The Kalash believe they are originally from Tsiam, although no one yet knows where that is. It is more likely they are descendants from Indo-Aryans (about 2000BC). Many historians believe the Kalash are descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great.
The kalash valleys of Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir are within Chitral District of Pakistan. The kalash people are the only non-Muslims for hundreds of miles. They may be a little wary of strangers, but usually do welcome who wants to become acquainted with the kalash way of life.
The 3500 Kalash of the valleys live in unique houses made of local stone and wood which are stacked on top of one another at steep hillsides. The roof of one house is the verandah of another, on top of the lower house. They make their living with staple crops like lentils or wheat and by goat herding. Life is very traditional, like in many parts of the world, and the work division between men and their women is elaborate. Family life, cattle herding and harvesting form their main livelihood with the occasional distraction of a festival or two. Women move into a Bashaleni house when giving birth and also when they are menstruating. Many aspects of the society are both communal and segregated and typically, marriages are made by arrangement.
Beliefs and Celebrations
The Kalash are famous for their festivals and dress code. They for example know how to let their hair down in style. There is much dancing where the elders chant legends with drum accompaniment and the women dance around in the open place. Locally brewed wine is drunk in copious quantities. The festival dates are only fixed to a certain extent as the people and the dates depend on the harvest.
The festival of Chilimjusht or Joshi is for spring harvest and last 4-6 days around mid May and the Uchal festival on 20th August celebrates the pre-harvest with cheese, corn and wine. Chitirmas in mid December celebrates the winter solstice and is the most impressive festival, lasting for up to 10 days.
The kalash worship many gods of Kafiristan like Balomain, the heroic demi-god of the kalash Balomain’s spirit is said to pass through the valley counting the people of Kalash and collecting their prayers to return them to Tsiam, the mythical land of the kalash.
The Kalash people thank the creator during their festivals. Each festival is meant to give thanks to the Almighty. The dancing is one way of showing happiness and thankfulness towards the Creator.
Much of the dancing take place in large circles around a bonfire and people chant with mesmerizing repetitions – with just a drum beat accompanying the voices. The girls wear intricate dresses made of cowry shells, coins and beads with beautiful hair braiding and headwear. Each heavy headdress weighing several pounds is presented to a girl by her uncle. The jewellery includes necklaces made from apricot kernels, a traditional gift during the festivals. Single women are expected to find themselves a husband during these festivals.
Just before the main festival, seasonal food is offered to the ancestral spirits and a kotik, light for the ancestors, is lit. After this ritual the food, considered impure, is offered to the elderly women to be eaten.
During the festival, purity is paramount and celibacy is enforced throughout the days of the event so all the people will have a pure mind when Balomain visit the valley. All people must clean themselves in a ritual bath the week before the festival begins. During the men’s purification ceremony, they may not sit down at all during the day and at night the blood of a sacrificed goat is sprinkled on their faces. Special bread is eaten, baked away from the main village, and prepared by men only during the purification ceremony. Another Bread, called jaou, is prepared for the festival and stuffed with crushed walnuts and goat cheese.
Special dance halls exist for the purpose of some of the dancing at festivals. They are decorated with carved and ornate wooden pillars and goat-like figurines. The music and dance is a performance of set songs: the cha or clapping song is the simplest one to a lilting dance, sung by the elders.
Kalash people organize Uchal, the harvest celebration to pay homage to the Almighty that blessed them with fruits and other crops. They prepare cheese, buttermilk and corn to celebrate this festival.
During the festival prayers, a procession is made to a high plateau outside the village in Balangkuru where the long night of dancing begins. The festivals continue for many more days moving on to different locations within the valleys.