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Saturday, 31 May 2008
Is bin Laden really hiding among this pagan people?
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From The Scotsman
ON THE north-west tip of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan's Nuristan province, Chitral has long been thought a possible refuge for Osama bin Laden.
Rendered almost inaccessible by the high peaks of the Hindu Kush range and narrow valleys, its secret mountain routes make it easy to dodge between Afghanistan and Pakistan. .
This district of North-West Frontier Province is the home of the Kalasha a unique pagan community that has lived in the area for 2,000 years or more, and it is boxed in by an increasingly militant Islam.
This week, Afghan intelligence sources again named the area as a probable hiding place of the al-Qaeda leader. According to locals, bin Laden sheltered with a Kalasha family for some time during his first Afghan jihad, against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. With his now much more severe ideology, he would not be able to live easily among these polytheistic people, whose men and women mix freely. (I personally doubt he would ever have had any empathy with them).
Earlier this month, the Kalasha celebrated their spring festival, Joshi, with a verve and passion that few cultures, ancient or modern, could match. Men and women danced tirelessly to a pounding, primeval drum beat, haunting singing and rituals so old that their meaning is almost lost.
The women wear long black dresses with vividly coloured embroidery, their hair in long plaits and regal headdresses decorated with shells. Garish belts and layers of brightly coloured necklaces add to their exotic appearance. This is not a special costume for Joshi – it is what they wear every day. On their cheeks are painted dots and tattoos.
There are only about 3,000 Kalasha left now, pushed into three tiny valleys within Chitral by the advancing tide of settlers. There, they struggle to keep alive their faith and way of life, with creeping technology, poverty and the spread of Islam pushing their culture to the edge of extinction. But last week's Joshi showed Kalasha traditions remain strong and utterly unlike anything seen in the rest of Pakistan – perhaps unlike anything anywhere in the world.
"This is a religious ceremony. It celebrates spring. It is not a festival, it is much more than that – there is a spiritual meaning behind it," said Tach Sharakat, a Kalasha man, who is one of the few members of his community to receive a foreign university education.
One legend has it the Kalasha are the descendants of the army of Alexander the Great, who invaded India in the third century BC. No-one really knows their origins. Their religion may, in fact, be one of the early beliefs of the Indo-Persian area, embodying an early Hinduism and pre-Zoroastrian faith. They are known as kafirs – infidels – to most Pakistanis, but call themselves Kalasha.
That is why celebrations such as Joshi are so important to the Kalasha. It is a way of passing on their culture to younger generations. While it is easy to be mesmerised by the joyous dancing, round and round, the really important message is coming from within the circle, where old men in long golden coats sing and chant the Kalasha beliefs and narrate their history. The dancers then take up the song.
These are a people who love drinking wine – banned in Islam – and who can freely choose their husband or wife: arranged marriages are the norm in Pakistan. The women make no attempt to hide their faces and dance with gaiety in public, a sight now so rare in increasingly conservative Pakistan that it is shocking for most of their countrymen.
Bewildered Muslim tourists from other parts of the country, typically groups of men, stare at the festivities, seemingly unable to fathom that this, too, is a religion. Islamic culture is totally dominant in Pakistan and religious minorities are few. It seems it is lurid tales of the Kalasha women that have brought them here, confusing the women's freedom for free love.
"We marry who we like," said Gul Shaheen, a young teacher. "And there are no class distinctions in the marriage match. It does not matter if you are rich or poor. If a girl is ill-treated, she can leave for another man."
One reason the culture has been preserved is its geographical isolation. But that is coming under threat from domestic tourism – few foreigners venture to Chitral since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Much more serious disruption will follow, from the opening of a simple land route into Chitral, through the Lowari Tunnel, which should be completed by the end by next year.
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Posted on 05/31/2008 6:15 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Comments
2 Jun 2008
Esmerelda Weatherwax
Pali
I see what you mean, especially about the eyes.  Their textiles have a Balkan look about them as well.
Thanks

31 May 2008
Pali

Esmerelda

Here is a good set of pictures of the Kalash from flickr.

http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=kalash

 

 



31 May 2008
Pali
Basically, this community only exists in this part of Pakistan, however in the mountain areas of India, Himachal Pradesh and elsewhere, you see echoes of the same kind of ancient mountain religion and culture. The most amazing thing about the Kalash, just like their counterparts in the north-west Himalaya region of India, is their appearance. Light skinned, many of them can pass for southern European, and most entrancing of all, the green, hazel and blue eyes. Once, visiting the hills I fell in love with every second mountain woman who walked past, some of them with brown hair, and the most vivid hypnotic blazing eyes you will ever see in your life. The people of the mountains are very different from the people from the plains. Their customs and Hinduism is touched with a local kind of nature worship. They are the same gentle people the Buddha and his disciples would have found most gentle and receptive to their message.

31 May 2008
Esmerelda Weatherwax
And if they were Amazonian rain forest people facing loss of homeland and squashing of culture Sting and his like would be most vociferous.
Are they only in Pakistan or do they cross the Kush into India?

31 May 2008
Pali

They are known as kafirs – infidels – to most Pakistanis, but call themselves Kalasha.

If that sentence doesn't fill you with horror, sadness, sympathy and disgust, nothing will.

This is one of the most wicked aspects of Islam -- that it labels all other people, even harmless people like the Kalash, with degrading and insulting names to express essential inferiority.



31 May 2008
Pali

They are a legendary tribe of the Indian sub-continent. Pre-Islamic, maybe even pre-Buddhist and pre-Hindu, or at least living so isolated from the rivers and oceans of thought and religion they developed their own path and ways.

It makes me terribly sad to think that this people will be decimated in the next few generations, by Islamic settlers and Islamic dawah bigotry. Something inexpressibly beautiful, an expression of the land and place, spontaneous, of the valleys and mountains, from the nature of the place, thousands of years old, something beautiful and colourful and celebratory, will drown into non-existence, the contrast with the austere, foreign, Arab horror snuffing out what remained of indigenous joy in this part of Pakistan.



31 May 2008
Hugh Fitzgerald

He's on K2, cramponning like crazy, following in the 1938 footsteps of Bob Bates.

Climb every mountain, ford every stream/But never let go of your dream.

Why K2?

Because it's there.