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The Moral Economies of Land and Water in the Bukharan Emirate

Jeanine Dağyeli

Landholding patterns and engagement with land and water in pre-colonial and colonial Central Asia are still only poorly understood. This relates to questions of actual ownership and property rights but also to access, usufructuary rights, beneficial interest and valorisation of land and water in economic as well as in spiritual terms. Resources and agriculture were sacralised in many ways, especially water and certain crop plants. Water, crops and husbandry all had their respective patron saints. Different qualities of water were distinguished semantically and valued according to their inherent specificities but also to their role in the agricultural cycle. For farmers, water turned land into a resource while fallow land as such was not only regarded as sterile but as home of all kinds of perilous spirits. Natural disasters like landslides or floods were often interpreted as divine intervention due to human moral decay. The moral economy of land and water and the spiritual mapping of agricultural labour not only included resources but social and labour relations. Dependencies, hierarchical relationships and even bonded labour were usually masked in terms of neighbourliness and relatedness.