The Persistence of Myth

by Joshua Foust on 6/24/2011 · 5 comments

“In this award winning adventure,” the promotional text goes, “Michael Wood embarks on a 2000 mile journey in the foot steps of Alexander’s triumphal march from Greece to India.” The clip above is his visit to the Kalash people in Chitral, Pakistan. As long time readers know, I’ve harbored a fascination with these people for years, and, since the literature is so sparse, I can honestly say I’ve read almost everything ever written about them in English.

So let’s say this right away: the Kalasha do not descend from Alexander the Great, they do not speak a dialect of Greek, and the only reason they even call themselves the Kalash is because of the influence of the Kata and Kom in Nuristan (or Kafiristan, whatever). I really don’t know why Michael Wood perpetuates the myth that the Kalasha descend from Alexander the Great or do Greek anything; possibly it is the result of the many Greek activists who lavish the Kalash communities with money and archaeologists (even if they’re sometimes abducted by the crazies). Helping that myth along has certainly worked out for them.

But that doesn’t excuse a documentarian, who has the benefit of readily available books as well as plentiful university resources to assemble his background research. I don’t think Wood was needlessly sensationalizing his report, he probably just fell prey to the same myth and creative storytelling that seems to define that whole region. Even so, it’s disappointing to see something so untrue stated to authoritatively.

Bonus: Kalasha music videos.

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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 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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Christian June 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm

The most recent genetic testing crushed the idea of even the most tiny Greek contribution. Of course, the BBC would would have to read the Wikipedia article on the Kalash to find out this top-secret info (it links to the most recent scientific studies).

But I can understand while locals claim to be descended from Alexander’s army. All sorts of people in the most obscure parts of Central Eurasia claim to be descended from Timur, Babur, Genghis, Abraham, Adam, and the prophet’s family. It’s a fun story and an attempt to put some sort of stamp of lineage authority on oneself.

anan June 25, 2011 at 12:17 am

Christian, most of the officers in Alexander’s army towards the end of his life where Asians and the large majority of the soldiers were Asian. There may be more depth to ancient oral traditions than recorded history acknowledges. I would never assume someone’s ancestors didn’t join Alexander’s army and feel personally connected to Alexander and Alexander-ism. Ergo the many pseudo Greco Hellenistic/Asian nations in central and south asia that lasted for more than half a millenia.

Christian June 25, 2011 at 1:52 am

Yes, I know the basic history of Alexander’s campaign and the composition of his military. And I know the history of Bactria. My top point is about the Kalash, not the entire region.

As for oral history that goes back more than a few hundred years, it’s fine until it comes up against science, history, archeology, linguistics and reality.

Michael Hancock June 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm

It’s pretty easy to say that their language is distantly related to Greek… in the same way that Pashto is distantly related to Greek. And English. And Spanish. Mythology is eternal and ever-changing…
“I drank wine that night with descendants of Alexander’s Army.”
You do every night, dipshit. Anyone that produced descendants over 2000 years ago in Eurasia is related to you.

anan June 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm

You took the words right out of my mouth. Their language, Greek, Latin, Pharsi, Pashtun are all part of the same Indo-Aryan-European language tree.

“You do every night, dipshit.” :LOL: Nice.

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