The end of the Kalash is nigh

Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all the Kafir Kalash bend the knee to the one true God!

I think anyone who has given it any thought knew that this was inevitable and just a matter of time. That time seems to be now. The Kalash compensated for conversion with higher endogenous fertility, but if it is true that educated young women are converting to Islam, their ability to reproduce their numbers will decrease rapidly.

Anxious Times In Pakistan’s Pagan Valley Rising Islamic Influence Pressures An Ancient People:

Naveed is a member of the Kalash, a pagan community known for their fair skin that has long inhabited this area near the border with Afghanistan. The Kalash people, many of whom believe they are the descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great, have held on to their religious beliefs and colorful rituals for centuries, even as a sea of Islam has encircled them.

But the unique traditions of the Kalash are coming under mounting cultural pressure as the pace of conversions to Islam accelerates within Pakistan’s smallest ethnoreligious community. The Kalash population currently numbers between 3,000-4,000, and locals estimate that some 300 of their members have converted to Islam over the past three years, The Washington Post reported in November. Some local reports, however, have said the figure is not that high.

First, to preempt genetic comments: the Kalash do not descend from Europeans like Alexander’s Macedonians, as such. Rather, they are a mix of Indo-Aryan steppe ancestry, with a base of Iranian farmer (the largest component probably), along with a residual but non-trivial amount of indigenous deep South Asia ancestry (AASI in other posts). It is probably fair to say that they are among the most Indo-Aryan peoples in the Indian subcontinent, but the recent work on the Ror people indicates that some Jatt groups are similar.

Second, the fact that they are not Muslim to this day is simply due to the contingencies of history. The Afghan conquest of nearby Nuristan in the last decade of the 19th century resulted in the wholesale conversion of the pagans of that region. The fact that the Kafir Kalash were on the British side of the border meant that they were spared forced conversion.

And so almost magically deep into the 21st century, we got a window into the world of Indo-European customs and practices of the descendants of the Andronovo and Sintashta cultures, relatively isolated from the primary stream of what became Hinduism to the south and east and Zoroastrianism to the west (both of which interacted with non-Indo-European indigenous elements). The sun is setting on these people, whether through forced conversion, or the attractiveness of modernization and assimilation into the dominant culture of Pakistan.

In a few generations, they will be but faint memories to their descendants, and a single thread of the many threads of human cultural history will vanish forever.

36 thoughts on “The end of the Kalash is nigh”

  1. I have no detailed knowledge about these local developments but I am able to ask qualified questions:

    Wiki says:
    “Discover Magazine genetics blogger RAZIB KHAN has repeatedly cited information indicating that the Kalash are part of the South Asian genetic continuum with no Macedonian ethnic admixture albeit shifted towards the Iranian people.”


    “A study by Firasat et al. (2006) concluded that the Kalash lack typical Greek Haplogroups such as Haplogroup 21 (E-M35). Some of the Kalash people claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (pre-Zoroastrian-Vedic) traditions.”

    The question is why Kalash people are compared with Greeks and Greek mythology if it is apparent that their mythology is older than Greek mythology (and it is not original, either). This is wrong direction of research. Also, Alexander was not a Greek and his army consisted mostly of Serbs (for e.g. 7000 Tribals and others). Greeks were not involved in the decisive battle on the river Granik where Alexander defeated Persians and after that made the whole known world global and without borders (pan-czarstvo). More than a half of defeated Persian army consisted of Greeks.
    Speaking about Tribals in yesterday’s map (at Diocletian time, cca 280-300AC) it can be seen that Greeks still did not reach Mt Olympus and still were living only in coastal areas.

    Wiki has detailed description of Tribals:

    where can be seen that Tribalian coat of arms was part of the official Seal of Serbian Parliament in 1805. In this text and previous map were mentioned also Dardanians, cited (in ‘re-Londonistan’) as the founders of London (Milton: “O city founded by Dardanian hands!”).

  2. This is what will be done to all other peaceful non Islamic populations all over the world. This forced spread of one violent, barbaric and foreign ideology over local peaceful ones is sad and inevitable.

    1. “This forced spread of one violent, barbaric and foreign ideology over local peaceful ones is sad and inevitable.”

      Are we talking about Hinduism in India?

  3. This is what will be done to all other peaceful non Islamic populations all over the world. This forced spread of one violent, barbaric and foreign ideology over local peaceful ones is sad and inevitable.

    actually, one reason the kafirs of this part of the world remained kafir is they were violent and belligerent. a rite of manhood in the past was that a kafir male needed to kill a muslim to prove himself.

    the persistence of sindhi hindus (10%) is evidence that minorities with social cohesion can persist. but the kafirs lack the ‘high culture’ tradition to allow them to survive. in india they probably would have become integrated into hinduism and assimilated their native traditions more naturally, and likely had some greater cultural continuity.

    but bronze age indo-european religion doesn’t seem to be able to persist in this world when it’s exposed to modernity.

  4. Indian government should open up its borders to the Kalash people, enough of this shit that they have already suffered.

  5. the israeli gov. airlifts groups with sometimes tenuous connections to judaism to israel if they are persecuted. but then israel is an enthoreligious state.

    the kalash might actually persist a bit in india because they could become an endogamous caste.

    1. ” the kalash might actually persist a bit in india because they could become an endogamous caste.” — Yes, given their low numbers and unique traditions , they might actually be assigned under ST(Scheduled Tribes).

  6. India has been home to many religious groups over the past centuries (either by welcoming or by coercion). However, India is also the unique case of housing the only substantial IA tradition to have survived the onslaughts of monotheism – Hinduism.

    It should be inviting the likes of Hindus, Buddhists and Kalash from neighboring countries to come to India, and not care for hypocritical left-liberals whining about “secularism”. I may go a step further and even suggest Yazidis and Romanis.

  7. A question for linguists – which language was spoken in Andronovo?

    “And so almost magically deep into the 21st century, we got a window into the world of Indo-European customs and practices”

    I also am trying with my comments to provide this window into Indo-European (i.e. ancient Serbian) customs, language and practices.

  8. However, India is also the unique case of housing the only substantial IA tradition to have survived the onslaughts of monotheism – Hinduism.

    this is a different argument, but i think the IA tradition has transmuted a lot. but yes, it’s still in there.

  9. Semi-speculative hypothesis: Paradoxically, the Kalash were thriving when they were targets of violence. Then the Pakistani Government offered protection to them (the article even says that the Pakistani Government have banned Tablighi from entering the valley), and their numbers *seemed* all set to rise. Ironically, that proved to be the final nail in their coffin, because the lack of violence made it easier for the all-accepting pagans to convert out to what to them is just another faith.

    Moral (subject to the caveat on speculative nature): Secular liberal governance is a far bigger threat to diversity and tolerant ideologies than violent religious right.

  10. It’s apologist replies like those of INDTHINGS which give me
    huge reservations about Kashmiri accession to Pakistan. No doubt the kuffar minorities will be made second or third class citizens like they are in Pak (forced conversions, unable to reach the highest office, abduction of their daughters etc). Kashmiri independence would also likely result in anti-kuffar treatment of minorities due to Pak’s malignant influence. Which is a shame, because I still think Kashmiris deserve some degree of self-determination, but intolerant Islam will attempt to put kuffar in their place.

    1. @Karan: Non-rhetorical question: how does one justify that “Kashmiri Muslims” (that too not just Kashmiris) deserve “self-determination” as opposed to say parity better governance, but that staunch Hindus shouldn’t be also given “self-determination” by carving a nation out of India?

      1. There is no right or wrong answer to this. It is all opinion.

        There was supposed to be a plebscite post independence that was partly spoiled by Pak invasion. Also most Kashmiri Muslims clearly have reservations being in India partly due to heavy handedness of the security forces. It is not ideal in any situation to hold a people against their will (my personal opinion). Hindus largely have no reservations being in India.

        The options are:

        (1) Hold Kashmiri Muslims against their will by force, and do it militarily. The current situation.

        (2) Come to an agreement which gives adequate autonomy with protection of minority rights, and an end to the Indo-Pak conflict. (Of course this is dependent on Pak’s good behaviour which probably will never happen)

        1. That recent survey that Razib posted showed how intolerant Pak Muslims are compared to Indian Muslims. No doubt if Kashmir became a part of Pak, the kuffar there would be finished. I am completely against union with Pak for this reason.

        2. The Musharraf-Manmohan Plan recognized that there would be no change in borders. Kashmiris on both sides would have greater freedom to travel etc under the joint management of India and Pakistan.

          Most Kashmiri Muslims do not want to accede to Pakistan but neither do they want to remain with India. For them, Azaadi means independence for the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. However, this doesn’t seem practicable because Pakistan will not let go of Gilgit-Baltistan (The people of G-B are also not ethnically Kashmiri and don’t want to be held hostage to this conflict). Neither will India let go of the territory it holds. The most practical solution is greater autonomy for the Valley and greater ease of travel across the LOC.

          1. Those days are over. Also, I am pretty sure even before Mumbai 26/11 Manmohan would/could have gone through with it. Unlike Moshraff, Manmohan was not a military dictator and was mindful of the fact that he was mostly a political appointee . It would be akin to Imran Khan trying to “settle” Kashmir without the Pak army.

            Anyway 26/11 has changed everything. Even when this current hyper nationalistic Indo-Pak thing dies a bit , i don think any politician in India would ever have the political capital (including Modi) to “settle” Kashmir. There would mostly argue around the edges on Indo-Pak issue, but any Kashmir settlement should be forgotten by both sides.

    2. Its true Pak is less tolerant than India, but in the same way India is less tolerant than Bangaladesh.

      I don’t think anybody would argue Bangaladesh is then entitled to Assam, or West Bengal, or perhaps Bihar.

  11. I read somewhere that Kalash folks brew their own liquor, which they consume during their festivals. Would be interesting to know how all this works out vis-v the strict anti-liquor laws of Pakistan.

    1. in the article they talk about their wine and how muslim kalash complain about it.

      the kalash seem to be succumbing more to what secular jews in the USA are succumbing too…intermarriage, not forced conversion. some jews have said some level of antisemitism was positive for jewish identity since it kept groups apart.

  12. Yeah its interesting as to how different groups react to a political system which sort of advantages one group over other, especially if there is lack of any wider international support system. Like for Kalash folks to even remain non Muslims in Pakistan in midst of overwhelming muslim population ,in a Muslim state,is strange. Its different in case of let say Pakistan christian population which still has some international support in form of NGOs and other European Bodies and all. In India, even when there are sort of some protection here and there for tribal bodies, tribes are either Christian-ing or Hindu-ising and losing their tribal-ness anyway

    What makes one group sort of double down on their identity and not convert in face of serious odds (Jews,Ahmedis), while makes another group sort of convert to the “state” religion (Zoroastrian–>Islam, Hindus/Buddhist–>Islam) which obviously gives them certain advantages, this perhaps is the most fascinating question.

      1. Probably 3/4 of schoolgirls in so-called Slavic countries looks like this girl.

  13. I don’t think Kalash face state pressure to convert to Islam. It is more likely the societal pressure to conform to majoritarian religion. And to be fair to Islam, it is not exclusively a problem of Islam. All Semitic religions have this problem because they have been founded on the dogma that theirs is the only true religion. Cultural biodiversity has no chance in hell of surviving in the suffocating homogenization of Semitic religions.

    Christianity may look benign in 21st century, but it was far from benign during the age of inquisitions, when it harvested souls with or without the consent of crop owners.

    A lighter version of my-faith-is-the-only-true-faith argument is the my-religion-is-a-complete-way-of-life argument. I think this is the challenge Kalash are up against. When they are constantly pointed out as following a non-standard way of life, they are bound to gravitate to mainstream culture sooner of later .

    In any case, living as an ethnic minority in a sea of Islamic population is a game of Russian roulette, even when the surrounding Islamic society is supposedly modernist like Pakistan. You may have lived peacefully for 50 generation among a majority Muslim population, but there is still a chance that this Muslim population will suddenly go bonkers after being stricken by a bout of intense fanaticism, and wipe out the culturally-different strands from its midst. Case in point – Yazidis.

  14. Sorry, typo. I meant “living as a religious minority” in the above comments.

  15. Just wanted to put a good word in for my Kalasha brethren: their language (which they call bAshA < Skt. bhASA) is arguably the most conservative of all Indo-Aryan dialects.

    Extremely atypical for the Dardic sub-group of NW IA prakRta-s they retain voiced aspiration! And betraying their bonafide IE antecedents (like Kashmiri) create affricate aspirates too (dzh, tsh). I think the baseline affricative (/ts/ < Old IA /c/, i.e. "ch" sound in "chin"), a transformation that Kashmiri and Marathi underwent too. But /dz/ was probably borrowed from Tibeto-Burman (cf. khang-chen-dzong, the Tibetan name of the 3rd highest Himalayan peak) where it is ubiquitous.

    Nonetheless creation of new aspiration even for borrowed phonemes is a smoking gun of Indo-European-ness. Aspiration is the IE superpower! And all uvular consonants in Kalasha are in (Turkic? or Arabic) loanwords. And they retain the entire Vedic retroflex series with little modification!

    The rAjataraGgiNI frequently calls the darada-s, wine-drinking mleccha-s who were a bad influence on the Kashmiri court and in some cases tried to usurp power too. However, I apologize to modern day kalAsha-s for pitAmAh kalhaNa's remarks, for their speech is pitridhvanyUpamA — the best echo of our forefathers.

    1. Interesting. Would you be interested in contributing to an Indo-Aryan/Indo-European blog/site I am looking? Linguistics/Sanskrit/Indo Aryan History are all good topics and information should be collated somewhere.

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