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A happy farewell

Kalasha Girl

Kalasha Girl

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“We celebrate death because when someone is born we celebrate with cheers and in the same spirit when someone expires we say adieu to him with cheerfulness”, says Meeta Gul, from the Rumbor valley. The Kalasha people have a unique culture, language, religion and rituals.

They believe in the “will of the God” a leaf falls and is separated from the tree; likewise, a man dies and is separated from his friends and family, he goes to a better place, in the hands of the God, and so deserves a merry farewell.

The deceased is buried only when all the relatives and friends have seen the dead body. All the tribe fellows are informed in the three Kalasha valleys. There is no fixed duration for funeral rites. A rich family may follow the funeral rituals for a few days otherwise the usual three-day funeral rites are observed. In these three days, songs are sung, dance is performed and the tribe fellows pay tribute to the deceased person. “But dance is not performed in case of a female death”, says Shah Jawan, an elder Kalasha spokesman.

Mourners gather and feast for three days. Goat and cow meat, wheat, ghee, cheese and local wine (tara) is served in bulk by the host family. The quantities of commodities used in funeral rites are: Goats 30 to 40, cows 4 to 6, wheat 30 to 40 maunds (one maund is equal to 40 kg), cheese 100 kg, ghee 100 kg and tara more than 200 litres. The price for all this is exorbitant.

“In case of a very poor or destitute family all tribe fellows contribute in death rites”, discloses Sher Alam, a Kalasha teacher from Bumboret valley.

The Kalasha is an agro-pastoral community of Pakistan and depends on flocks, paddock and terraced fields. Each family has its own flocks, trees, land and vines of grapes and common pastures for summer grazing. The backbone of Kalasha economy is their pastures and forests where they live half of their lives with flocks of goats.

But now deforestation is a major threat to their economy and culture. If area for grazing is reduced then definitely their flocks of goats would suffer and as Athanasious Lerounis, a Greek welfare organiser says, “the goats are very important for the Kalasha culture and religion. The Kalasha people sacrifice their goats frequently as rituals of birth, marriage, death, etc.

The Kalasha is the sole pagan tribe of Pakistan living in three remote valleys of district Chitral: Bumboret, Rumbor and Birir. Once the Kalasha tribe ruled the upper and lower Chitral for centuries and then was defeated by Kho tribes of Chitral. In 1320 AD, the Rais rulers invaded the land, and Bulasing and Raja Wai were the two grand rulers of the dynasty in later ages.

Many historians hold that the Kalasha tribe belonged to the Greeks and are descendants of Alexander the Great. I am not going to deal with history of the people but contemporary sciences like genetic studies and archaeology dispel the Greek descendant myths. Their language, archaeological evidences and genetic studies suggested that the Kalasha people belonged to Indo-Aryan.

The population of the Kalasha people was 200,000 in 1320 A.D in upper and lower Chitral; in 1959 there were 10,000 people; and presently the population is estimated to be 4,000 only.

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Note: This article first appeared in Pakistan's leading English newspaper The NEWS.

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Published on 12/26/11

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