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ETHNONYM: Kalash Kafir

The Kalasha are a tribe of about 4,000, found in the Chitral District in North-West Frontier Province, on the western edge of Pakistan. They are unique among the tribes of the Hindu Kush in one respect: to this day they have resisted conversion to Islam. (Pakistan is 98 percent Muslim.) Instead they practice a form of Hinduism.

The Kalasha economy is based on agriculture, which is mainly women's work, and transhumant animal husbandry, which takes the men and their flocks to the lower pastures for winter and then to high mountain pastures in summer. The people grow maize, wheat, and millets on small irrigated fields. Goats are not only the main animal herded, they are also sacred: they are considered the gift of the gods, which men must protect against the pollution of females and demonic possession. Women have relative social freedom, as compared with the Muslim women of Pakistan, and there is certainly no purdah. There are many cases of marriage by elopement, involving already-married women. Much feuding and negotiation have to take place to resolve disputes over women.

During the 1950s several Kalasha villages were forcibly converted to Islam on grounds of the supposed "immorality" of the women. Since then other forms of antagonism have grown up between Kalasha and the surrounding Muslims. Recently the situation has somewhat improved through the building of schools in some valleys, which Kalasha children can attend. In the late 1970s some roads were also built into the area. As a result there has been an increase in tourism and timber exploitation, which have not really benefited the Kalasha thus far.


Parkes, Peter (1987). "Livestock Symbolism and Pastoral Ideology among the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush." Man 22:637-60.

Parkes, Peter (1990). Kalasha Society: Practice and Ceremony in the Hindu Kush. London: Oxford University Press.


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