Pakistan's Kalasha people fear for their way of life as climate changes for worse
Kalasha people fear for their way of life as climate changes for worse
Pakistan: For Akram Hussain, unprecedented monsoon floods that drenched his
Hindu Kush mountain valley this year were a danger to more than just homes and
4,000-strong Kalasha people, who live in three remote valleys in north-west
Pakistan, preserve an ancient way of life, including animist beliefs at odds
with Pakistan's dominant Islamic state religion. That has led to threats by the
Taliban, who call them kafirs, or non-believers.
looking for arable land, also have increasingly moved into their high mountain
worsening extreme weather linked to climate change is making efforts to
preserve the old ways even harder, the Kalasha say.
culture and language were already under threat and now these floods have
devastated half our valley," Hussain said.
rainfall in July in the district - an area that usually falls outside
Pakistan's monsoon belt - sent floodwater pouring down steep mountainsides,
damaging infrastructure in the valleys of Bumburet and Rumbur.
the third valley inhabited by the Kalasha, was spared.
floods damaged tourist hotels, shops and houses near the nullah (mountain
stream) on the valley floor and swept away crops of ripe maize and orchards
full of fruit trees.
winter is going to be very difficult for us," Hussain said.
the world, extreme weather and rising seas linked to climate change are
presenting a growing threat not just to lives and homes but to cultures, from
nomads in the drought-hit Sahel to Pacific Islanders who fear the loss of their
of Alexander the great?
Pakistan's Kalasha, struggling to preserve their culture is nothing new. They
are the last survivors of the people of Kafiristan, who were mostly converted
to Islam in the nineteenth century.
neighbours across the mountains, in the Afghan province of Nuristan, are the
Taliban, who hold sway in parts of that country.
the Kalasha, prayers are offered during festivities that commemorate the
changing seasons. Their elaborate rites demand the sacrifice of dozens of
goats, which is becoming increasingly expensive, particularly as crops are
destroyed by extreme weather.
the livestock comes down for the winter what are we going to feed them? If our
livestock goes, our culture goes," Hussain said.
Valley, the Kalasha Cultural Centre, built by the Greek government in 2004,
houses an impressive museum of Kalash artefacts, including colourful
embroidered clothes, musical instruments, jewellery and wooden sculptures.
interest in the Kalasha stems from the belief that they are descendants of the
army of Alexander the Great which marched through these mountains centuries
centre was spared by the floods, thanks to a strong stone wall built around its
the most part, the effects of climate change simply compound other problems the
Kalasha have faced recently as migrants move into their valleys.
of these migrants are brainwashing the Kalash people.
have been several conversions to Islam this year alone," Hussain said.
winter ahead - when the valleys are cut off from the rest of the country by
snow - will be long and hard this year, the Kalasha warn.
the village of Krakal, Shahida, a young Kalash woman explains: "We live on
goat's milk, cheese and beans during the winter months. Now with our crops
washed away by the floods and no fodder for our livestock we are very
sturdy traditional construction of the Kalash homes helped them to survive the
7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the Hindu Kush on 26 October, although
some have cracks that must be repaired before winter.
Kalash homes were also spared by the summer floods as they are built higher up
on the mountainsides. But some tourist hotels and other buildings were washed
all the reconstruction that will take place before the winter snow arrives in
December, even more trees will be felled to rebuild hotels and houses. Shahida
feels that deforestation is a part of the problem in the Kalash valleys.
think the main reason for the floods is the cutting of trees. There were so
many forests up in the high pastures and they are gone now. If the government
cannot control deforestation the floods will keep coming and become more
severe," she said.
Bumburet valley attracts thousands of tourists each year who come to see the
Kalasha, especially during their festivals, when there is dancing and mulberry
many years, Greek volunteers would travel to the Kalash valleys to help with
construction and other charitable work that contributed to their cultural
2009, one volunteer was kidnapped by the Taliban and released only after eight
months in captivity. No further volunteers have come from Greece since then.
was a big blow to our community since he was doing good work for the Kalasha.
The second blow was when one of our shepherds was brutally murdered on the
border with Nuristan a few years ago. Luckily the army has moved in and we have
better security now," said Shahida.
military camp and new police station have sprung up in the last couple of
years. The army is currently repairing roads and bridges destroyed by the
floods, and they also patrol the high mountain border with Nuristan.
"it's not the Taliban that is the main threat," said Quaid-e-Azam, a
Kalash community leader from Rumbur Valley. "It is climate change. We need
to start planning for future disasters, otherwise life is going to be very
difficult for us."