Town & Places - Kafir-Kalash


Deep in the 3,700 ft high valleys of Chitral dwell a people distinct in manner, belief and dress. The Kafir-kalash or "Wearers of the Black Robes" are a primitive pagan people, nature's children, who number about 2,000 persons. They are spread over two dozen villages scattered in the smaller valleys of Bumburet, Birir and Rumbur. Tradition traces this tribe to Hellenic ancestry, to Alexander the Macedon's soldiers who settled here in 327 B.C. However, recent linguistic research has shown that the Kalasha language they speak, derives from the Dardic family. "Phonetic peculi¬arities" indicate that they were there before Alexander crossed into Kafiristan. Hellenic influences asserted, and inter-marriages took place, subsequently. To this remote area they were driven by the Chitralis in the fifteenth or sixteenth century.

The traditional Kalash house consists of a hearth, "pure area" reserved for men, larder, living quarters and altar to Jestak, the goddess and protector of home. The house is generally windowless and constructed of wooden logs in the masonry which act as cushions to absorb earthquake shocks. The roofs are thatched with mud and wild grass. The Kafir-kalash still practise customs and traditions that date back at least to the second century A.D. Shamanism forms a vital part of their belief system with a pantheon of gods such as Surisan, the protector of cattle, Praba who looks after fruits and Sajlgor, the god of everything. They still refer to Yarkhand, a town in Chinese Turkestan as one source of their customs.

The women wear black, multi-pleated garments like frocks and sport elaborate headgear with cowries and complicated colourful patterns. The kupas, the coiffeur of the women is a mark of Kalash identity... protection and fecundity. No women may go bareheaded, without the kupas or at least without the coiffeur support, the shushut, which is also decorated with cowries, bead, bells, buttons.

The arrival of spring, as in many cultures, is celebrated by the Kalash also. The festival of Chilim Jusht lasts for four days. During the festivities honey and milk, nectars of nature, feature prominently and are presented to the participants from every household. The main event of the festival is the collective wedding ceremony in which the whole tribe participates.

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