The Way of Life of Afghanistan reflects the deep rooted culture of the Afghan people. Although the Afghan population is composed of many distinct ethnic groups, certain elements of their way of life are much the same. Characteristically, the family is the mainstay of Afghan society. Extremely close bonds exist within the family, which consists of the members of several generations. The family is headed by the oldest man, or patriarch, whose word is law for the whole family. Family honor, pride, and respect toward other members are highly prized qualities. Among both villagers and nomads the family lives together and forms a self-sufficient group. In the villages each family generally occupies either one mud-brick house or a walled compound containing mud-brick or stonewalled houses. The same pattern prevails among the nomads, except they live in round, felt-covered tents called yurts, which are portable yet extremely sturdy.
Each village has three sources of authority within it: the malik (village headman), the mirab (master of the water distribution), and the mullah (teacher of Islamic laws). Commonly, a khan (landlord) will control the whole village by assuming the role of both malik and mirab. The village mosque is the center of religious life and is often used as the village guest house.
Baggy cotton trousers are standard dress for both men and women. Afghan men wear long cotton shirts, which hang over their trousers, and wide sashes around their waists. They also wear a skullcap, and over that, a turban. Afghan women wear a long loose shirt or a high-bodice dress with a swirling skirt over their trousers; they drape a wide shawl around their heads. Many women wear jewelry, which is collected as a form of family wealth. Some Afghan women wear a tent-like garment called a burka (also known as a chador or shadri), which covers them from head to foot and hides their faces behind mesh screens. Wearing the burka is part of the ancient custom of purdah, which requires women to be concealed from men outside the home. Purdah is prevalent in some Islamic societies. Educated urban Afghan women had discarded the custom as backward, but the Taliban enforced a strict dress code that required all Muslim women to wear a burka in public. After the fall of the repressive Taliban regime, women continued to wear the burka in some places, usually not of their own choosing but as a requirement imposed by local maliks and mullahs.
Twice a year groups of nomads may pass through villages on their routes from summer highland grazing grounds to the lowlands where they camp during the winter. The villagers traditionally permit the nomads to graze their animals over the harvested fields, which the flocks fertilize by depositing manure. The nomads buy supplies such as tea, wheat, and kerosene from the villagers; the villagers buy wool and milk products from the nomads. For food and clothing, the nomads depend on the milk products, meat, wool, and skins of their flocks; for transportation they depend on their camels. Nomadic women are freer and less secluded than village women.
A favorite sport in northern Afghanistan is a game called buzkashi, in which teams of horsemen compete to deposit a calf carcass in a goal circle. Afghans also play polo and ghosai, a team sport similar to wrestling. The most important holiday in Afghanistan is Nowruz, or New Year’s Day, which is celebrated on the first day of spring in March. The Way of Life of Afghanistan sometimes was influenced by the government of the day.