Kalash: The Sole Pagan Tribe of Pakistan

The Kalash people have links with Greece. They dance around night­time fires; they make wine and indulge in ancient Olympic sports such as wrestling and shot­put. In her in­depth report, Urooj tells us that they are the indigenous and pagan people of Pakistan. They proudly call themselves the direct descendants of the Alexander the Great. Most scientists and anthropologists dispute this legend. No genetic ties between Kalash and Greeks have been discovered, and scientists believe they are Indo­Aryans, whose religion has some commonalities with pre-Zorastrian Iranians. An exclusive for Different Truths.

The Kalash people, the tribe that inspired Kipling live their daily lives deep in the valleys of the Hindu Kush, the unforgiving mountain range at the border of Pakistan with Afghanistan.



How they got there is a mystery. How they manage to survive is another. The Kalash are a people who have links with Greece in almost everything but proximity. They dance around night­time fires; they make wine and indulge in ancient Olympic sports such as wrestling and shot­put. With their piercing blue­green eyes, strong features and olive skins, even Alexander the Great was convinced of the Hellenic connection. The Kalash people are indigenous and pagan people of Pakistan; they have their distinctive religion and culture. They are exercising their centuries old traditions in modern era. If you really a lover of primitive tribal life you must visit the Kalash people and their society.

In Rudyard Kipling’s time, the Kalash were known as the “black Kafirs” and their land was Kafiristan, the setting for his tale of insanity and idolatry, The Man Who Would be King. The “red Kafirs”, their neighbours, the subjects of Kipling’s story, were brutally converted at the end of the 19th century. They became Nuristanis, “enlightened ones”, and their rugged mountain land is one of the centres of the war against the Taliban.

If anyone in Pakistan thinks “Sharbat Khan” and “Mohabbat Khan” are weird names to say the least, they should take a detour of the scenic Chitral valley and ask for the names of the Kalash people living there.

The Kalash probably have the weirdest names on earth.

Named after the items and utensils of daily use, some of them which are hard to find, the children in the valley are often named after “Telephone,” or “Computer” or even “Balti (bucket)”.

Predominantly polytheistic, the Kalash people proudly call themselves the direct descendants of the Alexander the Great and hold pagan views about life, faith and destiny.

Most scientists and anthropologists dispute the legend: No genetic ties between Kalash and Greeks have been discovered, and scientists believe the Kalash are Indo­Aryans, whose religion has some commonalities with pre­Zorastrian Iranians.

But regardless, the legend once lured busloads of Greek tourists to the valleys, seeking a link to their ancestral past.

Women wear vibrant colored embroidered dresses and beaded headdresses called susutr — are viewed with both admiration and suspicion by the Islamic majority.

Mostly uneducated and backward, the people do not have access to basic education and health facilities and life in the rugged mountainous region is anything close to a comfortable one.

Subsistence farming is the source of livelihood where mostly the women tend to the fields and men follow the other essentials of life.

The Kalash live in three valleys (Bumboret, Birir and Rumbur) by the Afghan border in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In winter, flights to Chitral, the nearest town, are routinely and consistently cancelled without warning. The journey from Islamabad can also be by road, through Mardan and Dir up to the Lowari tunnel and then down the other side. In the winter, when the Lowari pass is normally blocked by snow, the tunnel is the only way of travelling to Chitral by road. Its construction began in 2005 and it is now open for a few hours every day. It is less a tunnel and more a 9km­ long cave.

But in spite of the constant sense of peril it evokes, the tunnel is changing Chitral and the Kalash valleys. Previously, getting to the nearest city, Peshawar, meant a trip through Afghanistan. Now the tunnel brings supplies from the rest of the country. With access comes fear. “Extremists use the

tunnel to come here,” says Taj Udeen, a local police commander. “We have to make sure we know who is coming to our district.”

The Kalash people have their own indigenous recipes of different dishes and breads. They have two major types of bread; wheat bread and walnut bread. The wheat bread is used in daily life while walnut bread is baked on special occasion like festivals, on death, birth or on the arrival of some special guests.

This survival is being safeguarded in interesting ways. There has been a concerted effort in recent years to reproduce as much as possible in order to bolster numbers. That way, if a couple of the children end up being converted, the pain will be less sharp. And, in the end, it is this spirit that will see the Kalash through. Free­minded and intensely aware of their “unique culture” they appear to be getting stronger rather than weaker. New roads and new technology often kill cultures such as theirs but the opposite seems to be true.



http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/apr/17/pakistan­taliban­hindu­kush, The Observer, Sunday, 17 April, 2011.

©Urooj Murtaza

Pix from Net.

Urooj Murtaza

Urooj Murtaza

Urooj Murtaza currently resides in Karachi, Pakistan. She is a 38-year-old stay at home mother. She did her masters in International Relations from the University of karachi. She started working much before completing her intermediate, i.e Grade 12th. She worked with different prestigious institutions along with few banks. She has a heart for writing; it helps her go on in life.
Urooj Murtaza

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