The Âṣkuňu, Saňu, and Gřâmsaňâ


Âṣku˜gal and Adjacent Lands

Native Names: âṣkuňu, saňu, and gřâmsaňâ, all speaking dialects of a single language.

Other Names: "Ashkun" (first noted by Robertson [1896]), Wâmâî (from the Pashto name of the village of sâma), and "Achanu" (from the Pashto name of the village of gřâmsaňâ gřâm).


Location: upper-middle Pech Valley and over the watershed into the Bâźâi Gal, Mâse Gal, and Titin valleys of upper Laghmân.


Population: perhaps 10,000 – 30,000 for all three ethnic groups.


Settlements: (names are given in the Saňu dialect)
  of the Saňu (Pech Valley): sâma [Pashto wâmâ, Kalaṣa-alâ šemi], pau˜ć, kâm gal, akaṭaban, vâu, buni;
  of the Gřâmsaňâ (Pech Valley): gřâmsaňâ gřâm, sâbli gal;
  of the Âṣkuňu (Laghmân):
      in Bâźâi Gal: bâźâi gal, kuri, pâigalak;
      in Mâse Gal: mâlak, bâi ṣṭâl [?], mâsiː, gâ dâ lâm, koṭa gal, koṭa gal niše, kolâ tâ˜, gulćâi dâr gřâm, ḍiŋor dâra gřâm, âviːk, pašuːk;
      in Titin: bud dâ lâm, ḍiŋor dâ lâm, bâi dâ lâm, šimâm dâ lâm, kuri [?], nâkâ dâr gřâm.


Note: dâra, dâr, and mean "boys", as in ḍiŋor dâ 'Ḍiŋor's Boys', the agnatic clan descended from Ḍiŋor. Gřâm and lâm mean 'community'; gal means 'valley'. and lâm are loawords from Pašaî.


Multi-Ethnic Language Name: Morgenstierne and others have called the overall language "Ashkun" after one ethnic group that speaks the language (Morgenstierne 1929a). No known native term encompasses all the ethnic dialects, but Âṣkuňu-Saňu-viri comes close.


Linguistic Position of Âṣkuňu-Saňu-Viri: Âṣkuňu-Saňu-viri forms with Kalaṣa-alâ and Tregâmî the Southern (or Kalaṣa) Group of Nûristânî languages (see the Table of Languages). The Âṣkuňu in Laghmân have assimilated some phonological processes of the neighboring Indo-Aryan-speaking Pašaî people of the Alingar Valley, forming a dialect group (Âṣkuňu veri) distinct from the linguistically more conservative dialects in Pech (Saňu viri and Gřâmsaňâ viri). Minor dialect divisions are reported among the three major valleys of Âṣkuňu territory. Morgenstierne's field data remain the major source on Âṣkuňu (1929a, 1934a, 1952), supplemented by Buddruss (2006) and Grjunberg (1999). Strand's field data on the Saňu dialect appear in the Comparative Lexicon on this site.


History: No account of the history of the Âṣkuňu-Saňu-speaking peoples has been recorded. Accounts from other Nûristânî peoples assert that the Saňu had the same origin as the other Nûristânîs who settled in the Pech Valley after fleeing the predations of Mahmud Ghaznavî in the 11th century A.D. The description of horse effigies reported in 1874 by a man apparently from Wâmâ (Arbabzadah and Green, forthcoming) would support the possibility that the pre-Islâmic Saňu were horse nomads before settling in Nûristân.

In that regard, the ethnonyms Âṣkuňu and Saňu may reflect the names of the ancient Arsacid (the ruling dynasty of the Parthians, Aškân in Middle Persian) and Saka (Sakâna) peoples who dominated the region some two millennia ago. Details appear here.

From the existence in Âṣkuňu territory of village names that end in the Pašaî word lâm 'community' (rather than Saňu gřâm or Âṣkuňu glâm), it would appear that Âṣkuňu-Saňu speakers have spread "over the top," as the Nûristânîs say, from Sâma into Mase Gal and Bâźâi Gal, which were formerly Pašaî-owned. This hypothesis is consistent with the former religious preeminence of Sâma, with its large orchard, Indra Kun, reputedly planted by the god Indra himself (cf. Degener 1998: 237).