The social life of pathways: Walking, giving, and building in Shimshal Valley, Pakistan

Thibault Fontanari


Theories of the gift agree that social relations are (re)generated through gift-giving between groups and individuals. Landscape studies have also shown how people weave relations between humans, nonhumans, and their environment through walking. This article argues that these two important dynamics intersect in the building of infrastructure by locals. It explores what Wakhi herders and farmers of northern Pakistan call nomus: a pooling of gifts through which they build structures that they name after a deceased or loved person. The living and the deceased (re)generate their relations through the circulation of gifts, but also through the building of collective infrastructure that will enable them to circulate. This ethnographic reality calls for articulating the anthropology of the gift with the anthropology of the environment to show how the motivations to give are experienced not by beings detached from the world but within an ontological relationship with this world.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/720746