Culture of: Kalash Textile, Pakistan-Afghanistan Border
Words by Sayali Goyal, photos by Zahra Amber Khan
Between Chitral, Pakistan and Nuristan, Afghanistan in the northern Pakistan-Afghanistan border region lies a valley that’s home to the Kalash tribe. There are many origin stories about this community; them being the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great is the most common. In a community of 4000 people, about 100 are artisans, still practicing their ancient craft of backstrap weaving. The colourful Kalash are completely different from their Muslim neighbourhoods in terms of their dress, cuisine, religious festivals, rituals and arts. In Kalasha culture, love, poetry, Shamanism and spirituality relate to the Greek God, Pan. Photos in this article are taken in Chitral, Pakistan.
Speaking of their traditional outfits, women wear black gowns decorated with flower arrangements in neon threads and hand-woven belts. They embellish this with beads, cowry shells, buttons and metal ornaments, and wear headgear called shushat. Formal headgear called kupas is worn on special occasions. On the occasion of Lawak Baik, men dress up like women and women dress up like men. Kalasha food includes walnut bread eaten with Yakhni soup. Maize bread with beans is another staple food. During Chowmas (New Year), Kalasha Temples are painted with reed pens made of oak and juniper soot.
The process of weaving starts with sheep shearing, which is done with hand shears. The fleece is removed in one piece. Second cuts are made to produce short fibres. The wool is then cleaned to remove any vegetable matter, such as sticks and straws. Lanolin is removed by hand washing and drying, followed by spinning and combing. The traditional process of natural dying uses dyes extracted from walnuts, pomegranate, turmeric, henna etc. Nowadays, the community uses a mix of synthetic and natural dyed yarn. Fibres are used to produce unique artefacts—however, the Kalash lack market access. The main challenge is to maximise the benefits to the community and minimise its effects on the environment. Zahra Amber Khan is in the process of setting up a social enterprise that would bring the Kalash textile products to the international market.