Into the breach for Alexander’s descendants

By our reporter translation:
Jacqueline Kuijpers

[BN De Stem, 1994]Breda- In an apartment in the North of Breda, a dream is being cherished. This is a dream about a small, but remarkable people living in a valley in Northern Pakistan. Time is running out, the Kalash have almost become extinct. According to legend, they are the descendants of Alexander the Great’s army. Around 326 BCE, Alexander conquered [parts of]* Asia.

The Kalash were once spread across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Nowadays, there are only 3,500 individuals left. The Pakistani artist Mohammed Bugi, who lives in Breda, has been a passionate advocate for fifteen years for the cause of this “indigenous people”, which is endangered by extinction.

In 1980, he visited the Kalash for the first time –and he was immediately impressed by the high moral and ethical standards of this people.

Bugi wants to intercalate his struggle for the Kalash into the Decade of the Indigenous Peoples, which the United Nations have established for the decade 1995-2005. About 5,000 peoples on earth have been denominated as “forgotten”, homeless or suppressed indigenous peoples. Altogether, these peoples are 5 percent of the entire world population.


From his first visit on, Mohammed Bugi has been infatuated with the Kalash. They don’t lie, they don’t cheat, they are completely spiritual, as he experienced. They have lived for centuries according to the same traditions, which supposedly go back to the ancient Greeks. “When Alexander the Great and his Greek (i.e. Macedonian) troops reached the Kalash valleys, they met with a people which, just like them, worshipped the god [Dionysos (Bacchus)]. Many soldiers decided to stay there.”

Apart from the huge decimation of their numbers, the Kalash are considerably well off at this moment. Benazir Bhutto’s current government is favourably inclined to the Kalash. They get financial compensation when woods get chopped down in the mountains. They also get help from Dutch agricultural volunteer workers. Futhermore, the Dutch are involved in a road building programme in this region.

Bugi has sent letters about the awkward situation of the Kalash people to world leaders, such as Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, Benazir Bhutto, [UN Chairman] Boutros Gali and [German chancellor] Helmut Kohl.
“At this moment, we have a considerable chance of success. The Decade of Indigenous Peoples will last for ten years, so in that amount of time, it should be possible to get something done.”


What is Bugi’s aim? With the help of Unesco and Unicef, he wants to realize his dream of establishing three museums, completely made out of wood and totally dedicated to Kalash art. Wood is the only material Kalash artists work with. The museums are to be erected in the Kalash area in Pakistan.

“To raise funds, I want to make renditions of Kalash art and stamps, posters and calendars with Kalash art on them. I have also written a book about all aspects of the life, history and culture of the Kalash. It is the first of its kind.”
Is there any personal relationship with the Kalash? Does Bugi himself happen to be a Kalash? “Indeed, I do have roots there, on my mother’s side of the family. My art has been decisively influenced by that ancestral part of me. Why would I get inspired by something of the West? I greatly admire Vincent van Gogh, but the history and mysticism of the Kalash people have shaped me as an artist.”Subtitle with picture: Bugi’s art has been inspired by the art of the Kalash people.

*Words between [ ] are additions made by the translator.

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Compiled by: Glenn Welker

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