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A paradise on earth

The book is a compilation of selected papers presented at the Third International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference held in Chitral.

For many years some of the most outstanding destinations of ethnic tourism have been tribes and peoples such as the Toraja (Celebes), Tuareg, Eskimo, Indians in North, Middle, and South America (for example, the San Blas Kuna in Panama), Australian Aborigines, and the Polynesian islanders. In South, West, and Central Asia, however, individual and group travellers unequivocally focus on the archaeology, art, and nature of the respective countries. This region, which was predominantly characterised by ancient civilisations, is also travelled by the ethnic tourists, who chiefly visit villages, observe dances and ceremonies, and buy arts and crafts. Tibet, as well as the Hunzukuts in the Karakoram in Pakistan (as a combination of natural and ethnic tourism) and the Kalasha at the outermost north western border of the country, are the most popular destinations. The minority of the Kalasha (approximately 2,500 people, two-third of which are non-Muslim) living in three valleys of the remote Hindu Kush belong, together with the ethnic groups mentioned at the beginning, to the so-called ‘fourth world.’ Valene Smith remarks on these destinations of ethnic tourism: ‘Frequently these tourist targets are far removed from the ‘beaten path’ and attract only a limited number of visitors motivated by curiosity and elite peer approval’ (1977: 2).

The Development of Ethnic Tourism to the Kalasha

In comparison with neighbouring ethnic groups of north Pakistan, the Kalasha are scientifically very much explored: at least 60 publications (monographs and articles) are recorded. They are well-known in Pakistan as well as in western countries due to travel literature and tourism advertising. Attention has been focused on them because they remained the last ‘non-believers’ (kafirs) preserving a pagan culture, which the neighbouring Nuristanis (or Kafir as they are called in scientific literature) lost in the process of Islamisation. One can agree with A.S. Ahmed when he writes: ‘There has been, perhaps, more speculation on, and fascination with the Kafirs, than with any other race in Central and South Asia’ (1986: 23). Still, anthropologists particularly like doing research among minority cultures — this shows the case of the Kalasha, too. There were about 20 anthropologists in the field (some continue their studies even today) and some younger colleagues planning to do so.

Besides these, a considerable number of individual travellers have visited this area since the 1960s and partly tried to live together with the locals for a longer time.

A.S. Ahmed (1986:27) says obviously referring to the 1980s: ‘The density of visitors to native population is probably among the highest in the world including the obligatory Japanese anthropologist and Cambridge female undergraduates in Kalash dresses, gone quite native.’ Fascinated by a still pagan population that tries to preserve its traditional culture, hippies frustrated by their own civilisation and presumably one or another anthropologist imagined themselves to be in an ideal land, an Arcadia. Here, like elsewhere, the lines between ‘alternative travellers,’ adventure tourists, hobby anthropologists, and professional anthropologists are often very blurred — particularly from the perspective of the Kalasha. It is quite interesting to note that the local Pakistani tourists and the so-called study tourists, who since the 1970s have often come for day trips to the Kalasha valley of Bumboret in the course of their programme, never reach an intercultural dialogue. Concerning the touristic development and exploitation, Maureen Lines (1988:191) writes:

The road which opened up Bumburet in the ’70s soon brought this, the widest of the three valleys, to the attention of visitors, and before long unscrupulous entrepreneurs from outside the valley, ventured in, tricked the local people out of a number of their walnut trees..., and some of their land, on which they built ramshackle and primitive hotels, and left the Kalash little chance to make even a few rupees from the new and meagre tourist industry. It should be added that tourism gives only a few Kalasha a second occupation worth mentioning; as Karl Wutt remarks in a letter, ‘especially to those, who are anyway relatively rich, for instance some christianized and a few persons converted to Islam who exploit their own people and present them to foreign visitors.’ ________________________________________ It is quite interesting to note that the local Pakistani tourists and the sostudy tourists, who since the 1970s have often come for day trips to the Kalasha valley of Bumboret in the course of their programme, never reach an intercultural dialogue. ________________________________________ The Kalash in the mirror of tourism advertising

The adoption of Kalasha culture in travelogues, tourist handbooks, catalogues, reports, and films of journalists unveils something about the exotic points of attraction, dreams, and the longing of the individual — and group travellers, and thereby the motivations to embark on such a tour. Light fiction like this, which provides very little information, is mostly the only source of preparation for the concerned area. It influences the tourists’ expectations as well as their actual experience and behaviour. In German speaking countries, the chapter on the Kalasha in Helmut Uhlig’s book Am Thron der Gotter (1978) seems to have been used as a guide for textwriters of travel brochures and for journalists. In English speaking countries, and in Italy, Fosco Maraini’s richly illustrated description of the Dionysical and paradisiacal life of the Kalasha in his Where Four Worlds Meet (1964/original Italian edition 1963) will have

inspired several to take a trip. Many French tourists have read the books of the anthropologists JeanLoude and Viviane Livre before coming to the Kalasha.

The ‘Greeks’ of Asia

An important aspect of the Kalasha image in tourism advertising is — as with the Hunzukuts — their alleged descent from the soldiers of Alexander the Great, and in connection with that the emphasis on blond hair, light skin colour, and blue eyes.’

The journalist Hilmar Pabel sees the ethnogenesis as quite simple and clearly attributes it to Alexander’s soldiers as a ‘historic fact’: ‘The Kalash are a living proof of their successful endeavours to gain the favour of the local beauties’ (1984: 34). The ‘myth of the Greek blood’ of the Kalasha and neighbouring Kafirs (Nuristani) was mentioned again and again in scientific publications in the past, and recently even in two dubious notes of Kurt Horedt (1990, 1991) in the otherwise respectable Mitteilungen der Berliner Gesellschaft fur Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, one of which bears the title ‘Macedonians at the Hindu Kush.’ A Kalasha girl and two children are depicted on a new poster printed in 1997 by WJ Classics (Rawalpindi), the accompanying text leaves no doubt:

The Kalash tribe, remnant of the Greek army which accompanied Alexander the Great in 326 BC. The fair features of the Kalash race are specialty obvious in some of the young children with blond hair and blue eyes. Their centuries’ old traditions and culture has not changed with the passage of time.

Tourists as Voyeurs: Festivals, Dancing Women, and Shamans

In the afore mentioned light-fiction-feeding-ethnic tourism the Kalasha are very idealised. The special emphasis on their animism (‘Naturreligion’) and figural art and, above all, on their festivals, rituals, and dances, is noticeable. As main attractions, the experience of the spring festival and the dances of female groups and shamans are extolled. In brochures of Studiosus Studienreisen ‘The Special Tour — The Spring Festival in Chitral’ is one of the headlines. This event is called one of ‘the few original nonfestivities in our age.’ It is concealed that the local Pakistani travel agency has to pay its contribution to the administration in Chitral Town.

The Kalasha women have the reputation of being especially beautiful and elegant. A.B. Rajput writes for example: ‘Beaming with healthiness and favoured by a clear and fresh complexion, the women can be counted among the most appealing representatives of female beauty’ (1964: 3). In a trekking-guide it can be read: ‘The Kalash women are often very attractive and have an outgoing manner that is disarming, delightful, and unexpected in a region where purdah is generally practiced’ (Swift 1990: 93).

For photographs for tourists they mostly pose only for money, which is sometimes decently mentioned. Women of the still pagan Kalasha, not commiting themselves to purdah rules, have also attracted the curiosity of the Pakistani tourists, who — in the feeling of absolute liberty — want to admire and photograph the women extensively’ (Jettmar 1975: 327).

Annoyances by tourists not seldom seem to get out of hand and become a virtual chase after women. More commercialised relations between hosts and guests are hardly to be imagined. The women are highly valued as photographic subjects during dances, which originally belonged to religious rituals. The geographer Klaus Haserodt remarks on this topic:

One has built rest-houses for tourists (in Berer and Bumboret), where nearby unveiled women and girls show excerpts from old ritual dances accompanied by simple songs and drum beats of the men. Such, ‘shows’ have been taking place for quite a number of years now plus an officially confirmed considerable collection of fees, especially for tourist groups. These fees are considered a reimbursement for the earlier voluntary contributions, yet they lead – understandably — more and more to corruption. (1989: 158, 161).

Here religion becomes commercialised. The dances artificially presented for the tourists in Bumboret and Birir (in the Ramboor valley they were in the meantime forbidden by Saifullah Jan, the official representative of the Kalasha) transmit a ‘staged authenticity’ (Dean MacCannel). If the Kalasha live up to the expectations of travel agencies and tourists such as these, then they are on their way to degeneration into a collection of odd people.

This is what most tourism planners apparently would like for marketing purposes. Until the end of the 1970s, some strategists of the tourism industry demanded a permanent performance of exotic attractions out of the ‘stock’ of traditional customs in the sense of a perfectly organised show ignoring the annual cycle of festivals.

The Kalasha complied with this concept, as Graham Hancock writes: ‘It is thus possible to watch both harvest and crop-sowing festivals in the same day with a few wedding dances thrown in for good measure’ (1983: 68). Even if something might have changed in the attitude of travellers in the course of the more considerate, ‘soft’ or ‘adapted’ tourism propagated in recent years, there is no doubt that the voyeuristic interest in rituals and especially in dances has remained. The foreigners are fascinated by the ‘paradise experience’ of a jointly performed ritual in which the mythical prehistoric times become present again.

A further aspect is attributed to the dances of the Kalasha women, who have been performing for tourists for a fee since the end of the 1950s. ‘Writers’ focus extensively on ‘orgiastic ritual dances’ in which people drink wine, and they ascribe to the Kalasha ‘lose moral values.’ It is perhaps due to this image that a traveller like Hans von Meiss, who already at the end of the 1950s, would go so far as to slap a half-grown-up girl jokingly on her bottom.’

In another travelogue it is written: ‘Their women are not regarded as prudish. This inspires the fantasy and mood of our Muslim companions’ (Kregel 1986: XXII). And Maureen Line observes: ‘Numerous jeeps and wagons crammed with young Pakistani males head towards the area in search of sexual adventures with the Kalash women who are erroneously perceived as being promiscuous’ (1994: 85). Alarming consequences are reported by a Gerard Roville (1988: 164), who writes:

The young girls, and preferably the unmarried, are employed as servants by businessmen or officials in Rawalpindi or Islamabad for miserable wages, and being non-Muslims they have a reputation for being lose women, at least in the big cities, and are wanted for this rather than for simple household duties. This reputation appears to have grown among the city population and is threatening to lead to forms of internal tourism oriented towards prostitution.

Enjoyment of the pleasures of life and sexual liberty belong to the paradises of which the literati write about and to which many travellers are longing for (cf. the myth of the South Pacific). Among the Kalasha, this image certainly intensifies their position as a religious outsider within the Pakistani society — they are becoming an indecent curiosity depicted on postcards, posters, and, since 1994, also on Tshirts sold by Islamabad’s Naksh boutique.

To the inhabitants of a paradise on earth, where people live together happily, naturally, simply, and in harmony, belong the shamans. One should think about the boom of books published on shamanism in the field of popular anthropological and esoteric literature. The trance specialists of the Kalasha are emphasised and described in many travelogues.

For the Shaman, the emotive word ‘magician of the mountains’ (H. Uhlig) is used; he is also called ‘magic priest,’ ‘shaman priest,’ and so on.

The Discovery of Ethno

A feeling of uneasiness with their own culture and the search for naturalness also led painters to the Kalasha. Uwe Topper (1962, 1963, 1966), Horst Beck (1964), and Mohammad Bugi (1980 and end of the 1980s), to name a few, were inspired by the local ornamental art and wooden sculptures.

Bugi (also written Boogy), a painter belonging to Lahore, has recently tried to revitalise the ‘primitive’ tribal art of the Kalasha. Aware that many effigies were stolen by unscrupulous art dealers and eventually reached western museums often through winding paths (though some had already been sold since the end of the ’50s by the Kalasha themselves), Bugi encouraged carvers — like Mirzamast from the village of Brun in the Bumboret valley — to take up adze and knife again and prompted children to paint.

Books & Authors reserves the right to edit excerpts from books for reasons of clarity and space. ________________________________________

Excerpted with permission from

Proceedings of the Third International Hindu Kush Cultural Conferences

Edited by Israr ud Din

The Oxford University Press, Karachi

ISBN 978-0-19-579889-0

540pp. Rs795


Israr-ud-Din is a retired professor and former chairman of the Department of Geography at the University of Peshawar.

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