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.