Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kalash Valley

We got a minibus from near Ataliq Bridge in Chitral to Ayun where we got a taxi (it was getting late and there was no shared Jeeps around) to Rumboor Valley. The taxi driver lived in Peshawar but was from Rumboor and was back visiting. We passed him a card which had the address for a guest house in Grom village that a friend had recommended to us whilst in Lahore, he had told us tales of a promised land of abundant fruits, vegetables, walnuts, cheese and Wine!. "Ingeneer Khan, Kalash Home Guest House, Very good Man, Very Educated Man, he was my teacher", the driver said whilst navigating the very bumpy narrow potholed road that ran besides Rumboor Gol (river), "Very dangerous road this, too much danger". His tiny car, not built for these roads, bounced along as our heads hit the roof and doors.

Ingeneer Khan was indeed a very nice man, with a great family and beautiful guesthouse. We stayed here nearly two weeks enjoying the stunning scenery, great food - the vegetables straight from their land and of course the wine! It was the perfect place to chill, especially after the heat and bustle of Lahore and Peshawar.

The first night we were there Shazia, Ingeneers eldest daughter (18), excitedly told us that her cousin was bringing a girl into the village in the night. ???

Kalash tradition is that if a couple want to get married, the boy takes the girl from her village (she is from Bumbaret) in the night and brings her to his village where there is usually a party. He arrived later that night and everybody went to their house to meet and greet the couple. There wasn't much of a party that night but I played Carob with a German lad, Paul, who was also staying at KHGH and some local lads who were habitually making joints between games.

The next day they had a gathering in the afternoon, bread and cheese was served. On the night there was a wild party with dancing, music and lots of drinking.

They were a great family to stay with. Ingeneer Khan, his wife Zarmust Gul his daughters - Shazia Bibi and Saira Bibi and sons Bashir, Yannis and Nazir. Their cousin Basir Gul was also around a lot, helping with the food and guesthouse.

Kalash is a Sanskrit word meaning wearers of black robes. Even today all the Kalashi women wear black robe dresses, usually decorated and worn with lots of Jewelry and a 'Kupas' or at least its support, the 'Shushut' on their heads. These are decorated with cowries (shells), beads, bells, buttons...

The Kalash people are perhaps the last remaining peoples of 'Kafiristan', a culture engulfed by Islam. In 'Kalash Solstice', Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lievre explain that in the late 19th Century:

'The Pathan emir of Kabul, Abdur Rahman, on the pretext of a holy war, exterminated those unruly pagans to the east and at the same time resolved his frontier problems with British India. Any surviving Kafirs (non believers) had the choice between death and conversion. They foreswore their beliefs and Kafirstan succumbed, a victim of the famous Durrand Line. A number of fugitives found Asylum in the neighbouring province of Chitral, which remained under the aegis of the Empire. Three of the frontier valleys were inhabited by a group of people who were still pagan, the Kalash.

Kafiristan, a land now lit up by the 'light of Islam', had become Nuristan.

(The Durrand Line of 1893 remains a classical example of an artificial political frontier cutting through areas of homogeneous cultures, It was designed to provide the nascent Afghanistan with frontiers and to establish a no man's land between British India and Tsarist ambitions.)'

Some believe that the Kalash are descendents from the soldiers of Alexander the Great. Many of the Kalash do have European features such as electric blue eyes, pale skin, many have fair or red hair. Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lievre believe that they 'must have been among the conquering wave of Aryans who migrated from a region situated between the Caucasus and the Agros, slowly making their way towards India between 2,00 and 1,000 B.C. Thus some 4,000 years separate the contemporary Kalash from their sources.' The Kalash elders believe that they are from Tsyam which is in the west.

Kafir is a derogatory term, used by Muslims, meaning Non-believers. Kalash do believe in 'God', they call him Dezau which means the creator. They also believe in deities, such as Balumain, Mahandeo, Sajigor, Jestak... Balumain is the messenger between Dezau (God) and Deities. Balumain comes in winter, during their winter solstice festival "Chaumos" in December 16th-23rd. Chaumos means four meat, each family sacrifices four goats for the honour of Balumain. It's a big party, Kalash people will gather to sing and dance around the fire, Drinking wine or nowadays the ever popular Tara.

There are many sites around the valleys where ceremonies and offerings take place. Such as the Sanctuary of the god Mahandeo, which overlooks Grom village. Four horse heads, above a huge rock, symbolise the presence of the divinity. This is a special worship place in the village, offerings are made from here to the god Dezau for protection of the community. We were walking up there one day, when a friend, who looked a bit like Bez, called out to us. He told us that women shouldn’t visit this place. If a woman visits it, she or her husband, must pay for a goat to be sacrificed here to make it pure again. Luckily Kaz was walking slowly and we were a long way off.

When Kalashi women are menstruating, they leave their homes and stay in a women’s home for the duration. They are not supposed to cook for the men during this time.

The next day two Korean girls, Nam and Lim plus a Japanese lad Yoehei came to the guesthouse. Yoehei had been here before and there was an ongoing banter between him and the kids where they'd shout "Japan-ee!" and him "Pakistan- ee!".

We all went out walking with Ingeneer to a Muslim wedding in Trackdarah (Traghdhur), then onto Revalik where we met his sister and niece before going onto the village of Shekhanandeh. Shekhanandeh is a village of people who migrated from Afghanistan to here over 100 years ago, they converted to Islam.

The valley is very fertile with an abundance of Corn, Walnuts, grapes, apricots, apples, plums, mulberries.... If you went out walking you'd always be given a feast of fruits by almost every family you passed, especially grapes.

Ingeneer brewed his own wine and was also making Tara - moonshine/ schnapps/ rocket fuel, whatever you want to call it, In Kalash they called it Tara. It can be made from most fruits or some grains. Ingeneers was from the grapes he had used for making the wine. It was very strong!

We managed to catch some of the World Cup Twenty Twenty cricket in a crowded room which acted as the villages sports bar. It was packed and a good atmosphere especially when Pakistan nearly beat India. The game ended in a tie, then Pakistan lost on the ‘bowl out’, missing three ! open undefended wickets !?! Ingeneer’s son said they did this on purpose to help India reach the super 8. um ? Pakistan V Sri Lanka (Pakistan win) was also a good game.

Children walked around the village with catapults. They used these to gather the nuts and would sell them onto the local shops who will then sell onto traders. Kids would stream into Ingeneers house holding walnuts, one very young lad came in wearing only a shirt in which he carried his nuts, his other nuts dangling for all the world to see. His grubby face and puppy dog eyes pleaded for a good price. We paid him 10 Rupees. We had to leave Rumboor before word got out that two English traders were giving very good prices for the nuts.


Kalash Solstice, Jean-Yves Loude & Viviane Lievre (1987?), Lok Virsa Publishing House

1 comment:

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