Michael Svec a Photojournalist, Documentary & Fine Art Travel Photographer, who works on assignments in Asia, Africa and Europe. Michael has journeyed the world as a photographer for more than seven years, focusing hir efforts on human rights issues and documenting the traditions of changing cultures around the world.
Kafiristan, Pakistan-Afghanistan border
The land in the east of the Hindu-Kush range that lies between Pakistan and Afghanistan was called Kafiristan (the land of Kafirs), and there dwelled the Kafirs (the islamic word for "pagan") who rejected any conversion to Muslim and followed their own religion.
“The Kalasha are the last animistic tribal people of northern Pakistan and their population is only about 3,000. Because of their religion and strong ties to their traditions, they have had to migrate to 3 isolated valleys of the Hindu Kush Mountains. ”
The Kafirs of Afghanistan were converted to Islam, but those of Pakistan who belonged to British-India after the Durand Line (1893) still followed their own religion. These are the Kalash-Kafirs and estimably 3000 of them live in three valleys of Chitral District, North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
Though men wear Chitrali hats and Shalwar-Qamiz like an ordinary Pakistani, their traditional clothes are baggy trousers made of heavy wool with a waistcoat and a wide woven belt. They wrap their feet in goat skin which protects their legs and also serves as boots. Cattlemen wear a heavy overcoat from goat's hair to avoid the cold and snow in winter.
The women's costume is unique. They dress in a long sacklike black woolen gown which reaches to their ankles and tie a woolen sash at the waist. A long necklace made of white and red plastic beads, (it used to be coral) are coiled many times around their necks. On their heads they wear an ornamental headdress (Kuppas) and a hair band (Shushutr) decorated with cowrie shells. On the headdress, in addition to 500-600 cowrie shells, small bells, buttons and brooches are also attached and these make it quite heavy.
That they have had problems moving from a barter economy to a monetary one cannot be denied and that their traditional dependence on goats is becoming less valuable is also true, but the Kalash are using their increased contact with the outside world to educate others. Their language has, for the first time, been put into a written form (they use the English alphabet). Nabaig, who is 29, says that his generation is "very keen to be Kalash, to preserve our culture. With trade we are gaining facilities. We are feeding our families". One Kalash teenager told me his culture "was over". Almost all his friends contradicted him. Those who go to the big cities to work want to return to the valleys. One of the village kasis ("guardians of knowledge") told me that now "education is very good. When I was younger there were no schools, no roads and no Jeeps. We had no clothes. We had no shoes. Now it is better." The Kalash are learning about their culture in order to preserve it. As we look out over the valley and up to Afghanistan, Imran Kabir looks up and says: "The future is bright. The dark ages are gone."
Photography by Michael Svec