‘Modernity’ making inroads into Kalash culture | Pakistan Today

‘Modernity’ making inroads into Kalash culture

Away from the fevers and frets of life, a strange conglomerate of about 4,000 people dotting the picturesque countryside of Chitral valley, continues discreetly to battle with the temptations of modern life which apparently are impacting the Kalash culture.
Not far from the main Chitral city which usually keeps humming with life, the mysterious people residing in isolation at the mountain tops, obscured by their rites and rituals, are now seen struggling to protect their beliefs, ideology and mode of living from modern lifestyles.
Fables and myths: These people, clinging to their centuries old traditions, are not aware of their exact ancestry. However, as the popular legend in the area goes, a few soldiers from the formidable legions of Alexander of Macedonia had settled in Chitral during their invasion of Indo-Pak sub continent and this particular sect continued to inhibit the land as their predecessor. A muddy but atrocious serpentine road leads to the Kalash valley which runs through the town of Drosh and Chitral city and then turns left from Ayun village on River Kunar leading to one of the most fabled destination in the world. These mythical people inhibit three villages of Rukmu, Mumret and Biriu, commonly called Rambur, Bumburet and Birir in local Kalashi language. These villages are situated at the hillside about 100 meters above the river. The Kalash Valleys have extensive forests of oak and Himalayan cedar growing on hilltops around the flowing streams, while the mouth watering fruits like walnut, apricot, pear and mulberry are found abundantly in the region.
To make the area a safe haven, the forefathers of Kalash people must have chosen a place which could protect them from the invaders and natural calamities. According to local people and journalists, their population has been shrinking; around 4,000 Kalash are alive now.
A sharp contrast on arrival: However, upon arrival, a visitor can find a sharp contrast to what he or she has heard or read about the valley.
After living in obscurity for an unknown period, Kalash children now study in local schools, and are well conversant with Urdu and English. Girls are going an extra mile by realizing their plight when juxtaposed with their neighborhood and even prefer to be married in Muslim families. The basic values the Kalash people used to attach with conjugal life are also changing as strong restrictions barring females of the tribe from marrying people of other religions especially Muslims have now become a source of blithe and good omen in the tribe.
Changing marriage culture: “In recent past, a number of girls have been married in Muslim families and the Kalash elders did not oppose it rather it was welcomed,” Afsar Khan, a local in the valley informed. According to local estimates, the ratio of tying knots with Muslim families touches at least four percent.
Muhammad Hammad Farooqi, a local journalist and guide says that the Kalash girls are embracing Islam and even adopting Muslim names. “The centuries old names which these people have also undergone changes as majority of girls liked to be called with names of Indian film actresses,” he said. When asked how people had access to Indian movies, Farooqi pointed to small dish antennas perched on rooftops of wooden houses.
Changed by economy, poverty: Chinggadi, an old head of the tribe admitted in her ancient language that there had been a change in their way of life. She also blamed the economy of the region and said poverty was gnawing away the roots of their grandiose civilization. “We used to demand Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 for each dance performance but now it has plummeted to Rs 7,000,” she said, adding that the number of foreign visitors had also dropped. The younger girls and females are no longer shy of being filmed or pictured without their consent. Little girls directly demand money for each snapshot. They have also abandoned the practice of leaving the dead bodies open in the adjacent necropolis.
There are some who choose to stick to the ways of their ancestors and prefer to wear the black robes and to celebrate spring by singing and dancing on the rooftops. The women still perform other rituals like Kirik Pushik, the festival of the first flower blooming, the Siu Wajik rite and Joshi, the main spring festival.

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