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ETHNONYMS: Dard, Duberwal, Killiwal ("villager"), Mayan, Mayr, Patanwal

Kohistan is a mountainous area lying between the Indus River and the Durand Line that forms the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan; it stretches northward from 35° N and the former kingdom of Swat as far as Gilgit. The Kohistanis have also been called Dards because they speak four languages of the small Dardic branch of the Indo-Aryan Subfamily: Torwali, Gawri, Eastern and Western Kohistani (but not Kashmiri, the most important language of this branch). Like the Gujars, who are also found in Kohistan, the Kohistanis practise transhumant pastoralism of sheep and goats; but in the fertile valley bottoms they are also able to plow and irrigate fields, growing maize, millet, and other crops. A few low-lying areas produce wheat or rice; but only one crop a year is possible. Thus Kohistanis move around seasonally between farmlands at about 1,000 meters and summer camps all the way up to 4,500 meters. Cattle and water buffalo are kept at the lower elevations.

The history of this area has been as varied as the terrain. The earliest mention of Swat can be found in the Rig Veda, and then in Greek (327 b.c.) and Chinese (a.d. 519) records. The area has successively been Buddhist, then Hindu, then (since a.d. 1000) Muslim. To some extent individual Pakhtuns have been absorbed in recent times into the Kohistani ethnic group, which perhaps numbers 50,000 today, although cultural influence has mostly flowed from the Pakhtun to the Kohistani.

Because the area is so diverse geographically, it tends to be politically fragmented, even anarchic, and control by the Pakistani government is minimal at best. Kohistani villages are made up of several minimal lineages, each of which has representation on a village council, which tends to be the highest authority. Aside from the farmers, a village population normally includes blacksmiths and carpenters (Pashto-speaking) and a few farm laborers or tenants.

The Kohistanis are Muslims. They are motivated by a reverence for the Quran and its teachings, as well as by izzat (male honor). The seclusion of women, however, is rather problematic because of their importance in farm work.

See also Dard; Pathan


Barth, Fredrik (1956). Indus and Swat Kohistan: An Ethnographic Survey. Studies Honouring the Centennial of Universitetets Etnografiske Museum, Oslo, 1857-1957, vol. 2. Oslo: Forenede Trykkerier.

Barth, Fredrik (1981). Features of Person and Society in Swat: Collected Essays on Pathans. Selected Essays of Fredrik Barth, vol. 2. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Biddulph, John (1880). Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing.

Leitner, Gotlieb William (1877). The Languages and Races of Dardistan. Lahore: Government Central Book Depot.


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