Thursday, December 8, 2011

The last breaths of Kalasha language in Kalkatak

The last breaths of Kalasha language in Kalkatak
Fakhruddin Akhunzada
According to linguistic experts the 6000 languages in our world will be reduced to the half of that number by the middle of this century if language shifting continues at the same rate as now. The speakers of minority languages give up their mother-tongues for the language of the majority. In our country a number of languages are in this situation. The small language Kalasha in Chitral District has been reduced to only a few thousand because the speakers have started using Khowar, the lingua franca of Chitral. The Kalasha speakers of Kalkatak, a tiny village in southern Chitral, have shifted language three times during the last century. They gave up Kalasha, adopted Palula, and then abandoned Palula for Khowar. Nowadays the last remnants of the Kalasha language will soon have disappeared from the village. 
At the beginning of the last century, the language of Kalkatak was Kalasha, an Indo-Arya n language; and the language of an ancient tribe also called Kalasha, which today lives in three valleys in Chitral, Bumboret, Rumbur and Birir. There are only about a dozen elderly people living in Kalkatak who still know Kalasha, but these do not usually like to speak it. The Kalasha language will disappear from the village with the death of this handful of people.
Muhammad Wali Shah, an elderly man of 72, says “People, with whom I used to speak Kalasha in my childhood, do not like to speak it now”. He adds that until the 1960s, he could still find some company with whom to speak the language, but after that no one has been keen on toconversation in this language. 
Kalasha was still dominant in the village in the 1930s. No-one had yet shifted over to Palula or Khowar, and some non-Kalasha speakers had even learnt to speak it. Salah Khan, another elderly man, says “My father was a Khowar speaker who migrated to the village from Madak and married a Kalasha woman in the village. Kalasha was spoken in my home and I learned to speak it.”. 
Rahim Khan, a man in his 40s and a son of Kalasha parents, does not know Kalasha at all, but speaks Palula. He says “I learnt Kalasha from my parents along with Palula and Khowar in my childhood, but later on I forgot the language, since Palula was so dominating.” He speaks Palula with his children. 
The people of Kalkatak gave up Kalasha because they felt inferior, and because it was easy to adopt other languages. In the time of the Kator ruler , all Kalasha of the area were in the Rayat class -- the lowest class. The people of the upper classes were using ‘Kalash’ as a derogatory term for the people. The people were hesitant to speak the language in front of Khowar speakers. The difficulties increased further when a fort was constructed in the village in 1930 for the son of a Khowar-speaking ruler, and many Khowar speakers came to the village along with the prince. 
Wasim Khan, born in 1937, says “The people of Kalkatak gave up Kalasha because they felt inferior. Other tribes in the area considered the Kalasha inferior in status, and because of the Kalasha language this inferiority was more visible. The people of Kalkatak thought that people considered them inferior because they spoke Kalasha.”
The villagers already knew Palula and Khowar along with their mother tongue and they had no difficulty in adopting either of these languages. The interaction and intermarriage of the villagers with Palula speakers from the adjacent Biori Valley had already made them fluent in Palula. For a long time they were speaking these languages along with Kalasha. 
Khoshani, an old lady in the village, says: ”My parents were Kalasha speakers and my mother-tongue was Kalasha. I used to speak Kalasha as long as I was with my parents. I stopped doing that when I married and instead started to speak Palula. My mother-in-law was a Palula speaker from Biori and the language in my in-laws’ house was Palula.”
Muhammad Salim, an influential Kalasha man, migrated to Biori Valley with his family to protect himself from enforced labour under the mehtar. He stayed there for a long time and came back to the village with the Palula language. His children spoke Palula. The summer-pastures of the Kalkatak villagers also lie at the eastern end of the Biori Valley. The people of Kalkatak had to go through the valley with their goats in order to get there. The shepherds of both language communities had a lot of interaction with each other while in the pastures. 
The inhabitants of a small village called Serdur, near Kalkatak, are immigrants from Biori. They have been there for three generations. They still speak Palula, and depend on Kalkatak for many things. Until recently, they had no graveyard or mosque of their own, and they still came to Kalkatak for the Eid prayers. 
To the people of Kalkatak, ‘Kalasha’ was a term not only used for a language but also for a tribe who were considered inferior, and, perhaps more importantly, for a religion which was considered infidel. To them, speaking Kalasha meant being perceived as inferior and infidel. Although the people of Kalkatak had given up the Kalasha religion, they had kept the language.
Meanwhile, the Kalasha of Suwir – a village across the river to the west of Kalkatak – took an oath never again to speak Kalasha. The villagers collectively gave up the language. This must have had a great effect on the people of Kalkatak.
The Kalasha language is drawing its last breaths in the village of Kalkatak. The few remaining speakers of Kalasha in the village are in their seventies. With the death of these people the last symbol of the Kalasha tradition will disappear from the village forever.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kalasha culture feels heat of modernity stealthily making inroads

Kalasha culture feels heat of modernity stealthily making inroads
By Erfan Khan

CHITRAL (Bumburet), Sept 4 (APP): Away from the fevers and frets of life, a strange conglomerate of about 4,000 people dotting the picturesque countryside of Chitral valley, continues discreetly to battle with the temptations of modern life which apparently are impacting the Kalasha culture.  Not far from the main Chitral city which usually keeps humming with life activity, the mysterious people residing in isolation at the mountain tops, obscured by their rites and rituals, are now seen struggling to protect their beliefs, ideology and mode of living constantly at loggerheads with modern life style entailing mundane temptations. These people clinging to their centuries old traditions even are not exactly aware of their ancestry, leaving such a controversial issue for the historians to settle.
However, as the popular legend in the area goes on to say that few soldiers from the formidable legions of Alexander of Macedonia had settled in Chitral during their invasion of Indo-Pak sub continent and this particular sect continued to inhibit the land as their predecessor.
A muddy but atrocious serpentine road leads to the Kalash valley which runs through the town of Drosh and Chitral city and then turn to the left from Ayun village on Kunar river leading to one of the most fabled destination in the world.
These mythical set of people inhibit three villages of Rukmu, Mumret and Biriu, commonly called Rambur, Bumburet and Birir in local Kalashi language.
These villages are situated at the hillside about 100 meters above the river.
The Kalash Valleys have extensive forests of oak and Himalayan cedar growing on hilltops around the flowing streams, while the mouth watering fruits like walnut, apricot, pear and mulberry are found abundantly along these places.

To make the area a safe haven, the forefathers of Kalash people must have chosen the place which could protect them from the invaders and natural calamities.
According to local people and journalists, their population has been shrinking; around 4,000 Kalash populations reside over these three places.

A visitor in these days can find a sharp contrast to what he or she has heard or read as a changing picture will greet them.

After living in obscurity for an unknown period, Kalash children are now studying in local schools, and are well conversant with Urdu and English languages.
The girls are making an extra mile by realizing their plight when juxtaposed with their neighborhood and even prefer to be married in Muslim families.
The basic values the Kalasha people used to attach with conjugal life is also circumventing change as the strong restriction barring females of the tribe from marrying people of other religion especially with Muslim youth has now become a source of blithe and good omen in the tribe.

“In recent past, a number of girls have been married in Muslim families and the Kalash elders did not oppose it rather it was welcomed,” Afsar Khan, a local in the valley informed.
According to local estimates, the ratio of tying knots with Muslim families touches at least four per cent.

Muhammad Hammad Farooqi, a local journalist and guide says that the Kalash girls are embracing Islam and even adopting Muslim names.

“The centuries old names which these people have also underwent a sea change, as majority of girls liked to be called with names of Indian film actresses,” he said.
When asked how it came, Farooqi pointed out to small dish antennas perched on rooftops of wooden houses.

Chinggadi, an old head of tribe with physical features of Greek mythology in Bamburat was leading her dancing troupe and she admitted in her ancient way of conversation a slight change in their life style.

She also blames financial problems a reason slowly and gradually gnawing away the roots of their grandiose civilization erected on centuries old obsolete practices.
“We used to demand Rs 25,000 to Rs. 30,000 for each dance performance but now it has plummeted to Rs 7,000,” Chinggadi said.

The number of visitors especially foreigners have dropped drastically who often were keen to learn about the ancient tribe and paid them for visiting their houses, watching cultural dances, for the unique apparels and even for taking photos.
The younger girls and females are no more shy of being filmed or pictured without their consent. The little girls straightway demand in advance for each snap shot.
Moreover, they have also abandoned the practice of leaving the dead bodies open in the adjacent necropolis having rustic bones of Kalash ancestors.

However, despite these changes, there existed a number of staunch followers of Kalash culture who preferred to wear “The Black Robes” and celebrate Spring season by singing and dancing on the roof tops.

The women still perform other related rituals like Kirik Pushik, the festival of the first flower blooming, the Siu Wajik rite and Joshi, the main spring festival.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Conversions threaten Pakistan's "Macedonian" tribe

Conversions threaten Pakistan's "Macedonian" tribe

BUMBORET VALLEY, Pakistan | Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:09am EDT

The Kalash , who number just about 3,500 in Pakistan's population of 180 million, are spread over three valleys along the border with Afghanistan. For centuries they practiced polytheism and animal sacrifice without interference from members of Pakistan's Muslim majority.
But now they are under increasing danger from proselytising Muslim militants just across the border, and a hardline interpretation of Islam creeping through mainstream society -- as Pook Shireen discovered.
After falling unconscious during a car accident , the mid-20s member of the paramilitary Chitral Scouts woke to find that people with him had converted him to Islam.
"Some of the Muslim people here try to influence the Kalash or encourage them by reading certain verses to them from the Koran," said his mother, Shingerai Bibi.
"The men that were with him read verses of the Koran and then when he woke up they said to him, 'You are a convert now to Islam'. So he converted."
The conversion was a shock for his family. But they were lucky compared with other religious minorities under threat from growing religious conservatism that is destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally.
In May 2010, more than 80 Ahmadis, a minority who consider themselves Muslims but are regarded by Pakistan as non-Muslim, were killed in attacks on two mosques in Lahore.
Then in March this year, the Christian minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose job it was to protect groups like the Kalash, was assassinated outside his home in the capital, Islamabad, in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.
The lush green Kalash valleys, which sit below snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush, have been a magnet for tourists, both for the scenery and for the people, who are indigenous to the area.
Most are fair and with light eyes, which they say proves their descent from the army of Alexander of Macedonia that passed through the area in the 4th century BC to invade India. The community brews its own wine and women are not veiled.
But the smooth co-existence between the Kalash and Muslims has been fading in recent months and the area is suffering from many of the religious tensions marring the rest of Pakistan.
The conversions are causing splits among the Kalash -- converts become outcasts overnight, described by many as "dead to their families".
"When a Kalash converts we don't live with them in our houses anymore," said farmer Asil Khan, sitting on a neighbor's balcony.
"Our festivals and our culture are different. They can't take part in the festivals or the way we live."
Some in the area are so concerned that they believe segregation is the only way to protect the Kalash.
"We should move the Muslims out of the valley to make more room for the Kalash," said Shohor Gul, a Kalash member of the border police who lives in Rumbur valley. "This area should be just for us. We dislike these conversions - it disturbs our culture and our festivals, and it reduces our numbers."
The subject of Kalash festivals is raised often in these narrow valleys, where carefully cultivated corn crops cover what flat land exists, and the Kalash community's distinctive wooden houses terrace the valley walls.
Held to usher in seasonal change or to pray for a good harvest, Kalash festivals include hypnotic dancing and animal sacrifice, fueled by the grape wine with which the Kalash lace their gatherings.
Converts to Islam say, though, that these rituals quicken the decision to leave the Kalash.
"The main thing wrong in the Kalash culture are these festivals," said 29-year-old convert Rehmat Zar. "When someone dies the body is kept in that house for three days."
Muslims usually bury people the day they die.
Zar added of the Kalash: "They slaughter up to a hundred goats and the family are mourning - but those around them are celebrating, beating drums, drinking wine and dancing. Why are they celebrating this? That's wrong."
Not all of the area's Muslims feel this way.
Qari Barhatullah is the imam, or priest, at the Jami Masjid in Bumboret valley's Shikanandeh village.
He stresses that many of the valley's Muslims value the Kalash's contributions to the area's tourism industry and contends that Kalash festivals run parallel to their own.
He admits though that there is tension between the two communities. Unveiled Kalash girls in colorful homemade skirts and head-dresses grow up alongside Muslim women covered by the all-enveloping burqas.
The Kalash girls are also free to marry who they chose, in a country where arranged marriages are common.
"We do support the Kalash - Islam teaches us respect for other religions - but there are people here, maybe they are not as educated - who don't like the Kalash because of their religion," Barhatullah said.
Akram Hussain oversees the Kalasha Dur, a cultural center devoted to promoting and protecting the Kalash culture, a stunning structure of elegantly crafted carved wooden beams and stone where Kalash children are educated. It also houses a library, clinic and museum, which are open to both the Kalash and Muslim communities.
"Some of the Muslims here don't want to educate the Kalash people. They don't want us to have an education," he said.
Without more schools that cater exclusively to the Kalash, though, Hussain worries his community and culture will be disappear.
"There are few Kalash teachers and there aren't schools for older children, so they go to the secondary schools and learn about Islam. The Muslim teachers are brainwashing them. They tell the children that Islam is the only right way and that we are going to hell," he said.
A provincial spokesman said the regional government is funding development projects for the Kalash and that Pakistan was committed to protecting their unique heritage.
"We have set aside 15 million rupees ($173,210) over three years for projects such as improving roads, water supply systems and community centers," said Ahmad Hassan. "Whatever the Kalash say they need."
Others in the Kalash valleys though say development should cease and insist the adoption of Islam should continue, despite the impact on the Kalash culture.
Rehmat Zar, the Kalash convert, says his eventual aim is to convert his entire community to Islam.
"I'm trying my best to convert many of the Kalash myself. I'm trying to convert as many as I can," he said.
"The people who are trying to preserve the Kalash culture are doing wrong. They are committing a mistake. The Kalash should convert to Islam because this is the real, and last, religion". ($1 = 86.600 Pakistani rupees)
(Editing by Chris Allbritton and Michael Georgy)
Review of the Article
Although the author presented a good effort but I disagree at many points, discussing below:

"The men that were with him read verses of the Koran and then when he woke up they said to him, 'You are a convert now to Islam'. So he converted."

Its fake reporting and beyond facts, I have been there for anthropological field research in all three Kalasha valleys; Bumboret, Rumbor and Birir. There is not forceful conversion. The people convert on their on behalf but ration is not much high. And you did not report that some of the Kalasha converted to Christianity, specially those Kalasha youth who go to Europe for study by funding Christian NGOs, a many Kalasha left valley for Greece and some converted as Christian.

“In May 2010, more than 80 Ahmadis, a minority who consider themselves Muslims but are regarded by Pakistan as non-Muslim, were killed in attacks on two mosques in Lahore.

Its not religious genocide in Pakistan, Pakistan is fight bullshit US war on terror and is victim of terrorism. You did not repot that terrorist daily attack on Muslims religious places and kill a many innocent people and children; you did not report that US Drones is killing humanity. You just change the approach; it was terrorist attack not religious fanaticism.

“Most are fair and with light eyes, which they say proves their descent from the army of Alexander of Macedonia that passed through the area in the 4th century BC to invade India. The community brews its own wine and women are not veiled.

Contemporary sciences like linguistic, archeology and genetic studies dispel the Greek descendent mythology; in fact the Kalasha people are Aryans not Greek.

"They slaughter up to a hundred goats and the family are mourning 

Yeah this is a major reason of the conversion as death is too much costly in the Kalasha tribe, for details please see article

“Without more schools that cater exclusively to the Kalash, though, Hussain worries his community and culture will be disappear.

You know there was no even a single school in three the Kalasha valleys at the eve of Pakistan in 1947 but now situation is very changed. Now, there are 14 primary schools, 4 middle schools, 1 high school and 9 schools run by NGOs’ out of 9 five schools are only the Kalasha people and a Muslim student can’t attend it.
Muhammad Kashif Ali
~a University Teacher~

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Taliban threat closes in on isolated Kalash tribe

Taliban threat closes in on isolated Kalash tribe

Declan Walsh
 in Kalash valley, Monday 17 October 2011 20.55 BST

For a decade the Kalash, a mountain tribe nestled in a stunning valley deep in the Hindu Kush, managed to avoid the Taliban scourge ravaging the rest of north-western Pakistan.
Visitors streamed into the valley to experience a unique non-Muslim culture in which the women eschew veils, the men make wine, and everyone worships a complex array of gods. Pictures of Kalash women adorned in an explosion of colourful beads became an icon of Pakistan's (admittedly struggling) tourist industry, and a hint at the country's tolerant vision of itself.
But the advent of some unwelcome visitors are putting paid to all that. Over the past month Pakistan's army has deployed to the Kalash valley for the first time.
Soldiers prowl the valleys at night, firing deafening volleys of gunfire that echo between the valley walls. A military camp and new police station have sprung up. Vehicles with spies from the military's secret service, Inter-Services Intelligence, jolt down the rutted roads. All are protecting, they say, against the Taliban.
In late August Pakistani Taliban fighters based in Afghanistan mounted a ruthless night-time ambush on border soldiers and police in Arandu, just south of Kalash. "They crossed the river on inflatable tubes under darkness because the bridges were guarded," said local farmer Sher Zameen, who came on the scene a few hours later. "Then they opened fire on the soldiers as they slept in their tents." Some 35 soldiers and police were killed.
The ruthless assault shattered a decade of relative calm in Chitral district. Located in the topmost corner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Chitral had managed to dodge the trouble that racked the rest of the northwestern province – until now. It spelled disaster for the Kalash, thought to number just 3,500 people, whose idyllic mountain homeland borders Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan, and is feared to be next in line for an attack.
Tourism, a major source of income, has collapsed, with local police insisting that the trickle of foreigners who dare visit be accompanied by armed guards. And the otherwise peaceful Kalash are unnerved.
"I don't know why the army needs to deploy here," said Abdul Khaliq, a tribal elder who lives close to a new makeshift army base in the heart of the valley. "It's making people scared and tense. They should be up on the border, not down in the village."
Until now, the Kalash's greatest worry was proselytism. Muslim communities in nearby valleys have for years urged them urged the Kalash to abandon their religion and culture, which are quite distant from Islam. Many have succumbed, sometimes for professional advancement or to have an easier time at school or in the army. Among those left, there is proud defiance.
"People tell us we should become Muslim. We tell them to become Kalash," said Khwanza Bibi, a 28-year-old health worker, cracking a fistful of freshly harvested walnuts.
Their cultural defences were also strengthened by an unusual connection with Greece. Some scholars, pointing to the Kalash's fair-skinned features, believe they are the descendents of Alexander the Great and his invading armies.
Others dispute the theory, but nonetheless a steady stream of Greek volunteers, armed with Greek government money, mobilised to protect the valley and its rich culture.
A towering wooden museum and school – by far the largest in the main valley, Bumburet – and smart communal centre where Kalash women live during menstruation and childbirth, are the product of this friendship.
But even the Greek connection has been stymied by the Taliban.
Two years ago militants kidnapped Athanasios Lerounis, a Greek volunteer, and spirited him across the border into Afghanistan. Lerounis was freed several months later, after payment of a handsome ransom and the release of several Taliban prisoners from a Pakistani jail, according to a senior Pakistani official.
Today policemen are billeted at the Greek museum, smoking and eating in a room near the bustling primary school in the same building. The teachers are angry.
"It's not good," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If the Taliban attack the police, then our pupils could get caught in the crossfire."
Then again, the Kalash have long experience dealing with odd visitors. In 2002 a Spanish zoologist who had taken a house in the valley, proclaiming himself to be a Kalash, was murdered in mysterious circumstances. Police suspected the man, who is buried in a local graveyard, of being a spy. The case remains unresolved.
Last year Gary Faulkner, a construction worker from Colorado, booked into a local hotel, armed with a sword and a pistol. In the dead of night the middle-aged American started trekking into the mountains, headed for the Afghan border, in search of Osama bin Laden, but was later arrested and sent back to the US.
"Gary was a very friendly guy. He said he had earlier worked as a killer for the government. Now he was gong to get the big one – Osama," recalled one local hotelier with a chuckle.
The recent woes have been triggered by events in Afghanistan. Since 2009 US troops have pulled out of Nuristan, the mountainous province across the border, leaving the area largely in insurgent hands.
Local militant numbers were boosted by an influx of Pakistani Taliban from the valley, where the army conducting a sweeping operation in 2009 that drove them out.
Then this year the Taliban started to strike back, using rear bases in Nuristan and Kunar to carry out brutal cross-border raids, such as the one in Arandu. Pakistan's military responded with crudely-aimed cross-border artillery barrages that have killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan, further straining relations between the two countries.
The complex war politics mean little to the Kalash, who have traditionally felt little connection with the Pakistani state. "It treated us like animals, and this valley like a zoo," said Khaliq, the tribal elder. Now, with winter closing in, they hope that nature will protect them.
Over the coming months snow up to 15 feet deep will carpet the mountain passes leading from the three Kalash valleys into Afghanistan. For many Kalash, it can't come soon enough.
"We'd never even heard of the Taliban before this past couple of years," said Purstam Gul, a 47-year-old woman cradling a child in her arms.
Then she turned, and gestured towards a white glimmer on a distant peak. "The quicker it snows, the better for all of us."
• This article was amended on 18 October 2011.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A happy farewell (Article regarding Death in Kalasha Tribe)

A happy farewell
“We celebrate death -- because when someone is born we celebrate with cheers and in the same spirit when someone expires we say adieu to him with cheerfulness,” says Meeta Gul, from the Rumbor valley. The Kalasha people have a unique culture, language, religion and rituals.
They believe in the “will of the God” -- a leaf falls and is separated from the tree; likewise, a man dies and is separated from his friends and family, he goes to a better place, in the hands of the God, and so deserves a merry farewell.
The deceased is buried only when all the relatives and friends have seen the dead body. All the tribe fellows are informed in the three Kalasha valleys. There is no fixed duration for funeral rites. A rich family may follow the funeral rituals for a few days otherwise the usual three-day funeral rites are observed. In these three days, songs are sung, dance is performed and the tribe fellows pay tribute to the deceased person. “But dance is not performed in case of a female death,” says Shah Jawan, an elder Kalasha spokesman.
Mourners gather and feast for three days. Goat and cow meat, wheat, ghee, cheese and local wine (tara) is served in bulk by the host family. The quantities of commodities used in funeral rites are: Goats 30 to 40, cows 4 to 6, wheat 30 to 40 maunds (one maund is equal to 40 kg), cheese 100 kg, ghee 100 kg and tara more than 200 litres. The price for all this is exorbitant.
“In case of a very poor or destitute family all tribe fellows contribute in death rites,” discloses Sher Alam, a Kalasha teacher from Bumboret valley.
The Kalasha is an agro-pastoral community of Pakistan and depends on flocks, paddock and terraced fields. Each family has its own flocks, trees, land and vines of grapes and common pastures for summer grazing. The backbone of Kalasha economy is their pastures and forests where they live half of their lives with flocks of goats.
But now deforestation is a major threat to their economy and culture. If area for grazing is reduced then definitely their flocks of goats would suffer and as Athanasious Lerounis, a Greek welfare organiser says, “the goats are very important for the Kalasha culture and religion. The Kalasha people sacrifice their goats frequently as rituals of birth, marriage, death, etc.
The Kalasha is the sole pagan tribe of Pakistan living in three remote valleys of district Chitral -- Bumboret, Rumbor and Birir. Once the Kalasha tribe ruled the upper and lower Chitral for centuries and then was defeated by Kho tribes of Chitral. In 1320 AD, the Rais rulers invaded the land, and Bulasing and Raja Wai were the two grand rulers of the dynasty in later ages.
Many historians hold that the Kalasha tribe belonged to the Greeks and are descendants of Alexander the Great. I am not going to deal with history of the people but contemporary sciences like genetic studies and archaeology dispel the Greek descendant myths. Their language, archaeological evidences and genetic studies suggested that the Kalasha people belonged to Indo-Aryan.
The population of the Kalasha people was 200,000 in 1320 A.D in upper and lower Chitral; in 1959 there were 10,000 people; and presently the population is estimated to be 4,000 only.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kalash icon bites the dust

Kalash icon bites the dust

Chitral -- Influential Kalasha tradition leader, cultural mediator and ancestral effigy artisan Shah Juan of Rumboor also known dearly as Sabika mimbar in Chitral region passed away on August 2, 2011. Sabika is believed to be in his late 80’s and is one of the distinguish Kalasha elders who left his mark as prolific Kalasha guardian and curator. Young Sabika is known to have mobilized and taken Kalasha community in confidence for protection in Pakistan as non-Muslim ethnic minority group. He was great admirer of Pakistan‘s founder and named his own son ‘Quide-e-Azam’ after him.
In his lifetime, Sabika worked as guardian curator for survival of Kalasha heritage and tradition particularly through creations of ancestral wooden statues to keep the historical memory of his people alive. This indigenous way of achieving historical memory in shape of wooden statues associated with ancestral knowledge intrigued several historians, anthropologists and linguists from abroad to discover ancient Culture of Chitral. His creations of wooden effigies are show cased in Lok Versa Islamabad and in several ethnic art galleries abroad. Some of the high profile dignitaries he had met to promote Kalasha heritage include Prime Minster Bhutto, General Zia, Benezir Bhutoo, Lady Diana and President Musharaf .
Sabika having a convincing authority on historical and cultural knowledge of the region peacefully settled countless inter-clan and community disputes and represented court cases dealing with communal pastures with outsiders. He was famous for his hospitality, wit and folktales which attracted several visitors from all over Chitral his riverside lodge in Rumboor on daily basis. Sabika leaves behind a legacy of tradition and continuity, ingenuity and artisanship, friendship and hospitality values that are hallmark of kho and kalasha alike. He was true cultural ambassador of Kalasha people and great son of Chitral. The Kalasha of Rumboor is holding a 3 day rites of passage in honor of this prestigious Kalasha men in the recent history of Kalasha. . -- Taj Khan Kalash, 03 Aug 2011.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kalash: Culture shock

Kalash: Culture shock
Sunday Magazine Feature
By Obaid Ur Rehman
Published: June 26, 2011

The reason that traditionalists have threatened the Kalash in recent years is that the Kalash adhere to a polytheistic tradition based on ancestor worship.

“Every week we get threats from people who ask us to abandon our traditions,” says Fida, a resident of Bamorat village of the Kalash Valley in Chitral. This is one of the realities that the Kalash have to face every day, a reality that is at odds with the serene beauty of the valley.
The Kalash live in about 12 villages in the valley, which is full of lush green fields and natural springs. The Kalash villages are accessible from Peshawar and Gilgit over the Lawari Pass and Shandur Pass, located at a distance of 365 kilometres and 385 kilometres respectively, a 12-hour journey in either case. However, tourists prefer to travel by air via the daily flight operated by Pakistan International Airlines from Islamabad or Peshawar to Chitral.
The origins of the Kalash tribe are shrouded in doubt and speculation. Some historians believe that these people are the descendants of Alexander the Great. Others say the Kalash are indigenous to Asia and come from the Nuristan area of Afghanistan. Some say the Kalash migrated to Afghanistan from a distant place in South Asia called ‘Tsiyam’, a place that features in their folk songs. However, it has been established that the Kalash migrated to Chitral from Afghanistan in 2nd century BC, and by 10th century AD the Kalash ruled a large part of present-day Chitral. Razhawai, Cheo, Bala Sing and Nagar Chao were famous Kalash rulers in the 12th- 14th centuries AD. Their fellow tribesmen in Afghanistan were known as Red Kafirs.
But by 1320 AD, Kalash culture had begun to fall. Shah Nadir Raees subjugated and converted the people to Islam, with the villages of Drosh, Sweer, Kalkatak, Beori, Ashurate, Shishi, Jinjirate and adjacent valleys in southern Chitral among the last subjected to mass conversion in the 14th century. By the time the Amir of Afghanistan forcefully converted the Red Kafirs on the other side of the border to Islam in 1893, the Kalash were living in just three Chitral valleys, Bhumboret, Rumbur and Birir. The villages of the converted Red Kafirs in Chitral are known as Sheikhanandeh — the village of converted ones.
Today, the Kalash are popular with domestic and foreign tourists because of their unique culture. The Greeks have recently shown great interest in the area and one NGO reportedly funded by the Greek government is doing a great job protecting this ancient civilisation. Unfortunately, according to a survey conducted by an NGO, the Kalash population decreased from 10,000 inhabitants in 1951 to 3,700 in 2010, motivating conservation experts, development workers and anthropologists to put in greater efforts work to preserve Kalash culture. The Kalasha Dur — the “house of the Kalash” — is the outcome of these efforts: a museum which houses artifacts from Kalash culture.
The reason that traditionalists have threatened the Kalash in recent years is that the Kalash adhere to a polytheistic tradition based on ancestor worship. They also worship 12 gods and goddesses dominated by the main god Mahandeo. Their myths and superstitions centre around the relationship between the human soul and the universe. This relationship, according to Kalash mythology, manifests itself in music and dance, which also contribute to the pleasure of gods and goddesses. In their festivals, music and dance are performed not only for entertainment, but as a religious ritual. The Kalash celebrate four major festivals commemorating seasonal change and significant events in agro-pastoral life. These festivals are Joshi or Chilimjusht, Uchal, Phoo and Chowmos. The Kalash celebrate these festivals by offering sacrifices on altars, cooking traditional meals and dancing to traditional music during the week-long events.
The Kalash have kept alive their ancient traditions, including superstitions about menstruation and pregnancy. During these times, women are secluded, and live in a place called Bashali. Each Kalash village has a Bashali outside the settlement, and though women are allowed to work in the fields they are not allowed to go home. The Betaan or Shaman plays an important role in Kalash culture. He makes prophecies during religious rituals, and seeks the help of fairies to make prophecies come true.  Another important practice in Kalash mythology is astronomy. The Kalash believe that a new sun is born on December 21 and that the new sun affects the flora and fauna of the land.
This civilisation is now wasting away as some Kalash families have either gone underground or left the area. This may be a great blow to Chitral which pockets millions of rupees from tourism every year.
“We don’t want to leave this land,” says Gollaya, a villager in Bamort. “But we are afraid of people who threaten us if we do not bow down to their wishes. The government and local
administration is protecting us, but we still feel insecure.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 26th,  2011.

Colours of the Kalash

Colours of the Kalash
Sunday Magazine Feature
By Cheree Franco
Published: June 26, 2011

My journey officially begins at the Chitral police station, where Pakistani friends sip sweet green tea while Shane and I try to argue our way out of 24-hour armed escorts.
“I was here just last July, and I didn’t have a guard then,” says the adamant Irishman, a five-year resident of Islamabad and a seasoned traveller in the northern areas.
Apparently, since October 2010 — a point in time that seems completely arbitrary to us — all foreigners are assigned guards. Will the guards fit in our Landcruiser? Okay then, not a problem. They’ll send a separate truck. So the next afternoon, we begin the treacherous uphill chug into what was, until recently, the North West Frontier, following a pick-up packed with cops — at least seven at last count.
The midsized Kalash valley of Rumbur is the land that time — and electricity, mobile service and hot showers — forgot. It’s less commercialised than Bhumboret, the larger valley, and its population is almost purely Kalash — a tribe of Indo-Aryans who consider themselves the progeny of Alexander the Great. Rumbur has five villages of between 10 to 50 families each.
It’s twilight when we arrive in the largest village, tumbling out of the Landcruiser like clowns on parade. Women stand on low roofs, their gazes fixed and expressionless. Men and boys crowd the road to witness the spectacle. The girls — miniature copies of their mothers in regal headpieces and baggy black, neon-trimmed dresses — scatter like minnows as we approach.
We are staying at The Kalash Guest House, operated by Engineer Khan and his family. A wooden structure that stacks level upon level, the Guest House is set apart from the main village, nestled opposite a bend where the river opens to misty-soft mountains. It’s ramshackle and cosy. The fresh, pungent waft of burning cedar drifts from the cooking fire, and I think we have come to the most pacific place on earth . . . for about six minutes. Then my reverie is interrupted by angry voices. There’s a confrontation playing out between my travel companions and the cops.
My friend Tazeen fills me in: “They want to sleep in our rooms, but we said no, that we have women, for one.” It seems the police have been sent with nothing more than knapsacks of clothes — no plans and no funds for room and board. Finally, we reach an agreement. We’ll pay for our guards’ meals, and Engineer will pitch a tent so they can sleep in his yard.
Harmony restored, Engineer breaks out a recycled Pepsi bottle of home-brewed grape wine, and we sip from mismatched cups and quiz him on Kalash culture. As the first college graduate in the village — Chitral Degree College, 1990 — Engineer is a local activist for education. He teaches English, among other subjects, at the Rumbur government primary school. His daughter, Shazia, is pursuing a master’s of philosophy at Punjab University, and his 18-year-old son is studying engineering in Chitral.
Despite their exposure to urban life, Engineer is convinced that his children will choose to follow Kalash traditions. And Shazia, a woman with an open face and wry wit, agrees: “I miss it here, I miss my family when I’m in Lahore,” she says. She hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and teach the Kalash children. But at 22, she’s past the traditional age for marriage, and Kalash men don’t understand her ambition. “It’s strange for a woman to be educated, and there are valleys with mountains on either side. So people don’t have anything to do but talk,” she says, offering a candid half-smile.
The next night we split a bottle of local moonshine with Comeo, a hardcore Japanese backpacker who rode down from Gilgit atop a Jeep. It’s a thrilling experience that he doesn’t recommend: “Very cold,” he says dryly.
Comeo came for Joshi, but he is leaving the next day, before the festival even begins. “I can’t take this security thing anymore,” he says. “I’m going to Peshawar.” Less fortunate than we’ve been, Comeo is sharing his bedroom with a guard.
We wake to a full guesthouse — there are journalists and tourists from Peshawar and one guy, a Danish trekker, even slept on the open-air porch. Despite the fact that we freeze all night, I envy him the experience. The night before, I huddled under a blanket on that same porch and watched the planetary sideshow — roughly a shooting star every four minutes.
We amble about the main village, watching women wash clothes in the river, and men pat out flat circles of walnut bread. In the evening we meet Engineer’s nephew, Ahmed Kalash (“It used to be Ahmed Ali, but I changed it to sound less Muslim,” he explained matter-of-factly). Ahmed is 28 and lives in Lahore. Despite the fact that he holds a law degree from Peshawar University, he works at a call centre that dispatches limos to New York airports — a quirky mish-mash of globalisation that seems misplaced in Rumbur.
Ahmed invites us to his father’s house, leading the way across the rapid river, hopping on rocks and a rickety board. There used to be a proper bridge but, like the hydroelectric generators, it fell victim to last August’s floods. Once across the river, we are greeted by a fairy-tale scene — low-roofed houses with womblike interiors, piled atop each other in a precarious pyramid and reached by a series of makeshift ladders and narrow paths that wind through bright fields and tiny irrigation channels. Everything’s shrouded in the purple mist of evening. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Tolkien novel.
“Ispata, baba, babyan,” we say to everyone. “Hello sister, brother!”
The next morning, the main day of Joshi, Engineer serves goat cheese at breakfast. “At Joshi we ask for good cheese, good food, good crops, all these things,” he tells us.
The previous day his wife, Zamgulsa, sent someone to Chitral to get new shoes for the children, and today she shakes out the dresses that she and Shazia stitched through long winter evenings. Their black sheen will soon be dulled by fine dust.
We step through the metal-detector, a new festival accessory, and begin our steep ascent up the mountain.
The sun is nearly unbearable, but soon we are distracted by hundreds of ecstatic, dancing women. They link arms and step firmly to the beat of the men’s drums, emitting ethereal siren calls from open throats.
From my perch above the action — the rooftop of a building that serves as teahouse and convenience store — I marvel at the complex, archetypal symbols they form — spirals gyrate and helixes unfold. The men bounce in the center, pummeling the sky with hats and fists and fragrant juniper branches. Boys laugh and roughhouse on the fringes, tumbling like puppies on top of the world, as close as they can get to their gods. “Our religion says to us you should gather. You should try to be happy with each other, and, in a really practical way you should enjoy the happiness,” Ahmed tells me.
According to Engineer, Joshi honours three sentiments, dictated by the various drumbeats. The Kalash offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition, they honour those who have died in recent years — occasionally transmitting via song the dream messages that come from deceased love ones — and finally, they celebrate the universal rebirth of spring through romantic invitation. During the festival, Kalash are free to choose spouses, even if they are already married. Young men, emboldened by wine, chat up girls who rebuke them flirtatiously or sometimes, with genuine annoyance. The Kalash have no holy book, so the festival is also a means of orally passing on tradition, and some of the songs recall the glory days of famous ancestors.
The festival grounds are muddied, as men spray spring water, channeled through a pipe, to ease the dust. Sometimes they playfully target specific people. But the stream is no match for the clouds rising beneath busy feet. Many of the women tie kerchiefs around their noses as they dance.
The festival is a whirl of stampeding kids, faces stained from sucking on sugary glacial ices. It’s teenagers stealing away behind the shop, and wine-happy women grabbing each other’s shoulders and pledging sisterhood and affection. It’s bossy little girls in circles on the ground, distributing bracelets and necklaces — signs of material wealth — among friends. It’s the raucous, rollicking life-and-death ritual that happens each Joshi, as everyone forms a looping chain, grasping ceremonial woven strips, and snakes full-speed around the mountaintop to a frenzied drum accompaniment. This is the most breathless ritual of the day — the Kalash seem shocked each time they’re jerked around a corner, open-mouthed laughter mixing with dismay whenever someone is unfortunate enough to lose grip. Woe to the person who breaks the chain, because this indicates probable death in the coming year. There is another strange ritual, a festival addition in recent decades. It involves corralling all the outsiders (journalists, tourists and police) on the shop roof while elders and teen boys chuck rocks at us. We are warned that this will happen, but I don’t think we believed the Kalash hold this sort of violence or anger until the rocks start flying. We scatter from the edge of the roof, but there is nowhere to go. Kalash boys run up the exit path, and the roof is small. Luckily, the rocks are also fairly small — they have to be, to be launched by hand — and it all ends after about 10 minutes.
More dancing, more brandishing of the cleansing juniper branches and then suddenly, without any sort of prelude or gradual denouement, the drumming stops and the dancers move towards the exit path.
And that’s it. Joshi is over. Or at least until it starts again tomorrow, one valley over, on a different mountaintop.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 26th, 2011.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pakistan's valley of wine: Free Women

Pakistan's valley of wine: Free Women

During festival time in Pakistan's Kalash valley, almost anything is possible for women.
They can declare their love for a suitor and end their marriages, as long as the community knows about the impending split in advance. They can even elope.
It is a far cry from large swathes of Pakistan where a conservative Islamic outlook dictates how women behave and the rights they have.
“Women are considered impure, but women are highly respected in society” Yasir Kalash man
But in the Kalash valley a more liberal approach prevails, partly because of its unique religion and culture. The Kalash people are not Islamic - they worship a pantheon of gods and goddesses and hold exuberant festivals inspired by the seasons and the farming year.
"In our religion, you can choose whoever you want to marry, the parents don't dictate to you," says Mehmood, a 17-year-old Kalash girl who accompanied me as we scaled a labyrinthine puzzle of small houses set into the mountain face.
In this close society, one person's roof is somebody else's veranda. Little staircases connect one house to another and it felt like climbing into a tree house in the clouds.
Through the wooden window frames and ladders of the houses were panoramic views of immense jagged stones and gloriously green mountains surrounding this secluded valley.
Festival elopers
Sahiba, a happy-go-lucky, 20-year-old with two children, lives in one of these houses and she told me about how she ran away with her husband during one festival.
Sahiba says she was able to run away with the man she loves
"I met my husband the way I'm talking to you... I got to know him for three years before marrying him," she said.
"When there is a festival whoever the girl is in love with she can run away with him... and that's how I left with the man who is now my husband."
She explains how after they ran away together they went to stay at his parents house.
"You can stay for as long as you want, there's no specific time, but finally after two months we got to my parents house and after that we got married."
It's an unconventional courtship but this is an unconventional place. Certain tasks are still segregated. Women generally do the housework while the men do trade and labour work. Both men and women farm.
The Kalash attitude to gender is also defined by notions of purity. Some rituals can be executed only by men. The temple itself near the area of the seasonal spring festival is off-limits to women as well as Muslims.
Women must wash clothing and bathe separately. And during their menstrual cycle and in pregnancy women live a separate house outside the village. They can go to the fields to work, but they are not meant to enter the village.
Yasir, one Kalash man, said: "Women are considered impure, but women are highly respected in society.
"There are only a few things women are not meant to do."
Bold women
Indeed marriage and divorce is simpler for women than for men. Jamrat, 22, left her husband after a year and now lives with another man at his parents' house. Her ex-husband converted to Islam, re-married and moved to a neighbouring village.
But there are financial considerations too.
"The second husband needs to give double the amount of money the first husband gave at the time of the marriage because for the first husband it's like he lost his money AND his wife," she says.
If the woman does not re-marry, the ex-husband has the right to retrieve the money from the bride's father. Although Jamrat is technically not married to her new partner, he nonetheless had to give 60,000 rupees ($700; £425) to the first husband.
The Kalash women I met in Rumbur and Balanguru are bold and outspoken. They look you in the eye when talking and do not hesitate to speak their mind.
In this small village - far above the hot chaos of Pakistan's main cities and towns - the patriarchy that informs most aspects of life in the rest of the country is clearly non-existent.
an>An intelligence agent, who wished to remain unnamed, was also present at the festival - he said the Taliban had been a threat for the last two or three years.

Security guards were visible everywhere during the festival
Love and conversion
At the foot of the entrance to the festival in Rumbur was a mosque, which was in the village next to Balanguru. The increasing rate of conversion to Islam is yet another sign that Kalashi culture risks being eroded. A young man with a kind face, a beard and skull-cap stood nearby.
"I don't go to the festival anymore. I think it is wrong and according to Islam it is not good," Muhammad, a converted Kalash, told me.
In the Bumburet valley, Sunni Muslims are now a majority. According to Ishfaq Ahmed, Muslims and Kalash co-exist peacefully.
"It's a brotherly relationship and Muslims are OK with their festivals." But, he says, "there are some who don't like the Kalash and tell Muslims not to attend the festivals."
“The younger generation is not into the traditions” Luke Rehmat
Love and marriage appear to dictate the ebb and flow of conversion. Jawad, a sharp and smiling 21-year-old, told me how while studying in the city of Faisalabad in Punjab province he fell in love with a local girl but was unable to marry her because he refused to convert to Islam. He says he was approached numerous times by evangelical groups trying to push him to convert.
"They tell us we'll go to heaven and it's the right path if we convert. But I've told them that it is all up to God whether I convert or not."
One girl told me that more Kalash girls convert, and it generally happens when they get married. For Luke Rehmat the main reasons Kalash convert is the expense of their culture: funerals are expensive, and although weddings are not, traditional clothes are also pricey. These factors may yet prove a defining force for the future of Kalash identity.
The festival does succeed in creating a sense of pride around the valley in the unique atmosphere of liberation and relaxation. Boys and girls openly spend carefree time together, joking and laughing.
Many warn that the younger generations are not interested in Kalash traditions
Many of the children performed a ritual at their local temple on the night before the festival began. As old women made walnut bread and men adjusted the traditional coloured feathers for their caps, all that was unique and enchanting about Kalash culture was on display for the gathered visitors.
But many people reminded me that some traditions had already disappeared. And one Kalash resident, Luke Rehmat, sounded a further note of warning.
"The younger generation is not into the traditions," Mr Rehmat said. "They don't want to learn songs and take part."