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June 2002

Social Whirl

Men perform the attan in a village near Farah, in southwestern Afghanistan. This traditional Pashtun folk dance, a staple entertanment at weddings is accompanied by the ever faster beating of drums. Participants—including, occasionally, women—spin for hours on end, until exhausted.

This photograph, received at the Society in 1948, was never published in the magazine, but by then National Geographic had a long history of covering the country, including Maynard Owen Wiliams’s article, “Back to Afghanistan.” Invited to a tribal wedding, Williams did not photograph the “girls in bright silks and heavy coin necklaces…ranged against the sky. The camera could not catch the scene, for in Afghanistan,” he wrote, “a lens, like a gentleman, sees only males.”

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Photograph by Ernesto Cagnacci