Pakistan is a very diverse nation. The Kalasha people are the unique existence among the various ethnic groups in Pakistan. They are part of the Pakistan-Islamic Republic but even though they live in Pakistan, they are not of Muslim faith and worship independent gods in a polytheist faith.
They were encouraged to convert to Islam in the 1970’s but there were many protections put in place by the government to protect the Kalash people so in the past 20 years the number of Kalash have actually increased. The identity of the Kalash people is quite strong now and very few are converting to Islam. There has been an increase in the number of children, as many as 7-8 per family, so despite older guidebooks saying there are only 3,000 Kalasha. It is possible that in recent years, that number has risen to 4,000 within the 3 valleys (Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir) according to the locals I spoke with.
Where did the Kalash people come from?
There are three theories on this. One is that their fair skin and lighter colored eyes come from the descendants of Alexander the Great’s army dating back to the 4th Century BC. There was no real evidence that King Alexander passed thru here. However, there have been many tourists from Greece and NGO’s that operate in the area.
According to the Kalash people’s own legends and folk songs, the ancestors called “Tsiyam” are from the south, perhaps South Asia then moved to Afghanistan. The other myth is that their ancestors emigrated from Afghanistan around 2nd Century BC to a region in central Chitral and by the 10th Century had a very established presence through the region until the 14th Century when the kingdom flourished. Gradually the conversion to Islam progressed all around the area leaving the three remaining pockets in Kalash Valley.
The Kalash people live in three village of Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir located along the border area with Afghanistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Based on their language, there are hints of Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Pashto-based Kalasha which can all be found in their language. In the past, on the Afghan side of the boarder, there existed a “Kafiristan” where the same people lived, but in 1896, the conversion to Islam was mandated and it instead became “Nuristan” (the country of light or a country of the light of Islam). Due to this, the Pakistani side of Kalash people remained as a small minority.
The origins of the people remain shrouded in mystery, with their blue eyes and their beautifully decorative tribal clothing.
You are also sure to be captivated.
Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Note: This blog was originally published in Feb 2011 on Saiyu Travel’s Blogsite “Salam Pakistan” but updated for this post. The photos were taken from 2006-2014 travel photos taken during my visits there.Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Kalash Valley
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