Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Flooding in Rumbur Valley (Chitral-Pakistan) as I Have Seen (2015)

Flooding in Rumbur Valley (Chitral-Pakistan) as I Have Seen (2015)
Text and Photographs: Muhammad Kashif Ali

Deforestation and flooding in Rumbur river of Rumbur valley Kalash-Chitral
The flooding phenomenon is not newer for the Kalasha valleys of Hindu Kush Range, Chitral Pakistan but intensity and chaos in ecological system is a big question. I am visiting all three Kalasha valleys (Bumboret, Rumbur & Birir) since 2007 for academic research in domain of cultural history of the region (earlier for my MPhil and currently for my Ph.D). There were floods in the valleys before 2010 but not roaring and crushing flooding rather “soften” floods with least harm to valleys and dwellers. 
 Fetching water from muddy springs
Since 2010 the people of all three Kalasha valleys are under roaring pressure of respective rivers flowing in Bumboret, Rumbur & Birir valleys, with hardships they restore their lives in a year hardly and again stuck and hit by havoc flooding from high pastures where hundreds of hundreds goats and sheep ignite floods with their hundreds of thousands tiny hooves.
 Flood struck homes (Palarog Village, Rumbor Valley)
I had a plan to stay in Rumbur valley for academic data collection for a month in July and August, to materialize the plan I left my home town with my family (including three kids of 10, 7 and 2 years ages) for Chitral on July 13, 2015 and the same day first wave of the flood hit Chitral & adjacent valleys. From July 13, 2015 to August 04, 2015 (as long was my stay) there with help of my native friends I counted some 40 waves of floods in Rumbur Valley causing damaging dozen of fields, houses, washing away bridges, destroying patches of roads, hitting water mills and demolishing water channels, in nutshell paralyzing normal life in Rumbur one of the Kalasha valleys.
Flood struck orchard (Rumbor Valley)
The floods in Rumbur flow downwards from four high pastures: Bahuk, Ostuee, Chimiksunn and Gangalwaat. These high pastures are habitat of Pine, Cedar, Juniper and Oak largely. However, for four or five decades, as my local informant told, the timber mafia is massacring the jungles cold-bloodedly and the slopes of meadows are getting naked and vulnerable to inviting unexpectedly flooding. 
Jeep track of Rumbur Valley is washed away
Due to continuous flooding and disconnecting Rumbur valley from Chitral town the shops (might be counted on finger tips) got abandoned in couple of weeks and the valley was on brink to hunger when a chopper of Pakistan Army landed in valley to distribute relief ration provide by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). My family also had to collect ration from relief package for survival. 
The lonely jeep track of Rumbur Valley is washed away
During my stay in the valley the Army chopper visited the valley just twice but it was not going to fulfill the basic needs of the valley, the people were in miserable situation, the watermills had been damaged and people had to fetch ration form relief or nearby bazar Ayun. They were adopting mountain top route on foot about 25 to 30 km, one side. And when we had to leave valley for our survival, my poor kids also had to adopt the same route and the lady was also not familiar with such unfriendly trekking.
Local community repairs water channel by themselves
The flash flood badly affected the tourism season in the valley. A bounty number of tourists visit Kalasha valleys during summer and especially during Eid vacations. The local and international tourists mark the Kalasha valleys as their fascinating destination for their culture and natural beauty. Alas! The shopkeepers, guides, guesthouse owners in valleys were looking towards tourists but flood abruptly shattered their plans and dreams. The brutal Rumbur River engulfed number of fields with crops and definitely it will cost livelihood and food for valley fellow and their cattle in coming winter. 
Tourist leaving valley via mountain top route on foot (est. 30 km)
The flood could be softened if:
·         Stop deforestation & a strict ban on cutting trees
·         Plantation on naked slopes and along with river
·         Providing alternative fuel for winter survival
·         Reducing number of goats & sheep
·         Constructing defensive walls alongside the river

All this can happen with participation of local people, the people need capacity building regarding ecology system, climatically change, importance of forests. And, obviously the people need alternative sources of income as currently they rely upon pastures agriculture largely while on tourism partially. I strongly feel the fruits, dry fruits processing units may be installed, mineral water plants may be another option for employing the local population. The local community should have proper proportion in services. With all these efforts we may lessen their dependence over high pastures which may prevent the area from brutal flooding which was not common before 2010. Let’s try to give a safer future to our future generations.

Originally published online by Chitral Times on November 16, 2015 but without photographs, here is online story

The author is Lecturer in History at University of Gujrat-Pakistan, perusing PhD and is accessible via

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lost Children of Alexander the Great: A Journey to the Pagan Kalash People of Pakistan

The Lost Children of Alexander the Great: A Journey to the Pagan Kalash People of Pakistan

The New York Times recently published an article that had a fascinating description of the Kalash, an ancient ethnic group living high in the remote mountains of Pakistan's Hindu Kush. For centuries this light-skinned, pagan people have claimed to be the long-lost descendants of Alexander the Great's world-conquering armies, which invaded this region in the fourth century B.C. The animist Kalash are outwardly different from the darker-skinned Pakistani Muslims who live in the lowlands below them, so it seemed plausible. However, there had been no proof of this remarkable claim until the geneticists quoted in The New York Times found that the Kalash people's DNA seems to indicate that they had an infusion of European blood during a "mixing event" at roughly the time of Alexander's conquests. This isolated people are thus most likely the direct descendants of the ancient Greek-Macedonian armies who set up outposts in this region 2,300 years ago.
Few outsiders have visited this forgotten tribe, whose homeland is located near the inaccessible mountain border of Taliban-controlled zones of Afghanistan. But in 2010 I and a friend, Adam Sulkowski, made a journey to the snow-capped Hindu Kush in search of this ancient European pagan people living in an unstable Muslim country. This is our story.
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Spring 2010
For a number of years now, I have been teaching a class for the history department in which I do a "tour" of the great empires of antiquity, from pharaonic Egypt to Viking Europe. But for all my students' interest in the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Romans, it is the exploits of Alexander the Great that inevitably lead to the most questions. Recently one of my students in History 101 asked me during class what happened to the far-flung garrisons of Greeks and Macedonians who were settled in the far corners of Alexander's vast empire. I told her that over the succeeding centuries they disappeared or were absorbed by succeeding waves of invaders. All that was left of the Greeks who left their Mediterranean homeland to settle in distant lands of Africa and Asia was the occasional coin, spearhead or amphitheater testifying to the conquests of one history's greatest leaders.
But then, after some thought, I corrected myself and told her the legend of the Kalash people of Pakistan.
High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush on the Afghan-Pakistani border lived an ancient people who claimed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great's troops. While the neighboring Pakistanis were dark-skinned Muslims, this isolated mountain people had light skin and blue eyes. Although the Pakistanis proper converted to Islam over the centuries, the Kalash people retained their pagan traditions and worshiped their ancient gods in outdoor temples. Most importantly, they produced wine much like the Greeks of antiquity did. This in a Muslim country that forbade alcohol.
Tragically, in the 19th century the Kalash were brutally conquered by the Muslim Afghans. Their ancient temples and wooden idols were destroyed, their women were forced to burn their beautiful folk costumes and wear the burqa or veil, and the entire people were converted at swordpoint to Islam. Only a small pocket of this vanishing pagan race survived in three isolated valleys in the mountains of what would later become Pakistan.
After class the student came to me and asked me if I'd ever visited the Kalash tribe of the Hindu Kush. Wistfully I told her I had not, but that it was my dream to do so.
I remember her response vividly. "Dr. Williams," she said, "you're always telling us to get passports and get out see the world. Why don't you take your own advice and just do it?"
Lahore, Pakistan, June 2010
A student's challenge can be a powerful thing, and in June my colleague from the business school, Adam Sulkowski, and I set out to travel into the Hindu Kush on the Pakistani-Afghan border to see this ancient race for ourselves.
But when we arrived in Lahore after flying through Abu Dhabi, Rafay, our Pakistani host, reacted with caution toward our bold dream of visiting the lost descendents of Alexander the Great.
"It's a dangerous, two-day journey off-road into the mountains," he warned us. "But that's not the most important obstacle you'll have to overcome. To get to the remote homeland of the Kalash, you need to cut through the Swat Valley."
Rafay then pointed out our intended route on a map, and Adam and I groaned. Our dream was falling apart. We both knew that the Swat Valley was a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. In 2007 the Taliban brutally conquered this beautiful, alpine-like valley and forced a puritanical version of Islam on the local people. They also used the valley as a springboard for sending suicide bombers throughout Pakistan.
"But all hope is not lost," Rafay continued. "The Pakistani army just reconquered most of the valley this winter and have opened the main road through it. If you don't stray from the road and there is no fighting, you just might be able to pull it off."
Nervous about the prospect of adding a journey through a war zone to our trip to the Kalash, Adam and I then traveled to the capital, Islamabad. There, after much searching, we found an ethnic Pashtun driver who claimed to have once traveled to the remote homeland of the Kalash. He not only knew the route but had a tough SUV to get us there.
After haggling for the price of the trip, we set out driving across the burning plains of Pakistan, where the heat soared to 120 degrees. Finally, after traversing the country from the Indian border to the Afghan border, we arrived at the mountains.
And what mountains they were. The Hindu Kush are an extension of the Himalayas and soar to 25,000 feet. As we drove into the tree-covered mountains, the temperatures blissfully began to drop. While we found respite from the heat, everyone grew tense. Saki, our driver, warned us that we were now in Taliban territory. We had entered the Swat Valley.
We had not traveled far before we were stopped at the first of many Pakistani army checkpoints we would encounter. When the soldiers manning it discovered that there were two Americans in the truck, they strongly warned us to avoid leaving the road. One of them asked us to sign our names in a registration book and proclaimed that we were the first foreigners to enter the Swat Valley since the Taliban had taken it in 2007.
That night we stayed in Dir, a Swat Valley village that locals claimed had briefly served as a hiding place for Osama bin Laden when he fled Afghanistan in 2001's Operation Enduring Freedom.
Rumbur, Kalash Village, Pakistan
The next day we made it safely out of the Swat Valley after crossing a mountain pass at 10,000 feet, and a nearby glacier. We were now in the scenic Chitral Valley. We drove up this valley for several hours before our driver grew excited. Gesturing to the dark mountains on our left, he said one word with a grin: "Kalash."
With mounting excitement we left the main "road," crossed a large river and began to drive up a mountain trail straight into the mountains. This continued for a couple of hours before the narrow valley opened up and our exhausted driver announced that we had finally arrived in Rumbur, the most isolated of the Kalash valleys. Having made our way from Boston to Abu Dhabi to Lahore to Islamabad to Swat to Chitral, we had finally reached our destination in the high mountains on the Afghan border. It was now time to meet the Kalash.
It did not take us long to find them. Adam was the first one to spot a Kalash shepherdess in the trees, wearing a stunningly bright peasant costume. After seeing the faceless burqas of the women of the Swat, the contrast between Muslim women and this Kalash woman could not have been greater. As we drove along we saw several more brightly clad Kalash women. But when we tried to take their pictures, they shyly ran off and hid behind trees. Worried that we might break some local taboo regarding photography, we continued on our way.
Soon we entered the Kalash village of Rumbur. The wooden houses were built in steps above one another, going up the valley's walls, and the village square filled up with Kalash curious to see us. Among them was Kazi, the village holy man. Everyone stood back as he approached us and heard our request to stay with the Kalash for a few days and learn about their culture. Kazi, a wizened man with twinkling eyes, heard us out and thought about it for a while. After some thought he finally smiled and gave us his blessing. He proclaimed that as blue-eyed "pagans" (the Kalash believe that in worshiping the Trinity, Christians worship three gods), we were like the Kalash and therefore welcome to stay with them.
With that, everyone's shyness was forgotten, and the village men and women proudly posed for photographs and allowed us into their homes. Once again, the contrast to the Pashtun Muslims in Swat and greater Pakistan was tremendous. The conservative Muslims of Swat had women's quarters in their houses where no outsiders were allowed. Here the women were free and dressed in beautiful folk costumes that seemed to belong to a different era.
During our stay we hiked up into the mountains overlooking the Afghan border and were taken to the Kalash people's outdoor temples. There they made sacrifices of goats to their ancient mountain gods. Sadly, most of their ancient wooden idols had been stolen or defaced by neighboring Muslim iconoclasts who found them to be heathen abominations. We were also told that one of the local leaders who fought in the courts to protect the Kalash from such problems had recently been assassinated. On many levels we sympathized with the Kalash -- who were losing numbers to conversion to Islam -- as a dying race facing an existential threat. And I must say that after the heat, pollution and crowds of Pakistan proper, we found this pristine mountain enclave filled with incredibly hospitable farmers and shepherds to be a veritable Shangri La. Over and over again we were invited by smiling Kalash into their simple wooden houses for meals, where we talked about life beyond their remote valley. Most Kalash had only left their valley a few times in their life, usually to go to a neighboring Kalash valley for a marriage or to celebrate a great festival.
On our final evening in Rumbur, the villagers held a great feast for us. We celebrated with the famous Kalash red wine. My most endearing memory of the mystical night was of Adam doing a snake dance with a local elder, snapping his fingers in rhythm and dancing lower and lower to the ground in the center of the clapping audience.
The next morning we were woken to the sound of cows being led by children through the misty village. We said our goodbyes to everyone and drove out of Rumbur. As I looked back I saw several Kalash girls standing on a terraced hill above us and waving to us in their bright costumes. With our driver, a Pashtun Muslim who had never drunk before, recovering from the previous night's festivities, we took leave of our hosts and left this fragile mountain enclave to make our long journey out of the mountains. It was now time to reenter Pakistan proper, a land that seemed far removed in space and time from the ancient rhythms of the Kalash.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Minorities’ rights: Top court takes notice of threats to Kalash

Published: February 21, 2014
A three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Thursday took suo motu notice of news reports that theTaliban have warned members of the indigenous Kalash community to convert to Islam or face death.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government revealed before the Supreme Court that the nearly 3,500 inhabitants of Kalash Valley, Chitral are receiving threats from Afghanistan.
During the hearing on Thursday, the court hinted at summoning the district coordination officer and district police officer of Chitral in this matter but provincial Advocate General Latif Yousafzai told the bench that it would not be possible for them to reach Pakistan as the Lowari Tunnel is closed due to snowfall. Yousafzai, therefore, suggested that he be given some time for seeking instructions from relevant quarters about this media report.
After consultations, Yousafzai returned and told the court that he had spoken with senior officials of K-P’s home ministry who informed him that the Kalash group is facing local as well as external threats from Nuristan, an Afghan province bordering the valley.
The advocate general also said that the K-P government has already requested that the federal government take this matter up with the government of Afghanistan.
He ensured that the provincial government would take extra security measures for the safety of the people of Kalash.
The court, however, directed the K-P government to submit a report regarding the protection of the Kalash Valley inhabitants within a week.
The chief justice said that this threat is against Articles 9, 20 and 36 of the Constitution as Islam preaches tolerance and peace.
Punjab report submitted
Punjab Advocate General Mustafa Ramday has also submitted a report about the number of minorities’ worship places in the different districts of the province.
He also claimed that no complaint has been received by a member of any minority community.
A representative of the Christian community, Shahid Miraj, has expressed dissatisfaction over the security measures taken by the provincial government and said that more security should be given for the protection of worship places.
The bench asked him to share his security concerns with the AG Punjab. Likewise, a report has also been submitted by the Sindh government regarding this issue.
According to the report, Hindu Gymkhana, a declared national heritage, is now in the custody of the National Academy of Performing Arts.
Regarding the security of worship places of minorities, Yousafzai said that 201 police personnel and 55 private officials have been deputed by the provincial government for this specific task.
The hearing of the case was adjourned until February 25.
Earlier, representatives of the Christian community said they were scared of the misuse of Section 295 (a and c) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) that deals with blasphemy. There are dozens of people in jail under trial on blasphemy, the Catholic Church said.
Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a patron of Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), pleaded that the court should direct the law ministry to consider promulgating a law within three months regulating Hindu marriages and dissolution.
The matter is currently pending with the law ministry.
He has also requested the court to direct the four chief ministers to immediately appoint a registrar for the registration of Hindu marriages in every District Headquarters (DHQ) with the consultation of PHC.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Taliban threat closes in on isolated Kalash tribe

Taliban threat closes in on isolated Kalash tribe

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."


Thursday, May 7, 2015


Προστέθηκε από 24grammata
Minority: Kalash
Country: Pakistan
Author: Rabia Shahid
How would it feel to be part of a culture that is practiced by just 3000 people in a global population of billions? The Kalash culture is indeed unique. Situated in the midst of a Muslim majority population, the three little villages of Kalash are an excellent example of the preservation of a community which is distinct in its ethnicity, language, religion and culture.
The Kalasha community is the smallest minority in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan under Article 260 only recognizes religious minorities, ignoring the existence of other types of minorities. Kalash is located at a height of 1900 to 2200 meters in the Hindu Kush mountain range between the Afghan border and Chitral valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province , Pakistan. It primarily consists of the three villages of Birir, Bumburet and Rumbur, locally known as “Kafristan” (land of the infidels, coming from the word Kafir which is an Islamic term for an unbeliever). The valleys are situated to the southwest of the town Chitral at a distance of 40, 43 and 36 kilometers respectively.
Historically, Kafristan included the region of present day Nuristan in Afghanistan and the three Kalash valleys. It is believed that in 1320 the population of the Kafirs was 200,000. This has now reduced to a mere three to four thousand. In 1895, Amir Abdul Rahman, the King of Afghanistan, conquered the Afghan region of Kafristan and forced the Kafirs to convert to Islam. It was at that time that the Afghan Kafirs migrated to the Chitral valley to avoid threats of conversion. The people of Chitral gave them a warm welcome, allowing the community to exist and practice their religion and culture without any restraint. According to Israr-ud-Din (1969), the Kalash ruled Southern Chitral for around three hundred years, until they were overtaken by the Khowar speakers. Thereafter, some Kalash retreated to the valleys they occupy today and some became Khowar speakers and converted to Islam. The cordial relationship between the Chitralis and the Kalash people who refused to come under the religious and political influence of the Khowars exist today, even though radical Islamization of the country has posed some challenges for them. As per Kalash custom, once a person converts to Islam he or she is banished from the community and cannot revert. Today the number of Kalasha speaking converts living in the vicinity of the valleys exceeds the number of the original polytheistic Kalasha.
Origin of the Kalash community in Pak-Afghan region
The historic origins of this community are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Different theories exist as to the origin of the Kalash people, the most popular and grand being that they are descendants of Alexander the Great. The other two theories propose that they are an indigenous population of South Asia, or as suggested in Kalash folk songs and epics that their ancestors migrated to Afghanistan from “Tsiyam”, which is identified by some anthropologists as the area of Tibet and Ladakh.
There are many pieces of evidence presented by all schools of thought in this matter, making it difficult to trace the true origin of this minority. The Greek influence is found in the architecture, music, games, food, wine, and even in the blond hair and blue eyes of the Kalash. Yet at the same time certain genetic studies, like the study by Rosenberg, have come to the conclusion that this race is a separate aboriginal population with little influence from outsiders. Another genetic study “Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation (2008)” also came to a similar conclusion and categorized the Kalasha population as a separate group of people.
The Kalash Language – no written documentation
Kalash is a Dardic language which belongs to the Indo Aryan Group of the Indo-Iranian group of languages, which is itself a sub group of the larger Indo-European Group. Kalash is further categorized into the Chitral sub-group of languages, next to only one other language, Khowar. Though the two languages are different, they nonetheless share some similarities, and due to the increased interaction between the native speakers of these two languages there are now more bilingual people speaking both Khowar and Kalash as there were in the past.
The most distinct characteristic of the Kalash language, along with some other local languages of the Chitral District, is that it is purely oral and has no written manuscript. Thus all the folklore, customs and traditions have been handed down from generation to generation through word of mouth without any written documentation. Absence of a written manuscript, coupled with the fact that around four thousand people speak this language, has placed it on UNESCO’s list of critically endangered languages.
However, the people of Kalash maintain great pride in their language and the usage of this language has not decreased in the Kalash valleys over the passage of time. It is normal to see Kalash people interacting in their language in their homes, streets and markets. The most popular second language with the Kalash people is Khowar, but it is only used by people who go outside the Kalash valley for business or work, thus women and children are in a majority of the cases monolingual.
Recently many attempts have been made by local Kalash people in cooperation with foreign NGO’s to preserve the Kalash language via its documentation. In 2000, Taj Khan Kalash, a local Kalashi, organized the first Kalash Orthography Conference in Islamabad. Working in collaboration with international linguists and researchers, the first alphabet book of Kalash language in Roman script was published. Efforts are now being made to teach the Kalash people how to adjust to this evolutionary change in their language and learn how to write it. Significant research has taken place in the codification of this language; the dictionary of the codified Kalash language is even available online today, increasing the possibility for linguists and researchers to study this language in more detail.
Despite efforts to preserve the language, the community faces tough challenges in preserving it for future generations. It was in 1989 that the government allowed the Kalash to use their language as the medium of instruction, despite the uniform syllabus rule in the country. The majority of the teachers are Khowar native speakers, resulting in the instruction language to be Khowar rather than Kalasha. Thus, the major logistic hurdle in the teaching and preservation of the language is a lack of schools teaching the Kalash language and using it as a medium of instruction.
Kalash Culture: Festivals and Purity
The Kalash culture has been the centre of fascination for tourists, the British, and many anthropologists for years. Compared to the conservative Islamic majority, the Kalash valley, which is well protected within the mountains of Hindu Kush, is the home of polytheists for whom dance, wine and mingling between the sexes is not a taboo.
Nature plays a spiritual role in the lives of the Kalash people and this is reflected in the gods they worship and the customary festivals of the community. Among many festivals celebrated, the three main ones are the Joshi festival celebrated in May, the Uchau festival celebrated in autumn, and the most important Chaumos festival celebrated for two weeks at the winter solstice. Festivals are a way to offer thanks to the gods for the abundant natural resources gifted to the people of the valley. The Kalash people like to celebrate, and a typical festival involves singing, dancing, offering bread, cheese, meat or wine, and at times a sacrifice. The women of the community take active part in the singing and dancing at the festivals. Unlike Muslim societies, there is no concept of segregation in the Kalash society. Men and women freely interact with each other. Women are free to choose their husbands, while sex and love affairs are a common occurrence.
Kalash women are easily distinguishable due to their unique dress. They always wear a long black gown stretching on until their ankles. The gown is adorned with colorful beads and cowrie shells and accessorized by bead necklaces coiled around the neck, accompanied by an ornamental headdress. Men wear the traditional national dress of Pakistan with a woolen waistcoat.
The Kalash culture is very particular about the pure and impure. A particularly intriguing tradition is the tradition of Bashli. Bashli is the tradition of sending menstruating women and the ones giving birth to a special home. They can only come out of the home after the menstrual or child birth period is over. During such a state a woman is considered impure. Gods are considered pure, and between impure women and pure gods there are degrees of pure entities. A man is considered more pure than a woman, and an innocent boy would be more pure than an adult. There are also designated pure areas inside houses where women cannot go because they are considered impure.
Discrimination and attempts to convert to Islam
Kalash is a pastoral community which is heavily dependent upon agriculture and livestock. Over the years tourism has also become a major source of income for the Kalash people. However, generally the area remains underdeveloped due to its remote location and also because of the apathy of the authorities. The Kalash people are poor and face discrimination when it comes to jobs. Money that comes in from tourism seldom comes in the hands of Kalash people as majority of the hotels in the vicinity are owned by non-Kalash.
Availability of cheaper alternatives, coupled with poverty, is endangering the use and production of rich Kalash gowns worn by women, and of certain foods and drinks, especially the production of wine, which is often expensive. Infrastructure is weak as there are not enough roads, hospitals, high schools and universities for the Kalash. This forces many families to convert to Islam; a trend which is detrimental to the existence of the Kalash. The religious sites of worship are also in danger due to attacks by Islamic fundamentalists and a lack of funds for maintenance.
Lack of media causes discrimination
The discrimination is allowed to continue due to the absence of any medium of communication that would connect the Kalash communities with the outside world. There are no Kalasha newspapers, radio or TV stations. Other than a few websites personally made by some Kalash individuals, there is no official presence of the Kalash community in the media in the form of a group or organization. Any development in the area of preservation of the valley and its culture has primarily come from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and international aid groups interested in the region. Major aid and development is devoted to improving and facilitating cultural festivals, tourist information and environmental protection measures. According to Saifullah Jan, an activist who has represented the Kalash people at many forums, more resources need to be devoted to basic infrastructure like schools, roads, and health facilities to ensure the survival of these indigenous people. Also, less interference should be made into matters of farming and irrigation techniques, which according to him are something that the people are already well versed in.
1. SOCIOLINGUISTIC SURVEY OF NORTHERN PAKISTAN VOLUME 5 LANGUAGES OF CHITRAL. Kendall D. Decker 1992. National Institute of Pakistani Studies Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics.
2. The Kalash – Protection and Conservation of an Endangered Minority in the Hindukush Mountain Belt of Chitral, Northern Pakistan. IUCN – The World Conservation Union.
3. Minority Rights Group International, Report on Religious Minorities in Pakistan, by Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik.
4. Enclaved knowledge: Indigent and indignant representations of environmental management and development among the Kalasha of Pakistan. Peter Parkes, University of Kent, Department of Anthropology, United Kingdom 1999
5. THE KALASHA PAKISTAN) WINTER SOLSTICE FESTIVAL. Alberto Cacopardo and Augusto Cacopardo Liceo Scientifico “G. Ulivi” Borgo San Lorenzo. Ethnology, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 317-329. University of Pittsburgh- University of Pittsburgh- Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education.
6. Low Levels of Genetic Divergence across Geographically and Linguistically Diverse Populations from India. Noah A. Rosenberg, Saurabh Mahajan, Catalina Gonzalez-Quevedo, Michael G. B. Blum1, Laura Nino Rosales, Vasiliki Ninis, Parimal Das, Madhuri Hegde, Laura Molinari, Gladys Zapata, James L. Weber, John W. Belmont, Pragna I. Patel.
7. Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation. Jun Z. Li, Devin M. Absher, Hua Tang, Audrey M. Southwick, Amanda M. Casto, Sohini Ramachandran, Howard M. Cann, Gregory S. Barsh, Marcus Feldman, Luigi L. Cavalli-Sforza, Richard M. Myers.
8. Proceedings of the third International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference – A minority perspective on the history of Chitral: Katore rule in Kalash Tradition, Peter Parkes

Monday, May 4, 2015


I pay my condolence to whole Kalasha community on death of Kazi Khosh Nawaz Balohe of Rumbor Valley. He was the custodian of the Kalasha Dastoor and society. He was a living legend with ample knowledge of indigenous history and culture. He was a source person for many researches. He was the shaman; a spiritual leader of the community. With his demise a chapter of cultural sharing is closed. At this time of grief my sympathies are with Kalasha community and with family of Kazi Khosh Nawaz.

He passed away last night. He lived around 90 years.
Muhammad Kashif Ali