Will The Kalasha Go Extinct?

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by Joshua Foust on 9/23/2009 · 15 comments

They’re probably not descended from Alexander the Great, but this report on the pressures facing the Kalasha of Chitral is nevertheless depressing.

While Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians were slowly driven out of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province by Muslim militants, the Kalash were free to drink their own distilled spirits and smoke cannabis.

But the militant maulanas of the Taliban have finally caught up with them and declared war on their culture and heritage by kidnapping their most devoted supporter.

Taliban commanders have taken Professor Athanasion Larounis, a Greek aid worker who has generated £2.5 million in donations to build schools, clinics, clean water projects and a museum.

They are now demanding £1.25 million and the release of three militant leaders in exchange for his safe return.

Hrm. Okay, I wouldn’t describe the abduction of a Greek aid worker as evidence the Kalasha themselves are being targeted, especially since an actual Kalash man escaped both abduction and murder, but the point is well taken. There are less than 3,000 left in the valleys up near Hunza. It’s kind of annoying that the Independent focused on their more eccentric rituals, instead of the fact that simply by not being Muslims they are targets, but whatever.

It’s sad to think of such a unique culture vanishing under the onslaught of outside religious fundamentalists. Unfortunately, they will be joining their not-so-related cousins across the border in Nuristan in being either killed or intimidated into converting to Islam within the next few decades, if not sooner.

Meanwhile, that Greek worker, Athanasios Lerounis, has several video segments, photos, and other information about his work from 1998 (in this case focusing on a goat sacrifice) here.

Four years ago, before Lerounis’ abduction, the Guardian profiled him and his work amongst the Kalasha in a somewhat more balanced manner than the Independent (though they repeat the unsupportable claim that these people are ancient Macedonians, but whatever).

Previously on Registan.net:
Obscure Ethnicities of Afghanistan: the Kalasha
The Kunar-Chitral Region Remains a Dark Mystery


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 15 comments }

omar September 23, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I agree that they are likely to be in trouble in the long run, though I am not sure there has been any specific change in the last few weeks or months. Even if the Taliban are beaten, part of the “settlement” will be acceptance of some sort of Islamism in the NorthWest frontier and slow but steady pressure will build on these people. What is not threatened by islamists will be threatened by modernization. The situation does not appear very optimistic.
The poor Kalash are small in number and have no overseas sponsors. If and when their crisis worsens, i do not anticipate that large numbers of western liberals will rush to the defence of the community (Fear of Islamophobia); Some right wingers will try to make hay from their plight, but its hard for others to buy their hypocritical concern for carefully selected oppressed populations. There will be some help from Pakistani liberals, but it may or may not be enough. Things dont look too good for the Kalash….

Turgai Sangar September 24, 2009 at 6:58 am

“The poor Kalash are small in number and have no overseas sponsors.”

I agree that overseas networks are crucial in a cultures’ survival or consolidation. One example that comes to mind is that of another small minority in Pakistan (1.8% of teh pop.): the Ismaili Shi’ites from Hunza and Gilgit (they are in Chitral too). They can hold ground basically thanks to the influence and the economic and humanitarian activities of the Aga Khan Development Network.

Toryalay Shirzay September 23, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Thanks for highlighting the plight of the Kalash people.Now you can see why it’s crucial for civilized societies to defeat islamic fascism.Tens of millions of people of various ethnicities had the same fate:conversion to islam or death.Terrorism has been a state policy for the Paki Establishment as it knows full well the ferocity of islamic fascists and their ability to deliver victories .And it is in pursuit of such victories that Kalash people will be trampled as the world remains indifferent.Does anyone think Washington,London,Berlin care if the Kalash people were trampled?If you think they do,show it to me.

Turgai Sangar September 24, 2009 at 5:02 am

Toryalay, even if so-called ‘Islamic fascism’ disappears overnight just by snapping your fingers, what will it change for the Kalash? Then there will still be globalization and/or the Christian evangelists who will deal with them, just like they did with dozens of small native cultures from the Kalahari to Papua New Guinea.

“I do not anticipate that large numbers of western liberals will rush to the defence of the community”

Well, the classical Western native culture fetish scene among the liberals certainly will (you know who I mean: the sort of new agers who look for long-lost ideals among people who live ‘simply’ and ‘close to nature’ and spend their vacations in a combination of native constumes and birkenstock sandals).

For the rest, the predicament of the Kalash might indeed be taken up as another poster cause by dodgy Islamophobic types, which will only put the Kalash (like it did with old Christian minorities for instance), in more trouble since that way they will get associated with/be dragged into certain political agendas.

dennis September 23, 2009 at 11:00 pm

it will be a sad day when a unique race will disappear off the face of the earth. the Taliban can do this in two days work or less.

oldschool boy September 23, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Every now and then a small nation disappears on all continents around the world. The leader countries in extinct nations and cultures are probably the USA and Russia, and also India, China, some countries in Africa and South America, may be Mexico. Who actually knows? I would love to hear if somebody could share what they know on this subject.

Turgai Sangar September 24, 2009 at 6:37 am

I visited the Kalash valleys back in fall 1997.

Back then, I had already the impression that one of the only forms for Kalash culture to survive in some way, is as an ethnographic reserve where tourists and Western Alexander the Great buffs can come and gawk at folk dances and take snapshots. Pretty much the sad fate of scores of minority cultures in China for example (the Tibetans thereby do have the relative luck that they still have cultural centres in India and other countries and can fall back on international jetset goodwill, the Uighurs are part of the wider Islamic cultural sphere and the ethnic Kazakhs eventually have Kazakhstan, but the rest is toast).

So what is better in the end: to just disappear or to be degraged into an exotic tourist attraction?

Turgai Sangar September 24, 2009 at 7:11 am

‘degraDed’, of course. Apologies.

omar September 24, 2009 at 8:02 am

All the alternatives look bad for such small exotic museum cultures. Ideally, they would be left alone (the one example I can think of is the Andaman islanders in India, who are lucky the Indian Navy has decided it owns the andamans and allows neither migration nor tourism) but history is against them…

Oblat September 24, 2009 at 8:45 pm

>instead of the fact that simply by not being Muslims they are targets

On the other hand by simply not being muslims they get your support. So it probably all balances out.

Toryalay Shirzay September 24, 2009 at 10:01 pm

So the Kalash people get no break even from intelligent writers to this blog not to mention moslems with their “religion of peace”.

dennis September 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm

well what would probably happen,the kalash will convert to Islam.burn there clothing cover up the woman.destroy all evidence of there culture. to stay alive.

Dilshod September 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Most of the nations like this have survived due to isolation; globalization will kill them (softly).

tictoc September 28, 2009 at 11:19 pm

“Nations” (ethnic groups) have been “disappearing” since the beginning of human history, long before “globalization”. Seriously, do you think Christian evangelists are responsible for the disappearance of the Scythians, for example? Undoubtedly, modern technology is speeding up the rate of change, but human migration and cultural evolution have always been a part of the human experience.

Turgai Sangar September 29, 2009 at 2:47 am

“Seriously, do you think Christian evangelists are responsible for the disappearance of the Scythians, for example?”

:))) Yes: Christian evangelists and Simpsons shows on satellite TV.

On a more serious note: of course evangelists were not part of the historical cycle that the Scythians were part of. Yet today they are, and one of the factors that destroy or swallow up small native cultures.

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