JUNE 2001- Contents
Travel & Adventure
the-south-asian.com June 2001
Page 5 of 6
The Kalasha of Pakistan (cntd)
Problems of Minority Development and Environmental Management
By Peter Parkes
Archaic Wisdom, Contemporary Ignorance
Kafiristan, the land of Kalash, romanticised by the visiting foreign researchers and tourism promotion agencies in the country, has been fast moving towards the brink of bankruptcy (Alauddin 1992: 217)
Contemporary accounts of the Kalasha - including ethnography, development prospectuses, and travel journalism - reiterate a handful of romantic motifs: mysterious 'Aryan' origins, or legendary Greek descent from Alexander the Great; ancient shamanic mysteries; prehistoric 'children of nature'; an arcadian 'lost world'. These familiar tropes of Shangri-la, earlier applied to the Afghan Kafirs or the Burusho of Hunza, are in fact quite recent exotic configurations for the Kalasha. Sir George Scott Robertson, one of the first European visitors to their valleys, wholly disparaged what he called 'an idolatrous tribe of slaves' (1896: 50), and similar perjorative comments on Kalasha subjugation and servility, reflecting conditions of abject serfdom as well as local Chitrali prejudices, characterized most other frontier memoires of the colonial era.
As a German anthropologist, Jürgen Frembgen has disturbingly suggested, anthropological treatment of Kalasha culture also ambiguously draws and develops upon these archaizing themes; and such scholarly amplifications are then fed back again into ethno-touristic literature, sometimes to be re-enacted as a 'staged authenticity' by Kalasha:
"If the Kalasha live up to the expectations of travel agencies and tourists such as these, then they are on their way to degenerating into a collection of odd people. This is what most tourism planners apparently would like for marketing purposes... The foreigners are fascinated by the 'paradise experience' of a jointly performed ritual in which the mythical prehistoric times become present again.. [And] to the inhabitants of a paradise on earth, where people live together happily, naturally, simply, and in harmony, belong the shamans" (Frembgen 1993: 50)
Like the beguiling 'simple Kalasha' of the feudal era, there are indeed staged 'shamanic Kalasha' ready to become entranced for a fee, and elders prepared to arrange extra-seasonal performances of women's festival dances. As Frembgen further indicates, anthropological representations of Kalasha traditional knowledge have since developed a life of their own through semi-scholarly and popular redactions, which are now sensed and reproduced by kazis or 'wizards' as revealed tradition. Such complicity of popular anthropological accounts with exploitative tourism is more angrily denounced by Rovillé (1988: 158): "academic descriptions of the Kalash are basically false... a myth of the Kalash noble savage has been created which has fuelled the tourist agencies looking for exotic material to provide for their clients."
Yet, anthropologists have at least indicated that Kalasha traditional subsistence is evidently both situationally efficient and 'environmentally sustainable' within a comparative regional context, as I have indicated above. Development and government agencies, on the other hand, pressed by their sponsors to intervene with environmentalist programmes, alternatively need to justify their showcase projects in the Kalasha valleys. Romantic representations, also evoked to advertise their programmes and solicit sponsorship, thus need to be counter-balanced by a more penetrating and sobering apprehension of indigenous helplessness.
As I have documented elsewhere (Parkes 2000), reiterated accounts of Kalasha mismanagement of environmental resources – such as their mortgaged sale of walnut trees to outsiders in the past and their current devastation of oak forests for sale (as grimly documented by Alauddin 1992) - are often based on misconceptions, partly encouraged with the connivance of Kalasha leaders eager to gain contracts from new programmes of government assistance and NGO development. In at least one community (Rumbur valley), on the other hand, there has been a concerted mobilization of traditional mechanisms of community control to safeguard rights to both cedar and oak forests, hazarded for many years by the claims of nearby Chitrali villagers. In the words of Saifullah Jan, who campaigned for over seven years to gain community rights to these forests, "Kalasha don’t need money or technology so much as legal protection to safeguard their environment".
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