Kalash: ever heard of them? I know I hadn't! Thanks to this fantastic postcard from Salman in Pakistan, my mind is a little more enlightened now. The Kalashi people, with a population of no more than 6,000, live in the district of Chitral in the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan, in the Hindu Kush mountains. Popular legend claims that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great's entourage in the region, and some genetic research has supported this. Hypotheses exist that link the Kalash to South Asia (their legends and folklore talk of a homeland called 'Tsiyam') or to the Middle East. Although not particularly common, blue eyes and blonde hair are not out of the ordinary.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The Kalash have many interesting customs. They have their own unique language, which is now spoken by only 5000 people in the world. The Kalash religion is also dying out - 98% of Kalash now practice Islam. The original Kalash religion strongly resembles Hinduism, with nature playing a significant spiritual role in their daily life. The Kalash have three important festivals in late spring, autumn, and winter, all offering thanks to the Kalashi gods, and generally related to cycles in the harvest - the Kalash are traditionally goat herders and subsistence farmers. Goat sacrifices are common, and sites for these sacrifices are scattered all throughout the region.
The Kalash have other interesting traditions. Men and women are generally not segregrated, but menstruating girls and women are sent to live in the "bashaleni," the village menstruation building, until they "regain their purity." Babies are also birthed in this building. Women are married early in life, and men must pay a dowry. Elopement is common, and is actually considered one of the "great traditions," along with the three festivals. If another man becomes interested in a woman who is already married, she must write him a letter informing him of her previous bride price (i.e. "one cow") and he must then pay twice what the first husband paid ("two cows"). There are occasionally disputes about these matters. The costume consists of, for women, a long black robe, often embroidered with cowrie shells. Men have adopted the Pakistani shalwar kameez, or loose tunic and pants.
Nowadays tourism is a mainstay of the economy for people in this region. In increasing numbers, people are coming to see and learn more about this enigmatic people in the mountains of Pakistan. The Pakistani government collects a toll from people who enter the region, and this money goes toward the preservation and care of the Kalash people and culture.