Friday, October 10, 2014

Kalash: White survivalists in Afghanistan?

Kalash: White survivalists in Afghanistan?
February 18, 2012 - AsiaKalash

Remember the National Geographic cover of the Afghan woman with pale skin and green eyes? It wasn’t the image that most people had of the peoples of Afghanistan. Razib Khan has been shedding some light on Afghan genes in the science magazine Discover this week. In particular Khan looks at the enigmatic.
The Kalash, a little-known, largely isolated, and religiously pagan tribe, in Afghanistan claim to be the descendants of Alexander the Great.

Numbering only a few thousand, the Kalash have been pressured by Islamic extremists in Afghanistan to convert to Islam. Female Kalash in particular are targeted for conversion, undermining the small tribal community.

Khaliq, a Kalash elder, complained the Guardian that Pakistan had also “treated us like animals, and [the] valley [home of the Kalash] like a zoo.”

But the Kalsh appear to have the type of character that has allowed them to survive in a historically extremely hostile environment. But culture isn’t the only thing that has set the Kalash apart. Peculiarly, this small tribe has pale skin and fair hair, and looks every bit European. Khan even says — half jokes, I think — that the Kalash and Burusho “are the best refutation of the ‘blondes going extinct meme‘.” But he doesn’t buy their claims to be descendants of Alexander the Great.

“The Kalash mtDNA is almost totally West Eurasian,” he says, “but looking at the “Kalash” component above you don’t see particular closeness to the Russian/European modal component in comparison to the South Asian ones. Yet looking through the images at the links above I think you’ll be struck by how European some of the Kalash and Burusho seem in visible appearance, as well as how similar to each other they look.”

The Kalash “arise from the fringes of the ancient admixture between West Eurasians and South Eurasians, but their phenotype exhibits far less of the South Eurasian imprint than the lowland peoples of the Punjab. I have no good model for why mountains would foster such a phenotypic difference[...]. ”

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kalash festivities: Song and dance

Kalash festivities: Song and dance
Maureen Lines | From the Newspaper 

The Kalasha people, or ‘Kafir’ Kalash, as they are generally called, live in three remote valleys in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa  province of Pakistan, close to the Afghan border. Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir lie approximately 22 miles south of Chitral. The population of Chitral district is about 378,000 people, of whom 4,500 are Kalash. These valleys are the last enclaves to withstand conversion to Islam in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.
During the seventh century AD, much of the area was invaded by the Arab forces and converted to Islam. The Kalash, believed to have arrived in the Chitral area in the 10th century, came from the Bashgal valley, which is now in Afghanistan. They had been pushed out by the other Kafir tribes, who in turn were being pressed by invading Islamic armies from the west.
In Kalash oral histories their traditional home is called Tsiam. One theory put forward is that it is the town of Chaga Serai in eastern Afghanistan, but it is doubtful. According to the Kalash, Tsiam is reputed to be the original home of the Kalash “Messenger of God” – Balamahin who is said to return to the valleys every year during the winter solstice – the festival of Chaumos.
The Kalash oral histories also mention a place called Yarkhan. Yarkand was an ancient Buddhist centre, which is now in the Chinese western province of Xinjiang. A number of beliefs and institutions of the Kalash are thought to have originated there.
When I first visited the Kalash valleys in the beginning of the 1980s, they had just been discovered by anthropologists, much in the same way as Columbus discovered America!
During the 1980s and 90s, I was to meet many of those academics, among whom, though often gracious and friendly, very few actually liked me. The reason was only too obvious: Who was this upstart who had such a close relationship to the Kalash? I was not an academic and I had no degree. When in the 1990s, I attended a seminar in Denmark, and I suggested to the august members that we should write a friendly guide book on the Kalash for the tourists, the idea was met with horror; so I make no apologies for writing about the Kalash from the tourist’s point of view.
The Kalasha have no set calendar as we know it. Their year begins around March with the month of the spring sacrifice and all succeeding months are decided by the phases of the moon and become synonymous with natural events. Hence there is the Month of the Teats, denoting the birth of animals, the months associated with the festivals of the four seasons, and those which bring forth the various crops. When all the harvesting is over, there comes the Month of the Falling Leaves, followed by two months of winter, divided into the first 40 days called the Big Cold and the next twenty called the Little Cold. Then comes the Month of Melting Snow, followed by the Moon Month heralding the beginning of the new cycle.
The Kalash celebrate all four seasons with a festival each. Chaumos, the celebration of the winter solstice, is held in all three valleys in the middle/end of December. At all the festivals, there is dancing in the day and night.
Each festival has its own particular charm. In Birir the spring festival is held on a mountain top and the autumn festival (my favourite) was held in an open glade with a backdrop of the mountains.
Unfortunately, corruption and lack of awareness have ruined this once gorgeous spectacle. A few years ago, overzealous corrupt Kalash elders approached the Secretary of Minorities to build a cement wall around the natural dancing ground, thereby destroying the whole ambience.
Twice I observed the Chaomos festival in Rumbur and twice in Birir. Of all the festivals, the Chaomos (celebrating the winter solstice) is the one appreciated by the Kalasha the most.  It is the time for doing their spring cleaning, their young children going through the rite of passage, the drinking of wine, dancing around bonfires and enjoying the fruits, which have been dried during the summer.
Chaomos, as is the case of many cultural events, differs in a number of ways from valley to valley, except for the two most important issues. This is the festival when boys of a certain age – around eight or nine – go through a rite of passage and spend three days in a jestakhan (temple) where they see their first goat being slaughtered and where they drink their first wine. For this the young men are dressed in the clothes of the ancient elders.
The other major feature of the winter solstice is the ride of Balamahin. The Kalasha religion is a complex, convoluted subject with multi-layered and often paradoxical beliefs. Most anthropologists consider it to be polytheistic because it has many deities. In Rumbur valley, however, where people are more progressive, there is a stronger belief in the monotheistic concept of one supreme creator of the universe, called Dezau or Khodai, the  intermediary between the people and Dezau being Balamahin.
In Rumbur, be they inhabitant or visitor, they must make sure that they are within the precincts of Rumbur before December 10, when they are obliged to go through a ritual of cleansing, which generally consists of somebody waving twigs above a person’s head. In this valley there is more evidence of an attractive feature of the people carving out figures of goats and Balamahin in the dough for making bread. In Birir, besides the big bonfire, around which the people dance, the Kalasha walk up the path of Guru village, dressed in colourful chogas and carrying flares. It is traditional for everyone, whether they are residents or guests of the valleys, to go from one valley to another to celebrate the festival as the days of celebration in each valley differ.
(Published in Dawn’s All About Lifestyle)

The origin of Kalash

The origin of Kalash

By Mohammad Qasim Baig
Chitral is known throughout the world for its rich cultural heritage and scenic beauty. It is located in the northwestern part of the NWFP, between 71* 12 and 73* 53 east longitude and between 35* 13 and 368* 55 north latitude. It is bounded in the North West by Badakhshan and in the South-West by Noristan province of Afghanistan; Dir and Swat districts of Pakistan are located on the south of the valley while the Northern Areas of Pakistan (Ghizer, Goopis, Hunza and Gilgit etc) are the neighbors on the east of valley. It was a princely state up to 1969, when it was formerly merged in to Pakistan as a district of the Province Khyber Pakhtun Khuwa (K.P.K). Though the Chitrali culture itself is very rich and attractive but the culture of a small group of people within the district, named the Kalash culture is more attractive for the people from the world.
Total population of the Kalash people is 2,500 to 3,000 and they live at an altitude of 2,000m to 25,00m, in three small villages of the narrow isolated valleys of Chitral district. The Kalash people respect their cultural heritage left to them by their ancestors and they retain a clear memory of their rich heredity, traditions, language, stories, songs, dances, rituals and a number of festivals, which they still keep.
Origin of the kalash people is uncertain. The most common theory about their origin is that they are the descendents of Alexander the Great, when he (Alexander) passed through this region in 327 B.C., some of his soldiers settled here so probably Kalash people are the ruminants of the Greece army. But Archaeologist Prof. (Dr.) Ihsan Ali,
Vice Chancellor Abdul Wail Khan University Mardan and the Ex-Director of Archaeology and Museums Government of Khyber Pakhtun Khwa are against this theory and he is of the view that Kalash are indigenous people of this area and they (Kalash) are most probably descendants of the Aryans because neither Alexander nor his forces have touched this particular valley Chitral. To prove this theory and to trace the origin of the Kalash people Dr. Ihsan Ali and his team have conducted excavations of the Gandharan graves, in upper and central Chitral district. Human remains unearthed during the various excavations conducted in the area are in the process of examination by the DNA and radio carbon dating experts from international institutions like Leicester University UK and California University Bakersfield USA.Seven samples of human bones collected during the excavations were submitted in 2007 to the University of Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, Hamilton, New Zealand. These included six samples of inhumed bone from Singoor and Parwak Villages and a single sample of cremated bone from a cist grave at Gankoreneotek near chitral air port.
Excavation of aburial site at Gankorinio Tek, Singore Chitral.
Period of the age of remains from Gankoreneotek, Singoor and Parwak range from 1000 BC to AD 1000. On the basis of these dating results and the large number of ancient graves found in the area, having similarities with the burial style of the kalash people are the facts which support the theory of the Great Archaeologist of the Country, Prof.Dr.Ihsan Ali. Beside, collection of “Dental Casts” to find out the origin of different ethnic groups including the Kalash people is in-progress, led by Prof.Dr. Brian Hemphill of California University Bakers Field USA. Prof. Dr. Brian Hemphill and his team visited almost all the areas (valleys) of the Chital district in August, 2005 and collected samples from different ethnic groups. Samples from the ancient cemeteries located in the Kalash valley were also collected in order to continue the research work on the origin of the Kalash people.
Dr. Brian and his team collecting dental Casts from the kalash People.
Though, because of the efforts and support of Prof. (Dr.) Ihsan Ali, research work in shape of explorations, excavations and dental casting by national and international institutions has been done in the past but more research work in this context is direly needed in order to find out exact profile of the Unique Kalash people.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kalash Valley: Paradise lost

Kalash Valley: Paradise lost
By Maureen Lines | From InpaperMagzine | 26th August, 2012
Thirty-two years ago, I was enchanted by the poetic and sublime beauty of Bumburet, one of the Kalash Valleys. There were indeed meadows with sparkling water from the irrigation channels, fed by the rushing foaming river. Willow trees stood on the river bank and giant walnut trees shaded the bright green grass. The mountains stood in the back, while up river, the snow clad top of the Shawal Pass gleamed in the bright sunlight.
Now my favourite meadow is no more. On that site is the PTDC hotel, which I and the people fought to stop from being built, but to no avail. That was some years back. Since then, cement built hotels have proliferated, as have shops and other out-of-place buildings such as the Greek Kalasha Dur, which would look great in Athens, but in Bumburet stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. Now there is talk of a big hydroelectric power station being built to feed down country. The other valleys have not escaped either.
A few years ago, someone gave money to one of the elders to build a dancing ground on the top of Grom in Rumbur — cement pillars and a metal roof. Kalash and tourists were aghast. Finally, to the relief of all, it was demolished, but what has risen since? Another cement structure, albeit not so big and with a painted metal roof. Now Grom cannot be the heart of any World Heritage Site. Other cement structures have also been erected in Rumbur. This trend started with Bashali Houses being built, helped by the local administration.
Birir has not escaped either in spite of the pressure I put, backed by some erstwhile bureaucrats.
The Autumn Festival, known locally as Pur, was ruined forever by a Secretary of Minorites (he had never visited the valleys) who sent funds through the usual channel of local administration, which then reportedly gave the money to C&W (construction and works) for retaining walls and the rest was then handed over to a contractor, known to everyone as a timber merchant; unless someone declares it illegal and orders it to be pulled down, the high cement wall, cordoning off the dancing area and the small jestakhan (Kalash temple), has shut out forever the beauty of the valley to the dancers and tourists. What was once a joyful festival has now been corrupted. I have never returned to see the Pur. Again, who is going to remove the broken down cement from the river?
A couple of years ago, thanks to Minoo Bhandara, whom the people had asked to rebuild the jeep track on the other side of the river, money was again given through the same channel and yet another timber merchant appointed as contractor. To the surprise of many the bridge collapsed even before completion. The shipment of wood constantly puts pressure on both the cement pillars and the wooden planks upon which these heavily laden vehicles have to cross. The historical Gahiret Bridge suffers the same fate. The bridge has been repaired twice now by a brave and fearless engineer.
This year, to my horror, I got to know that the steps we built for the people of Guru have been replaced by a dangerous cement staircase, the base of which is one long slope. Covered in winter ice it will be a public danger to the inhabitants. It will also rule out Guru Village being thought of as the heart of the world heritage site.
Likewise, a project encompassing four cement latrines has been undertaken near the Bashali House of Bishal (though only a few women go there), which we built only a few years ago, complete with a washroom and commode. Near the Bashali we built near Guru, which is checked constantly by one of our Kalash women health workers, more latrines have been built — puka ones with tiled walls and floors. There is also a special room for washing hands.
When the population, both Kalash and Muslim, are in need of retaining walls, bridges and irrigation channels on a priority basis, this senseless waste of money is unforgivable. Again, it will not help our long pursuit of making the whole area a Unesco Biosphere and certain villages a world heritage site.
About five years ago, when Ingeborg Breines was the representative for Unesco, I went to Geneva and Paris to discuss the possibility of the Kalash Valleys becoming a WHS. I was told that as the region in question (including Jingeret Ku, where there are the remains of two Kalash Defence Towers, which we restored with Finnish money) was spread over a large area, a Biosphere with a special site as the core of the WHS would be in order.
On my return to Pakistan, I met with a number of officials in Islamabad. Mostly I was paid lip service, but then last year, the current Chief Secretary, Ghulam Dastgir, and the former Secretary of Culture, Azam Khan (now Home Secretary), took up the idea and the Culture Secretary wrote a proposal to go along with the WHS forms. It was then passed on to the Secretary of Minorities (now transferred) to deal with, and then also given to Faridullah Khan, the federal secretary of heritage, who was also transferred. Except for an offshoot seminar in Islamabad earlier this year, nothing more has been heard of the matter.
It is hoped that the new secretary of minorities will take an interest and push the proposal to meet the end of September deadline; otherwise, we shall have to wait another year, before we can again apply. A while back, our NGO attended a government meeting with C&W. The Line department listened to us and have agreed to find ways of removing the concrete from the steps and the broken cement retaining walls from the river. Who knows how things will proceed, but at least hope burns eternal.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Linguistic Diversity in NWFP

The NWFP has always been in limelight, but for wrong reasons. From the British raj’s Afghan wars in eighteenth century to Russian invasion in 1979 and American ouster of Taliban from Kabul in 2002, NWFP had been pivotal to the imperialistic designs, as it provides road access to Afghanistan. Later, the emergence of local Taliban and militancy, itself a product of 30 years long Afghan war, put the Frontier on the map of world, as the bastion of terrorism.
The media stereotyping put the beautiful aspects of its culture, history and people on the backburner and nowadays world knows the people of the Frontier as mere suicide bombers and terrorists. However, there are many a remarkable traits and cultural aspects, which only the Frontier could claim and linguistic diversity of the province is one of such traits.
There are around 69 languages are spoken in Pakistan, 26 out of these spoken in NWFP, and 12 languages in Chitral district alone. According to Frontier Language Institute (FLI) Bateri (20,000), Chillaso (2,000), Gowro (200) and Kohistani (200,000) are spoken in Indus Kohistan.
Chitral district, according to renowned Norwegian linguistic Georg Morgenstierne, was the area with the highest linguistic diversity in the world. The languages give the district a unique flavor of socio-cultural richness and ethno-linguistic diversity. Dameli (2,000), Gawar-Bati (200), Kalasha (3,000), Khowar (200,000), Palula (2,000), Wakhi (2,000), Yidgha (2,000) and Kam-Kataviri (2,000) are the languages spoken in district.
Kalasha is the mother tongue of the famed and mysterious race of Kalasha living in the valleys of Rambur, Bomboret and Berir, while Kam-Kataviri is of the Nuristani people. Nuristanis are the people believed to be subject of a Kipling story “The Man Who Would Be King” which was adapted as motion picture starring Sean Connery in 1975. Unlike Kalasha who are known as the black Kafirs (infidels) due to the black outfit they wear; Nuristanis are known as Red Kafirs due to the red color of their skin.
While, Domakki (200) Hunza, Shina (200,000) Gilgit, Balti (200,000) Baltistan, Burushaski (20,000) Hunza, Nagar and Yasin, Kashmiri, Kundal Shahi and Pahari-Potwari are spoken in Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir.
Gwari (20,000) is spoken in Swat and Upper Dir, while Torwali (20,000) and Ushojo (200) are spoken in Swat, while Kalkoti (2,000) is spoken in Dir Kohistan and Ormuri (2,000) is spoken in South Waziristan.
Pashto and Gojari are spoken throughout the region and Hindko is spoken in Peshawar, Kohat and Kashmir. However, as most of these languages are spoken by small communities, therefore, qualify for categories of languages near extinction and threatened languages and it is need of the hour to preserve this marvelous part of our ethno-linguistic heritage.
* Number within brackets shows number of speakers in excess of the number.