United Nations Deceninium
for Indiginous Peoples
1995 - 2004


THE KALASH
A LIVING PERSONIFICATION



MYTH AND HISTORY


The Sanskrit word "Kalash" means both pure and ashes, and according to the stories told by the Kalash to Bugi and his family in the last 40 years, we are created out of water to be pure.


Khudai, the supreme God, long ago, at the time of distributions among the sons of Adam, gave land to live on. Kalasha, the youngest son, decided with his family to keep the valley of Bamboorate for himself as this was the most beautiful and fertile valley in the whole world. The two other brothers, Katis and Bashagalis, became jealous when they saw that the most beautiful part had been given to the youngest son. And this is what caused the enimity between the different tribes of the Kalash: the Siah Posh (with black robe), the Surkh Posh (with red robe) and the Safed Posh (with white robe).


In time immemorial the Kalash were spread over the extensive borderlands of China, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Pakistan, which included the Hindukush mountains and valleys stretched from Wa'gal, Shatruma Desh, Trachingao, Shoowar, Badam, Lotdeh, Badamuk, Tar Chigal, Bijen Chäo, Bashagal in Nooristan to Kohistan of Swat and Dir, from the Kabul River Valley to Badakshan and Wakhan, along the Karakoram Highway (parts of the ancient Silk Route).


A says they are the last descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great of Macedonia (326 B.C.). Reasons for the legend was the fact that the Kalash know a number of seperate named gods and demons, under which one of them resembles like the Greek god of wine Bacchos. The real origin of the Kalash is obscure. Historians accompagnying Alexander after crossing the Lowari Top in Dir have mentioned small scrimmiges with the Kalash tribe. The centuries old rockcarvings along the Karakoram Highway are according to some anthropologists of Buddhist origin, but they could also be direction signs used by the trading shepherds living in the Kalash Kingdom. In the time of the Moghuls (rulers in this region in the 15th till the 19th century) wine was taken from the valleys of the Kalash to the tables of the moghuls. The Moghul Emperor Babur "the tiger" invaded the Kalash area because he did not recieve the taxes (Jizya).

The tribesmen who did not know the power of gunpowder were blazed away. They reacted, Babur said, with unseemly gestures. He introduced new taxes at the time of harvest, which was later abolished by Akbar (1504) with a sense of fairness, because he was a man of culture and wisdom.


Seeing the prosperity of the Kalash in the Bamboorate valley, Katis and Bashagalis became jealous. They invaded the valley several times. They killed many and took away golden and silver utencils and girls. The Kalash complained to the Amir of Chitral, Aman-Ulmulk. The Amir promised protection, in exchange of walnuttrees, honey, cheese, goats and women to work as housemaids in his palace. The inhabitants of the valleys of the Kalash area became the slaves of the Amir of Chitral. He did everything to keep them from education and nobody was allowed to hunt deer or mountain goats
Harkhor). There was some freedom though. Religious ceremonies were respected four times a year, and at the time of death and birth. Onesided treaties were signed as far as the water flows and the grass grew. The land belonged to the Amir and his family. The Kalash had nothing to say in it for they were the illiterate, the wild bunch. For little quantity of tobacco precious possession of the Kalash were disposed. By igorance and because of the high debts the Kalash lost their land to strangers in the end.


On the other side of the mountains in the valley of Barose and Shisikohn the wise king Bola Singa (ruler of the Kalash in the 17th century) had a dream. A giant appeared to him and said: "shoot these three arrows and let your soldiers find them again. Build a temple where the black arrow will come down. On the spot where the red arrow comes down you build a house, where the female may deliver their children and where they can live when they are unclean. [the Kalash consider women who are in labour and women who have their period as unclean, and it is their habit that they live in a seperate house, called Bashalani.] The third arrow will be saved for the future generations to come forth." As predicted by the wise, soon the Surkh Posh-Kalash would disappear. And so it happened. Amir Abdur Rehman, ruler of Afghanistan, invaded at the end of the 19th century the living area of the Surkh Posh-Kalash and converted 80.000 Kalash into Muslim. The name of the area changed from Kafiristan (land of the unbelievers) into Nooristan (land of the light).


The Brittish explorer Robertson (1890 - 1895) saw the last people of Kafiristan and notifyed about them in his book "Kafirs of the Hindukush. Katis and Bashagalis". Amir Abdu Rehman was armed to the teeth by the Brittish to prevent the Russians to reach a warm seaport. The war which was waged over small possessions became a fanatic religious war. People from Nooristan regularly invaded Bamboorate, Bireer and Rumboor. Sculptures were burned, houses broken down and everything which reminded of idolworship was taken away. So were the 200 sculptures which were taken to the British museums by Robertson and by the people who were caretakers of the British Empire for governing purposes.


The Kalash disappeared out of the picture. There was no education and no written language. All religious ceremonies were passed down from generation to generation by means of hymns and songs. While singing songs the high priest of Rumboor (Qazi Biraman, who is now 85 years old utters: "when I was a young boy there were 106 life size sculptures in Rumboor alone, where are they now? Oh my fellow Kalash warriors, beware these bounty hunters are not your friends". CULTURE
Wine, fruit, exotic women, fairy tales and gods, that is what it was all about in the Kalash Kingdom. A tribal chief was judged according to the number of goats he possessed. The highest cast and the people with royal blood, only possessed cows. After living a few months alone with his flock in the valleys a young boy became a man and a warrior. After this he could choose any girl he wanted. In future the man was named Ballalik (brave warrior).


Just like other pagan tribes of Indo-Arian origins, festivities were connected with the seasons, and the activities belonging to each season, like sowing, harvesting and storing the harvest, ment rejoicing and merry making. The early days remembered of the Promised Land, abundance of food and drink, clothes made out of goathair and age old customs in which respect for eachother was central. During harvesttime there was a feast which lasted for one week. There was dancing in the moonlight by the sound of the drums, while people with torches in their hands gathered on a spot specially meant for this feast. Even the children would be drunk then, and the girls sang lovesongs: "I would like to run away with you brave warrior, but don't tell my friends. I want to live with you. I want to marry you. How many goats and cows can you give to my parents, I will be yours." The boys answered on the changing rythm of the drums and sang: "What is the meaning of cows and goats if you have me. Don't look at my possessions. I am there to protect you. If my enemy gives five goats I will give twenty, for he can't beat me. I am the son of a great warrior". RECENT FACTS Uptil today there are still 2500 Kalash living in the three valleys in Pakistan: Bamboorate, Bireer and Rumboor, near Chitral, N.W.F.P. The Kalash consider the period under the rule of their kings Shalak Shah, Cheo, Raja Waii and Bola Singa as their best time. That was the golden time remembered by the Kalash. Trich Mir smiled like a golden god upon the bountiful land. Trich Mir, Chitrals highest peak, still towers high, only the days are no longer so golden......


The sons of the royal families tell with pride: "This was our land, but what should we do. Our ancestors in the evenings listened to the wings of the fairies passing by, while the drums were being played. What is left for us? Our land is taken by strangers, our trees are used as pledges for a cap, we live like animals in a zoo, where the spectators stare at us. We are forced to dance for strangers and our women are troubled. All we want is to be left alone."
The Kalash are skilled artisans. Just look at the patrons in harmony with nature all over. The paintings, the woodcarving and the wooven textiles. They are beautiful people, their women have long slender necks, the most delicate wrists and long tapering fingers. Childlike people, innocent. They hardly have any crime among them. They don't lie, they don't cheat and for the guests they go out of the way. But slowly they are forgetting everything. To honour their dead the Kalash make wooden sculptures (Gandaoo effigies), animals are sacrificed, feasts are given. So every artisan can compete for his family's name.


"I am the best carver in the whole valley", says Mirzamust, a sculpturer. And to celebrate the change of seasons, they paint the doors of their houses. Like Khishoo, the outstanding artist among the Kalash artisans.


But everything gets stolen, many things disappear to Europe, to museums of Anthropology and Ethnography. The Kalash never get any compensations. Moreover the healthsituation in the valleys is disastrous. Infant mortality is high, lack of elementary hygiene cause eye-infections among many other things. And last but not least outsiders always interfere with the Kalash.


At the time of Joshi (the Kalash festival in Rumboor), a priest from the west came with a bible in hand, and started shouting, raising slogans: "Oh I found the lost tribes of the Jews". The Government of Pakistan acted promptly and all religious preachings and lobbying were banned, to respect the Kalash sensibilities.


All this brings tears in the eyes of the Kalash. Like a chieftain of the Kalash, Laqbal Khan says: "Ex-prime-minister Mr. Bhutto loved us very much. He visited us and promised us museums to preserve our culture and to earn selfrespect. All we want is to be left alone, and carry out our religious- and human rights. In 1980 there were 5000 of us. Now, in 1995 only 2500 are left. These people, who are living in tents on the bank of Chitral River, are our brothers from Nooristan, who have returned from across the borders. We wanted to fight with them, hand in hand against the Soviets during the Afghan-war. Now the Soviets are gone, we can live in peace and harmony with nature again. All these refugees living near the mountainstreams are our familymembers. We don't have much, but we share with them whatever we have. The enemy is gone. Now help us to survive, for we were the test sites. Test sites of the games superpowers play with the poor countries."


Bugi Ansari
United Nations Deceninium
for Indiginous Peoples

Translation by Anita Ansari


Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Compiled by: Glenn Welker





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