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The Kalash

Kalash women

The Kalash people (Kalasha) are an indigenous minority of about 3500 people in northwestern Pakistan, NWFP, (Northwestern Territories) with their own language, their own traditional dress, their own nature religion with pagan rituals and a way of life that is close to nature. The Kalash live near the border of Afghanistan, in 3 valleys Birir, Bumburet and Rumbur.

The villages are at the foot of the Hindu Kush, where I did several hikes including the Ganga-Wat pass. Chitral, known for polo matches, is the starting point to reach one of the three Kalash valleys by jeep. Personally, I think Rumbur is the loveliest valley, where some primitive cottages were made available to the tourists. When I lived in Peshawar I often stayed in Rumbur, also to escape the heat in the summer.

The Kalash are mainly farmers, working the fields according to ancient farming methods: plows, shovels and hoes are the only tools. Wheat, corn, runner beans, millet are the most important field crops next to wine grapes and walnuts. The Kalash produce wine, which is sometimes difficult in an Islamic country like Pakistan. The mulberries and apricots are dried for the cold winter months. Livestock consists mainly of goats, sheep and some cattle.

The Kalash community has a shaman known for his prophetic dreams. The Bashali house, where menstruating women reside and pregnant women give birth, is one of the most basic Kalasha institutions, as the Kalashas divide their world into two domains, the pure and the impure.

Today, Kalasha men are indistinguishable from the Muslims as they all wear the salwar kameez. Women weave their clothes, spinning yarn on small hand spindles made of wood and pumpkin. Usually these are used for very long belly bands that the Kalash women wear around their waist. Their black robes are brightly embroidered at the neck. The Kopas, the ceremonial headdress, occupies a prominent place in the Kalasha women's costume.

The Kalasha celebrate the four seasons with a festival. The spring festival, Joshi, is hosted when cheese and yogurt are produced, while the summer festival celebrates the bringing down of cheese from the high pastures. The nut harvest in September is accompanied by a lot of singing and dancing. The pastoral god Horizon protects the flocks in fall and winter and is thanked during the winter festival.

The Kalashas are buried in cedar chests and images used to be carved a year after death. Many of these effigies were stolen by the foreigners.

During my stays in Rumbur I also got to know the teachers. To support the preservation of the Kalash culture, two schools were financially supported by printing the textbooks in Kalasha.

In May 2006, a computer center was also set up under the banner of LZG (Teachers Without Borders).

For many an absolutely revolutionary idea, but probably also very important for the economic opening up of the valley and increasing the resilience and employment opportunities of the Kalash youth. Isn't the culture lost because of that? Philosophically, however, this ancient culture is so deeply rooted in their perception of the world that the influence of tourism and advancing digitization is rather superficial and will leave the core of their ethical consciousness intact.

In November 2019 I visited an exhibition in Musée des Confluences in Lyon: Fêtes himalayennes, les derniers Kalash. The catalog is a comic strip edited by Viviane Lièvre, Jean-Yves Loude et Hervé Nègre and perfectly describes the life of the Kalash as I experienced it. ISBN: 978-2-84953-320-8

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