conversion from the south, the population of the valley was “kāfer o botparast” (infidel and idolatrous), most probably worshiping Hindu gods in this deeply indianized region (Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, p. 185; Wutt, 1981, pp. 107-08). In 1035/1625 kāfer communities were still living in the Darra-ye Nūr, notably in the western side valley of Sarōr (Raverty, pp. 109, 141). Several pre-Islamic traditions still survive (e.g., in zoomorphic funerary architecture); others vanished only a few decades ago (Herbordt, p. 207; Wutt, 1981, pp. 92 ff.; Ovesen, 1983, p. 179).

Despite traditional factionalism, in the winter of 1358 Š./1979-80 an alliance of all the clans under Sūm leadership drove all government representatives out of the valley. Since then the Darra-ye Nūr has remained outside government control (Keiser, 1984).



G. Buddruss, Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Pašai-Dialekte, Abh. für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 33/2, Wiesbaden, 1959.

O. Herbordt, “Eine Reise nach ‘Där-i-Nur’ im Nordosten Afganistans” (sic), Petermanns Mitteilungen 72, 1926, pp. 206-08.

A. Herrlich et al, “Orographische Bemerkungen,” in A. Scheibe, ed., Deutsche im Hindukusch, Berlin, 1937, pp. 295-351.

R. L. Keiser, Social Structure and Social Control in Two Afghan Mountain Societies, Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, New York, 1971.

Idem, “Social Structure in the Southeastern Hindu-Kush. Some Implications for Pashai Ethno-History,” Anthropos 69/3-4, 1974, pp. 445-56.

Idem, “The Rebellion in Darra-i Nur,” in M. N. Shahrani and R. L. Canfield, eds., Revolutions and Rebellions in Afghanistan. Anthropological Perspectives, Institute of International Studies Research Series 57, Berkeley, Calif., 1984, pp. 119-35.

A. A. Kohzad, “Dara-e-nour ou la vallée de la lumière,” Afghanistan (Kabul) 13/1, 1958, pp. 1-6 (not very reliable).

C. Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Panjab, 3 vols., London, 1842; repr. Karachi, 1974; repr. Graz, 1975.

Moḥammad Khan Ḡāzī, Ṣefat-nāma-ye Darvīš Moḥammad Ḵān Ḡāzī, ed. and tr. G. Scarcia as Cronaca di una crociata musulmana contro i Kafiri di Laġmān nell’anno 1582, Serie orientale 32, Rome, 1965.

G. Morgenstierne, Report on a Linguistic Mission to North-Western India, Oslo, 1932.

M.-H. Nāheż, ed., Qāmūs-e joḡrāfīāʾī-e Afḡānestān II, Kabul, 1336 Š./1957.

J. Ovesen, “Ethnographic Field Research among the Pashai People of Darra-i-Nur,” Afghanistan (Kabul) 31/2, 1978, pp. 91-99.

Idem, “The Continuity of Pashai Society,” Folk 23, 1981, pp. 221-34.

Idem, “A Note on the Relation between Language and Culture. The Pashai Case,” in Monumenta Georg Morgenstierne II, Acta Iranica, Hommages et Opera Minora 8, Leiden, 1982, pp. 131-40.

Idem, “Environment and History in Pashai World-View,” Folk 25, 1983, pp. 167-84.

Idem, “The Construction of Ethnic Identities. The Nürestānī and the Pašaī (Eastern Afghanistan),” in E. Orywal, ed., Die ethnischen Gruppen Afghanistans, Wiesbaden, 1986.

H. G. Raverty, Notes on Afghānistān and Part of Balūchistān II, London, 1881; repr. Lahore, 1976.

W. Simpson, “On the Dara Nur, or Dara Nuh, in Afghanistan,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society 1, 1879, pp. 802-03.

H. C. Tanner, “Notes on the Chugāni and Neighbouring Tribes of Kafiristan,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society 3, 1881, pp. 278-301.

K. Wutt, “Zur Bausubstanz des Darrah-e Nur,” Afghanistan Journal 4/2, 1977, pp. 54-65.

Idem, “Über Herkunft und kulturelle Merkmale einiger Pashai-Gruppen,” Afghanistan Journal 5/2, 1978, pp. 43-58.

Idem, Pashai. Landschaft, Menschen, Architektur, Graz, 1981.



(Daniel Balland)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 17, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 1, pp. 61-62