Friday, June 17, 2005

Descendants of Alexander's army struggle to survive modern incursions

Guardian Unlimited: "Reputed to have descended from the armies of Alexander, the Kalasha have lived for thousands of years in a nest of idyllic valleys near the Afghan border. But their identity is being threatened by Muslim missionaries, tourism and neglect by central government.

The Kalasha are the last remnants of the population of Kafiristan, the ancient 'land of infidels' that straddled the borders of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. About 4,000 of them survive in three majestic valleys that awe visitors as a sort of paradise lost.

Turquoise streams rush through leafy glades of giant walnut trees and swaying crops. Clusters of simple houses cling to steep forested slopes. Compared with many compatriots beyond their valleys, the Kalasha are charmingly liberal: drinking wine, holding dancing festivals and worshipping a variety of gods. Women wear intricately beaded headdresses, not burkas, and may choose their husband.

But, a new community centre financed by the Greeks, which aims to provide everything from schooling to surgery, has reignited debate about how best to save the Kalasha way of life. Some community leaders feel the Greek initiative is good-hearted, but wrong-headed. 'I don't blame them for wanting to help, but that help could damage us,' said Saifullah Jan in Rumbur valley. 'There is too much interference. Our people are getting spoilt. They should just let us be.'

Theories of ancestry with Alexander the Great are fuelled by some Kalashas' fair skin and Caucasian features, but ethnologists say the link remains unproven."