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Pakistan's Forgotten Pagans Get Their Due

The Kalash, who claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great's invading soldiers, have lived in isolation in Pakistan for centuries. Now the tiny pagan tribe is getting long-due recognition as a distinct religious and ethnic group.
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Every May, the Kalash celebrate the arrival of summer with the Chilam Joshi festival. The community gathers for dance and music, showers homes with flowers, and offers libations of milk.
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Every May, the Kalash celebrate the arrival of summer with the Chilam Joshi festival. The community gathers for dance and music, showers homes with flowers, and offers libations of milk.

The Kalash are easy to spot. Many wear rings in their hair and sport brightly colored hats. The women sometimes have tattooed faces and wear black robes with colorful embroidery. They speak Kalash, also known as Kalasha, a Dardic language that is a subgroup of the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in northwest Pakistan, in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and in eastern Afghanistan.
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The Kalash are easy to spot. Many wear rings in their hair and sport brightly colored hats. The women sometimes have tattooed faces and wear black robes with colorful embroidery.

They speak Kalash, also known as Kalasha, a Dardic language that is a subgroup of the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in northwest Pakistan, in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and in eastern Afghanistan.

The Kalash face a growing battle to save their traditional ways of life.   Their numbers have dwindled over the past few decades due to violence, conversions to Islam, and natural disasters. Their home area, in Pakistan's remote and restive northwest, is also extremely poor. Many Kalash rely on the small numbers of tourists who brave the treacherous mountain roads to make a living.   Zada hopes formal recognition of the group will convince the government to allocate funds for education, which he says is "key" to protecting the group's heritage and language.   The Kalash are known by conservative Muslims in Pakistan as "black kafiris," meaning nonbelievers. In recent years, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militant groups have attacked and killed members of the community.
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The Kalash face a growing battle to save their traditional ways of life.
 
Their numbers have dwindled over the past few decades due to violence, conversions to Islam, and natural disasters. Their home area, in Pakistan's remote and restive northwest, is also extremely poor. Many Kalash rely on the small numbers of tourists who brave the treacherous mountain roads to make a living.
 
Zada hopes formal recognition of the group will convince the government to allocate funds for education, which he says is "key" to protecting the group's heritage and language.
 
The Kalash are known by conservative Muslims in Pakistan as "black kafiris," meaning nonbelievers. In recent years, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militant groups have attacked and killed members of the community.

The Kalash are the last survivors of the people of Kafiristan -- or Land of Unbelievers, an area that encompassed northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan before the region was divided by the Durand Line, the border established between Afghanistan and British India in the 19th century.   The Kalash in Pakistan share close cultural and linguistic links with their kin in Afghanistan known as Nuristanis, who live mostly in the eastern province of Nuristan.   The inhabitants of Kafiristan were repeatedly targeted by successive Afghan kings who ransacked the area and forced locals to convert to Islam. The name of the area was subsequently changed to Nuristan, which means land of the enlightened.   The Kalash, who remained in British India and then Pakistan, were shielded by the border.
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The Kalash are the last survivors of the people of Kafiristan -- or Land of Unbelievers, an area that encompassed northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan before the region was divided by the Durand Line, the border established between Afghanistan and British India in the 19th century.
 
The Kalash in Pakistan share close cultural and linguistic links with their kin in Afghanistan known as Nuristanis, who live mostly in the eastern province of Nuristan.
 
The inhabitants of Kafiristan were repeatedly targeted by successive Afghan kings who ransacked the area and forced locals to convert to Islam. The name of the area was subsequently changed to Nuristan, which means land of the enlightened.
 
The Kalash, who remained in British India and then Pakistan, were shielded by the border.

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