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An interesting account of the Kalash people

Muhammad Amin (Garum Chashma)

The Kalash people are settled in the Bumburat, Birir and Rumboor valleys of Chitral and their number has almost shrunk to around 3,000 souls. Various conjectures are there regarding the origin and religion of the Kalash (also called Siah Posh). According to one narration, they are descended of Alexander the great from Greece. Some assert that they have migrated from Siam (Thailand). A Russian traveler in his (Beal’s travels of Buddhism) claimed that they are incontestably of Slav origin and are natural subjects of Czar.

But Col. John Bidulph, who visited Chitral in 1878, has given an interesting account of the Kalash people in his famous book Tribes of Hindoo Koosh. According to him, they are descended from a number of Aryan tribes who from the forces of circumstances are living now in the same primitive state that they probably enjoyed long before the commencement of the Christian era.

The Siah Posh people are separable into three main tribes, conforming to the natural diversities of their country. They are Lugmalis or Rugmailis, who inhabited the upper part of the valley s which run down from the Hindu Kush in a South Westerly direction, where they came into contact with the Afghans of the Cabul. The people of Lugman are probably of this stock. They Waigalis who inhabited the valleys extending of South east from the Hindu Kosh which join Kooner valley at Chaghan Serai.And thirdly the Bashgalis,who inhabited the valleys extending from further North in a South easterly directions, joining Keener valley at Birkot. All these tribes have become Muslims except a few thousand now living in the Chitral.

Photo by GH Farooqui

Besides the main tribes there are the broken or detached clans, such as the Kalashis who are subjects to Chitral. In features they are more Aryans of high type .War and hunting are regarded as the only legitimate occupation for a man and almost the whole work of agriculture is done by women. The black garments which have given a distinctive name to the race are apparently different in different tribes. The Bashgalis wore tunics, gathered in at the waist with leather belt, from which hanged a dagger. The Kalash wear similar tunic, but they were gradually adopting coarse cotton, the materials of which were brought by peddlers from Peshawar. The KALASH women wear on their heads a kind of broad cap covered with cowries’ shells, with lappets hanging down behind like the head dresses of the Tartar women in Ladakh.

According to John Bidulph, the Kalash are entirely subjects to Chitral and have so apparently for some time. They were formerly subjects to the Bashgalis, who still spoke of them as their slaves. The Kalash refuse to eat domestic fowls or their eggs, both of which they regard as unclean, and will not they touch beef, cow, s milk or butter made from it. These prejudices are not shared by other Siah Posh tribes.

The tradition of the Siah Posh concerning their origin was that they were descended from one of the three brothers, two of whom became Muhammedans, while the third their progenitor, refused to do so. This may show that they recognize themselves to be of cognate origin with their Muhammadan neighbours. They say that the name of this progenitor was Koorshye, which has helped to spread the idea among Muhammadans that they are of the Arab tribe of Koresh and has probably led western writers to seek some connections between the Siah Posh and the Greeks who followed the conquerors of Bactria. Neither theory seems to rest on any adequate foundations. The Siah Posh traditions, however, points to their having been driven into their present narrow limits from a much wider extant of country than they now occupy and they say that the art of writing was once known among them. There seems to be no doubt that the Kalash tribe of Siah Posh once occupied the South part of the Kashkar valley about Asmar and the upper part as far as the junctions of Mulkhow valley

The intercourse between the Siah Posh and their Muslims neighboursis not so restricted, atleast on the eastern side as is generally supposed .Though any stranger entering their country without warning was certain to be attacked. They receive visitors freely who pass their country by one of themselves. The valley on the western sides is described as thickly wooded and very fertile. The Siah Posh breeds of hounds, cattle, sheep and fouls and all their agricultural products are celebrated for their fine quality and are much sought after by their neighbours. The well known practice of Siah posh are sitting on the stools instead of seating on the ground is perhaps the most curious points of distinctions between them and other Asiatic races. And this practice is still common among those converted to Islam. Each clan manages its own affairs regardless of its neighbours and is directed by the elders of the village called Jusht.

The Siah Posh are exceedingly found of dancing .The music consisted of two drams and a feeble flute made of bamboo. Instead of one or two performers, everybody present, women as well men join the dance together. On the death of a man his corpse is carried around the village in procession for several days before being finally disposed of, the attendants dancing around it. The attendants also enjoy lavish food.

There seems to be grounds for supposing that the religion of the Siah Posh is the crude form of the ancient Vedic. One Supreme Being is worshipped under the name of Imbra and the next in importance is the prophet Mani. He is called the Son of Imbra, once lived on the earth, who mediates with Imbra on behalf of men. Stones are used as emblems of Imbra, but curved idols are not used.  The two names can suggest the Indra and Mannu of Brahmanism .Below them in rank are a list of number of deities numbering 18000.For example in importance is Geji, a great chief who fought with Ali,the  son-in-law of the prophet of Islam and started the feud between the Siah Posh and the Muhammadans which is continued since. Next comes Begaj,the god of rivers, who has also control on herds and flocks .Other important deities are  Proozi, Dooj, Poorateck (Pārbati), Arum, Marer, Kroomai, Sooranji and Witr.


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