Kafir Kalash

The Wearers of Black Robe

In Pictures: Kalash Spring Festivities

Spring in Kalash Valley is awe inspiring - green leaves sprouting all over the valley, ice cold water freshly melted from the snow gushing down the water channels. men, women and children, dressed in brightly coloured dresses flock up and sing songs, dance and make merry. BBC News has captured the Spring festivities from  beginning to end. Herein under, the same site is reproduced on one page, with courtesy of BBC News, for a complete rundown for the interest of the viewers. Text and photos: Chiade O'Shea

Tucked away in the mountains of northern Pakistan, the tiny Kalash minority celebrate the end of winter in May each year with the Joshi (spring) festival. It is a time to give thanks for the end of the harsh weather and to celebrate the arrival of the more productive spring months. Until recently the Kalash had no calendars or watches. They work out the festival dates by the position of the sun.

Greek Influence: The Kalash culture has survived on farming lush valleys of northern Pakistan's Hindu Kush mountain range since it was founded by settling armies of Alexander the Great. Historians still argue over the legitimacy of the Kalash's claim, from oral history, that they are the direct descendants of Alexander's generals. Nonetheless, many happily list similarities between Kalash and Greek culture including common deities, architectural details, music and fair skin.

Goat Ssacrifice: The Kalash worship a creator, Khodai, and lesser gods who are responsible for different aspects of family and working life. Nature plays a central spiritual role. Sacrifices of goats and rituals using dairy products are intended to please spirits. Here models of ibex and paintings of goats symbolising fertility are decorated with flowers and walnut branches at a temple to Jeshtak the goddess who protects family, pregnant mothers and marriage.

Milk Day: The first day of Joshi is Milk Day. People go from house to house, dancing and singing to announce their arrival. Each household offers milk that has been saved for 10 days before the festival. The Kalash sing to the goats to eat up the grass and produce plentiful milk so they can drink it and be strong.

Small versions: Here children enjoy milk and treats of special breads. Biscuits and sweets are increasingly popular as shops slowly become part of valley life. Children wear small versions of adult clothes from the age of about four when they are officially welcomed to the community. Before this, they wear simpler garments.  Women wear distinctive costumes, while the men have adopted the more typical Pakistani shalwar khameez (trousers and shirt).

Tourist Attraction: Kalash women wear new clothes for the festival, embroidered with traditional bright yarns and often a larger headdress. The elaborate costumes now attract amateur photographers and tourists, but have always been a part of daily life for Kalash women.

Cowry to Dayglo: This ornate headdress is worn on festival days. It lies over the crown of the normal headband. Some commentators have lamented the arrival of acrylic threads and plastic beads to this ancient culture. But the ornate patterns show a history of trade entering the Kalash valley - from mother of pearl to plastic buttons, bells to dayglo threads. At one time, the now-iconic cowry shells were a new import from Karachi's traders hundreds of miles to the south.

Complex Rhythms: Festival drummers compete to make faster and more complicated rhythms, giving the dancing a lively edge. Spectators cheer on the competition. Boys and girls tease each other in good humour and barge each other's lines of dancing friends.

Not Taboo: Male singers at the festival are rewarded with money and the occasional kiss. Unlike most of Pakistan, where even eye contact between unrelated men and women can be taboo, the Kalash express themselves freely. Children of both sexes play together and women breastfeed in public. The Kalash often complain that their behaviour is misinterpreted as a sign of sexual promiscuity.


Shaman Shout: As hours of dancing reach a climax on the final day, men and women separate in dancing areas and each take branches of walnut to wave as they dance. At the shout of a Shaman, they throw their branches in the air.


| BBC News: In pictures: Kalash spring festival | Kalash Harvest Festival |

This page was created on 15 June 2006

Copyright©JalalsPages - 2005