Preserving Kalash culture: The big fat Greek festival

PHOTO: Cheree Franco

 KALASH: “We are a very strange people. This is why you are here,” Engineer Khan told a small group of primarily Pakistani tourists and journalists at the Kalash Home Guest House, which he and his family operate in the village of Rumbur.

The Chitral valleys of Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir are populated by a tribe of Indo-Aryans who consider themselves the descendants of Alexander the Great. In the centuries before jeeps and satellite telephones, the lush green slopes of the Hindu Kush Range kept the Kalash separated from the region’s Muslim majority. The fair-skinned, light-eyed Kalash who now number around 3,000 developed a unique language and culture, which has been threatened in recent decades by conversion, economic and security concerns, media exploitation and internal rifts.

Subsistence farmers by tradition, the Kalash dwell in haphazard wood and slate structures with bright doors and womblike interiors, piled atop each other and wedged against the rocks. Despite religious taboos, interactions between men and women are more open than elsewhere in the region. The Kalash brew apricot wine, carve totemic symbols and disperse fragrant clusters of sage throughout their homes. Faeries carry their messages to Dezao, the creator-god, and they greet each season with collective prayer in the form of chanting, singing, drumming and dancing. Their religion centers around shamen, ritual and a vague concept of karmic communion.

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