A Paradise on Earth - Home of the Kalash
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).