There are between 3,000 and 6,000 Kalash left in the world. They live in a valley region in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. The land of the Kalash is known as Kafiristan (literally "land of the infidel"). The valleys which they inhabit are known for their beauty.
The culture of the Kalash is unique. The Kalash are polytheists who share similarities to the Olympian gods of Greece. Sexes intermix and the only hint at sexism is that women are isolated during their periods and are then required to purify. While there are cases of arranged marriages, men and women are free to purpose their own intentions.
Kalash live as subsistence farmers. There way of life has been practically unchanged for hundreds of years. They practice ancient traditions which are just now being documented.
Some Kalash have modernized and converted to Islam. While these people wish to stay near their relations (family being a major aspect of Kalash life) they are considered persona non grata.
The origins of the Kalash is highly controversial. They are a white race with many of their members having blond hair. Legends claim they are descendants from Greek and Macedonian soldiers who fought for Alexander. Some DNA testing backs up this claim. Other testing disputes this but still shows evidence of locals intermixing with Greeks.
For most of their history the Kalash have lived on good terms with their neighbors. In the 1700s they came under the rule of the Mehtars, rulers of northern now day Pakistan, who were tolerant of the Kalash as long as they paid taxes. Time seemed a foreign concept as rulers came and went. The Kalash stayed out of the affairs of others and others stayed out of the affairs of the Kalash.
Things started to change towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Nuristani, possible relations to the Kalash, were forced to convert to Islam in 1895. The Nuristanti quickly became radicalized (so radical in fact that they were the first to wage Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan).
As the twentieth century continued increase pressure was mounted against the Kalash. Higher taxes were imposed and services like loans and support were denied. Many converted to Islam for economic betterment. When the Afghan-Soviet war broke out the lands nearby became home to Jihadis on their way to Afghanistan. Seeing an oppurtunity, many Muslims organizations funded mosques and madrasah built on seized Kalash lands. When the Islamists' desired result of total conversion was not achieved tactics of ethnic cleansing were used.
The Afghanistan problem is repeating itself in the opening years of the twenty-first century. Sporadic violence breaks out against the Kalash even today. It does not help that the province they live in is known as the most radical Islamic one in Pakistan. Taliban, al Qaeda, and others know to harbor hate and their political allies keep the flames of bigotry alive.
There is some hope however. Their numbers are slightly rebounding with a high fertility rate among those who defend their culture the most. The national Pakistani government has begun a more tolerant relation with the Kalash and international aid and attention helps with some cultural preservation.
Tourism is now a major issue to the Kalash. Some see it as a savior, a source of massive funding the likes of which have never been seen before in the valleys. With money they can afford security and betterment. Some see negative affects however. After resisting outside forces for over 2,000 years will they succumb to globalized tourism? Will their cultural meanings, their every essences, be lost to hotels and Disneyland-style presentations of themselves? Time will tell.
The gorgeous valleys have protected the Kalash for thousands of years. Outside forces, ranging from hostile to good intentioned, seek to modify the Kalash way of life. Unlike the Roma there seems to be no middle ground to stand upon and thrive. Time will tell if the small population of Kalash can continue or fade away into the fog of history.
Kalash article from Picturesque Pakistan - Everything you ever wanted to know about the Kalash
KalashaPeople.org - A multilingual blog by the Kalash
Kalash Valleys - Beautiful pictures of the Kalash and their valleys
Kalash of Cultures - Transcript of a Foriegn Correspondent episode about the Kalash