The Kalash indigenous community is one of the several mystical peoples that inhabit this land. Learning about the Kalash tribe brings wonderment and curiosity about its practices and beliefs. Among its traditions, ‘Suri Jagek’, or observing the sun, has been recognised by Unesco as an intangible cultural heritage. We welcome this move, seeing it as a step towards harmonising people by bringing awareness. It should also help sensitise people towards the need for protecting indigenous cultures and traditions of the country rather than sidelining and eventually letting them go extinct.
The status granted by Unesco means that it recognises the unique Kalash tradition of, essentially, complex stargazing as a part of Pakistan’s cultural heritage, localised in the Chitral Valley in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It is considered a central practice for the tribe as it dictates the timing of social events such as festivals, animal husbandry, rituals and farming practices. Similar respect and recognition should also be granted by Pakistan for the Kalash people who have tilled this land for longer than the ancestors of some Pakistanis.
There are several dying traditions, customs and languages within the entire Pakistan landscape. If not rescued, the eclectic history of Pakistan risks becoming bland and boring. All cultures and traditions need to be regarded for their uniqueness. We are at a delicate time in history where tolerance needs to be expanded beyond only those who have had the opportunity to gain exposure to the outside world. Instead, we need to look within and build brotherhood amongst groups. Many minority groups in Pakistan have specifically been targeted by extremists, including the Kalash. It will be meaningful for Pakistan to look to Unesco for guidance on how to best protect and serve this indigenous cultural heritage so that it is not erased from our history.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2018.
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