As floods hit, Pak­istan’s Kalasha peo­ple fear for their way of life

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CHITRAL: For Akram Hus­sain, un­prece­dented mon­soon floods that drenched his Hindu Kush moun­tain val­ley this year were a dan­ger to more than just homes and crops. His 4,000-strong Kalasha peo­ple, who live in three re­mote val­leys in north-west Pak­istan, pre­serve an an­cient way of life, in­clud­ing an­i­mist be­liefs at odds with Pak­istan’s dom­i­nant Is­lamic state re­li­gion. That has led to threats by the Tale­ban, who call them kafirs, or non-be­liev­ers. Out­siders, look­ing for arable land, also have in­creas­ingly moved into their high moun­tain val­leys. Now, wors­en­ing ex­treme weather linked to cli­mate change is mak­ing ef­forts to pre­serve the old ways even harder, the Kalasha say. “Our cul­ture and lan­guage were al­ready un­der threat and now th­ese floods have dev­as­tated half our val­ley,” Hus­sain said.

Tor­ren­tial rain­fall in July in the dis­trict - an area that usu­ally falls out­side Pak­istan’s mon­soon belt - sent flood­wa­ter pour­ing down steep moun­tain­sides, dam­ag­ing in­fras­truc­ture in the val­leys of Bum­bu­ret and Rum­bur. Birir, the third val­ley in­hab­ited by the Kalasha, was spared. The floods dam­aged tourist ho­tels, shops and houses near the nul­lah (moun­tain stream) on the val­ley floor and swept away crops of ripe maize and or­chards full of fruit trees. “This win­ter is go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult for us,” Hus­sain said. Around the world, ex­treme weather and ris­ing seas linked to cli­mate change are pre­sent­ing a grow­ing threat not just to lives and homes but to cul­tures, from no­mads in the drought-hit Sa­hel to Pa­cific Is­lan­ders who fear the loss of their en­tire na­tions.

De­scen­dants of Alexan­der the great?

For Pak­istan’s Kalasha, strug­gling to pre­serve their cul­ture is noth­ing new. They are the last sur­vivors of the peo­ple of Kafiris­tan, who were mostly con­verted to Is­lam in the nine­teenth cen­tury. Their neigh­bors across the moun­tains, in the Afghan prov­ince of Nuris­tan, are the Tale­ban, who hold sway in parts of that coun­try. Among the Kalasha, prayers are of­fered dur­ing fes­tiv­i­ties that com­mem­o­rate the chang­ing sea­sons. Their elab­o­rate rites de­mand the sac­ri­fice of dozens of goats, which is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive, par­tic­u­larly as crops are de­stroyed by ex­treme weather. “When the live­stock comes down for the win­ter what are we go­ing to feed them? If our live­stock goes, our cul­ture goes,” Hus­sain said. In Bum­bu­ret Val­ley, the Kalasha Cul­tural Cen­tre, built by the Greek gov­ern­ment in 2004, houses an im­pres­sive mu­seum of Kalash ar­ti­facts, in­clud­ing col­or­ful em­broi­dered clothes, mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, jew­elry and wooden sculp­tures.

Greek in­ter­est in the Kalasha stems from the be­lief that they are de­scen­dants of the army of Alexan­der the Great which marched through th­ese moun­tains cen­turies ago. The cen­tre was spared by the floods, thanks to a strong stone wall built around its perime­ters. For the most part, the ef­fects of cli­mate change sim­ply com­pound other prob­lems the Kalasha have faced re­cently as mi­grants move into their val­leys. “Some of th­ese mi­grants are brain­wash­ing the Kalash peo­ple. There have been sev­eral con­ver­sions to Is­lam this year alone,” Hus­sain said. The win­ter ahead - when the val­leys are cut off from the rest of the coun­try by snow - will be long and hard this year, the Kalasha warn.

In the vil­lage of Krakal, Shahida, a young Kalash woman ex­plains: “We live on goat’s milk, cheese and beans dur­ing the win­ter months. Now with our crops washed away by the floods and no fod­der for our live­stock we are very wor­ried.” The sturdy tra­di­tional con­struc­tion of the Kalash homes helped them to sur­vive the 7.5-mag­ni­tude earth­quake that struck the Hindu Kush on 26 Oc­to­ber, al­though some have cracks that must be re­paired be­fore win­ter. Most Kalash homes were also spared by the sum­mer floods as they are built higher up on the moun­tain­sides. But some tourist ho­tels and other build­ings were washed away. — Reuters

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