Hailing from Chitral, the Kalash are an indigenous people and one of the most intriguing tribes in the world.
The people of Kalash have a fascinating story. It is said that these people are descendants of Alexander the Great. According to some Kalash, they are from a place called Tysiam but till about a century ago the Kalash were inhabitants of what is today known as Nuristan in Afghanistan.
It is said that these people were being forcibly converted to Islam, which is why they fled the land and settled in Chitral.
Today however, with a total population of between 3500-4500 the tribe could be on the brink of extinction.
The People of Kalash
The people of Kalash divide themselves into two sections the Onjesta, Pure & Holy and Pragata, the Impure. These people revere their natural resources greatly and take utmost care of them. Gods, fairies and demons hold a lot of religious significance for them.
What is fascinating is that the people of Kalash are non-Muslims, but still live in a deeply conservative section of Pakistan – the North West – and have survived for all these years. Not just this but living in such a conservative area they still manage to produce their own wine, their ladies wear vibrant dresses and they practice hypnotic ritual dances.
The Threat to the Kalash
When discussing the people of Kalash, one has to mention that the existence of the tribe is constantly threatened. Yes, there was a time where the tribe was threatened by militants, which raised a huge international hue and cry; however presently the threat to the people of Kalash is not militancy.
As is well known, the Kalash are a major tourist attraction in the Chitral valley and according to a well-known conservationist, author and photographer, Maureen Lines, it is not the militants that are going to kill off the Kalasha but rather development.
According to Lines, the land rights of the Kalasha and their displacement due to deforestation is what is robbing them of their wellbeing.
According to one of the inhabitants “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.”
In addition to this, the sudden invasion of outsiders to the valley has led to walls, hedges and boundaries being built and is slowly changing the complete social order of the tribe.
Keeping in mind that the Kalash are very small in number, this development of the region by profit hungry businessmen could just lead to the extinction of the Kalasha way of life very soon.
One way to save this amazing tribe is to put the Kalash Valley and the Kalasha people under the supervision of UNESCO’s World Heritage. This however, can only be accomplished when they are valued at home as much as they are valued by the international community.