Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kalashi of Pakistan

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.


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.

5 comments:

Trupti said...

Interesting people; they definitely look more Afghan/Arabic than Pakistani. T

LaraL said...

Love your in-depth explanations and stories behind the postcards. Great job on this one as ever :) Have never heard of these people before. Happy postcrossing!!

The Potwari Stereotype said...

@Trupti Pakistani is not a racial group. Pakistanis comprise of people of different racial backgrounds including the Kalash.

Pavle Jordanov said...

how do i put this without sounding rasist, my understanding, seen a documentary and read many books on history is that the kalashi and another ethnic group, cant remember the name now, in pakistan are descendants of the macedonians that came in the region with alexandar of macedon, some of his soldiers stayed there and actually many of the ancient macedonian culture and customs were preserved till today, that is why they are mostly blond and bright eyed. this fact by itself proves that the 19th century historians were very wrong about who is who in the antiquity and the many new historians seem to adopt and recognize the many new findings that there was no greek culture whatsoever, the culture was there but the protagonists were completely different, both the anthropology and the genetics say that todays greeks have come from lower Nile egypt (not upper Nile egypt) and they are closely related to the ethiopians. the anthropology confirms that, while the ancient writers and historians have described them as white, blond and bright eyed, none of these writers and historians have even mentioned the words helenic or greek. who ever is interested in knowing more can read the "black Athena" from prof. martin bernal and "homer's blind audience" from robeto salinas price.

Pavle Jordanov said...

would appreciate if someone has visited the region and the kalashi to give me some travel tips, from the article i see they are visited b tourists, are there tour operators in pakistan that organize the trips? my understanding was that the region is barely reachable and dangerous.

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