Journey to Chitral !
Journey to Chitral
Mirza and Habibullah go to Chitral to talk to the D.C., get permission to enter Kalash and check on horse food. Ayesha and I spend hours looking for anything for the horses to eat in Drosh. We walk through the fields trying to locate where wheat has been threshed so we can get some boose. We comb the bazaars for flour, barley, anything! Never thought we'd be so happy to find a sack of barley. The flies in the barren lot behind the hotel where the horses are staked are loathsome. The stench of their old bread and barley shit is nauseating.
The next morning we leave Drosh. Horse's withers are bad. Coming down the Lowari Pass Shokot's withers have started developing the same type of hard lump that Horse started with. Mirza rides Hercules, Ayesha rides Kodak, Habibullah and I walk leading Horse and Shokot.
We stop at an animal husbandry hospital on the outskirts of Drosh to see what can be done for the horses. The dispenser washes their wounds with the same orange wash we've been using, powders them with the same white mixture and has a boy bring out a bottle of oxytetracycline. There is only one shot left in the bottle. The rubber seal has already been punctured, but he plunges the dark green fluid into Horse's neck.
The boy goes to the bazaar to bring more medicine. We have tea with the dispenser on the veranda. The liquid in the fresh bottle is a pale translucent amber color. He gives Shokot a shot. Mirza and Ayesha leave Drosh ponying Horse and Shokot. Habibullah and I remain to get supplies and hire a jeep to take us to Ayun. It's enjoyable doing business in the bazaar with Habibullah. He does the bulk of the talking. No one knows I'm foreign. Just a couple of simple Pathans from down country. It's nice not being the show for a change, just to relax in a part of it.
Habibullah and I hire a jeep to take us and the gear to Ayun. He will find another vehicle there, Insh'Allah, to take him on to Kafiristan. I plan to meet Mirza and Ayesha at the old suspension bridge that spans the river. We pass them on the road. An hour later I get off before where the bridge, built in 1927, crosses the muddy, rushing Kunar/Chitral River.
Beyond the bridge the road becomes dusty dirt on the west bank leading on to Ayun. It saves the distance of first riding to Chitral before backtracking to Ayun. Mirza had obtained our passes to enter Kafiristan when he went to Chitral with Habibullah. My job is to wait at the bridge to help them cross the four horses over. I sit on a grassy hillside overlooking the river with stream-lets of clear cool water gurgling through the short grass around me and tumbling down the rocky banks to join the swirling river. I smoke a cigarette and idly watch some grazing sheep.
Mirza, Ayesha and the horses arrive shortly after noon. Before crossing they join me on the grass for lunch—a can of sardines, crackers and water. Mirza wants to take pictures documenting our crossing of the suspension bridge but it is not to be. Before we can shoot anything a soldier comes up to us and tells us that it is illegal to photograph the bridge. He is an older fellow, approaching middle age and a potbelly, who could probably only be posted in such a useless post as guarding some stupid bridge (In all fairness we are right on the war sensitive Afghanistan border).
We show him our letters from Islamabad, first the English one to duly impress, then the Urdu one so he can read it. He's rude. He doesn't seem to be able to read Urdu very well though.
"We don't give a shit about your stupid bridge, anyway," I tell him. "We just want pictures of our horses crossing it. What importance can it have? It's an antique. That is why we want the pictures."
Mirza and I discuss shooting him but wisely decide just to head on. We still have a long, hot ride to Kafiristan and besides, bullets are costly.
After crossing the bridge I lead Horse. He is becoming lethargic and needs to be coaxed along. The bank of the river is rocky and 40 feet below us. The water is impossible to get to. In half an hour I decide to try to cadge a ride on the next jeep passing us to get into the valley of Kafiristan before the horses do, to make sure all arrangements are satisfactory.
Kafiristan (Kalash) is the home of the Kafir Kalash—primitive pagan tribes known as the Wearers of the Black Robes. Their origin is cloaked in controversy. Legend says that five soldiers from the legions of Alexander the Great settled there and are the progenitors of the Kalash.
They live in three valleys in small villages built on the hillsides near the banks of the Kalash River and its tiny tributaries in houses of rough hewn logs, double storied because of the steepness of the slopes. The lower portions are usually for animals and fodder storage for the long harsh winters. They practice a religion of nature worship. It is the only area in Pakistan or Afghanistan that hasn't been converted to Islam, though that is slowly changing with the times. Across the mountains in Afghanistan the Kafirs were converted in the 1890s by Amir Abdur Rahman, the 'Iron Amir' of Kabul, and Kafiristan (land of unbelievers) became Nuristan (land of light).
Fifteen minutes after walking on ahead of Mirza and Ayesha, a jeep passes. It slows for me and I climb in. On the front seat sit two men along with the driver. The older of them, with a bushy, brown, wavy beard and wearing a pakul cap, asks me if I have heard of Rambur Valley. He tells me he is the headman of the village of Rambur. I vaguely remember him, but to my good luck, he doesn't recognize me.
When he had last seen me two years ago I was speaking Farsi and English, not Pashtu. We had fought because I had defecated down by the river, which I hadn't known at the time was their Kafir 'holy place'. He had wanted me to wash in the river to rectify it but I wasn't going to bathe in that icy water. I had told him the hell with him and his foolish Kafir superstitions. I promptly left and walked the 10 miles back to Bumburet!
We drive past the Kafiristan turnoff, a steep dirt road leading up and west into the narrow valley of Kafiristan. The jeep stops short of Ayun and I walk the remaining distance. Habibullah isn't anywhere to be seen. I assume he has caught a jeep into Kafiristan and that everything will be prepared for our arrival.
I sit at a table set in the wide, dusty street with some chairs around it and a tattered canvas overhang to shield customers from the sun and drink mango sherbet with delightfully cold, dirty, shredded snow ice. Ayun is dead as it was on my last visit in 1987. It reminds me of a semi-deserted western ghost town. It is getting late in the day, almost 3:00 P.M., and there aren't even any jeeps waiting around to go to Kafiristan. Not feeling too patient, I decide to start walking the distance. If a jeep comes there is only one road and I'll be on it.
I head back down the road I had come into town on and make a sharp right turn up the dry, rocky, mountain pathway that leads to the Kafir valleys, winding back and forth up the mountain until I am high above the silvery Kalash River twisting through the valley below me on its way to join the Chitral River. At my feet is a steep incline of jumbled rocks tumbling chaotically down to green and golden fields of wheat nurtured on the life-giving crystal waters of the river, ripening in the warm summer winds. Good news, I think. Wheat is ripe and ready for the thresher. There will be boose available for the horses if we need it, though still I am dreaming of fields of tall green grass in Kafiristan.
At its highest section, the road precariously carves into the mountain side, leads through stone cliffs, rock completely overhanging the way. Virtually two miles of rock tunnel. I had been in this rocky tunnel two years before. Then I rode standing on the back bumper of a cargo jeep with two Pathan traders. We had to duck our heads in order to keep them from being chopped off by the sharp rocks overhead. The northern side of the road drops vertically straight off hundreds of feet down to the rushing Kalash River. High up on the opposite mountainside is what appears to be an even more precariously narrow road. In reality it is an aqueduct bringing water down to Ayun from higher up where the Kalash River comes out of Afghanistan.
The way is long and I speed up my pace. I want to arrive before the horses to make sure Habibullah has gotten it together. I don't mind walking, in fact, I rather like it as long as I'm not carrying anything. Presently I'm only carrying my pistol and its weight bumps against my hip but it's a feeling I've gotten used to. A nice reassuring feeling.
All the way into Kafiristan only two jeeps pass. One is full of tourists and they don't stop to pick me up. I must look too Pakistani. The other is completely piled with Pakistanis. They really know how to load a jeep in these parts. Two fellows are perched on the hood and a double layer of passengers hang off the rear bumper. I shout to them as they grind dust and gears past me, asking if there is any room, but obviously there isn't and they don't bother breaking their momentum for me.
It takes me three and a half hours to cover the distance between Ayun and Bumburet. I walk past the Pakistani government check post at Dobash. I imagine I seem too local for them to bother with me. Even Pakistanis from other parts of Pakistan need to get a permit from the D.C. in Chitral to come here. The same happened the last time I passed this way, though at that time I was covered under the guise of a turban. Afghan Mujahideen don't need any permit. I guess with my white Peshawari cap and pistol I look too Pathan to bother with. And everybody knows a Pathan's pistol is his permit. What is the point of my entry permit?
I chuckle to myself thinking of a story told me by Anwar Khan in Peshawar about a policeman who asked a notorious badmash to show him his pistol permit. The badmash drew his pistol and shot the policeman in the leg. "Do you want to see another page now?" he asked the stunned policeman.
The first hotel to appear as I walk into Bumburet is the Benazir Hotel where I had stayed my last time in the valley. Thirsty, I don't even mind paying eight rupees for a Shazan (four rupees at most in Peshawar). I know it is difficult to bring anything up here as it all has to come by jeep from Chitral. It's hard enough getting anything up to Chitral. The Shazan is ice cold, having been submerged in a metal basket with other soft drink bottles in the cold stream across the road from the hotel. Dusk is falling as I trudge on up the road. I pass a few more small hotels. At one there is a familiar face sitting at a table under the veranda directly off the road.
I sit down with a Pathan in his early 30s from Tangi whom we had met on top of the Lowari Pass who had lived many years in England. He is just finishing filling a cigarette. A pot of chai arrives as I ask him if he has any news of Habibullah. As we are drinking the tea the chowkidar from the government rest house comes down the road looking for me.
In Chitral Mirza had obtained permission from the D.C. to stay at the guest house in Bumburet, but there is a slight problem. The guest house is under repairs. There is no electricity (the upper end of Bumburet Valley has electricity supplied by a small water-powered generator built by some Swiss people), no running water, no bathroom... nothing! He says Habibullah left all of our gear there but has gone down to the Kalash Hotel to see about making some other kind of arrangements.
As we talk we hear the sound of the horses' bells like an audio mirage growing in the gloaming. A Kalashi boy comes running up the road heralding the approach of our little caravan. I see Mirza and Ayesha. The sun has just set. The air is calm, quiet, fresh. Nothing else is.
As they come up the road and into sight, sweat stained and worn out, the chowkidar is just finishing telling me the news of the guest house and of Habibullah. Just then Habibullah comes down the road. There is only one road running through Bumburet and the Kalash Hotel is further up the road, the guest house further still. After the guest house the rough dirt road becomes two trails, one leading south and up the mountain to the valley of Birir and the other following the Kalash River into Afghanistan.
We meet in confusion, all at once. Horse looks bad. Almost dead. He is covered in sweat, especially his head, neck and withers. His large eyes are closed and tears are staining his cheeks. Do horses cry? His legs are wobbling. He's barely able to walk. I can see that Mirza and Ayesha are exhausted from the long day's journey plus the mental and emotional strain of getting Horse this far. As we lead the horses up the road I explain to Mirza and Ayesha an English version of what the chowkidar has just completed telling me. At the same time Habibullah is telling me (in Pashtu, of course) what is happening with the Kalash Hotel.
He says there are two small rooms but he neglected to make any reservations because he was afraid to give them an advance on the rooms and find out we still wanted to camp out at the guest house. He still hasn't quite to come to terms with the fact that even though we are Americans, and therefore "infinitely rich" and seemingly spending so much money on a horse trip of no apparent value, we still count and watch our every rupee, which I'm sure to him seems to be miserly fastidiousness.
"I know that hotel," Mirza says. "I stayed there for a bit with my horse in 1983. There's a huge grassy field right in front of it. A good place to tie the horses."
"Noor Mohammada, selor Punjabian, samon sara, woose hotel la zee. Road banday ma ohleeda," Habibullah informs me.
"Habibullah says that four Punjabis are on the road with packs, going toward the hotel now," I tell the others.
Just then Horse collapses in the road. He won't get up. Mirza, who has been leading him hands me his lead rope. I pull and Mirza whips his behind with his crop. "Get up you bloody bugger! Get up!" he screams.
"Quit it you guys!" Ayesha yells, "Can't you see he can't go on any more."
Habibullah doesn't say anything. He obviously can't understand our actions and motives. He thought we should have taken the horses over the Lowari Pass in a truck. He just looked at me blankly when I explained to him that wasn't the point of the trip and besides, after Chitral there would be mountains and passes much worse than the Lowari. If they couldn't make it over the Lowari they'd never make it beyond Chitral.
"We've got to get him up," Mirza shouts, "or he'll die right here. He can't spend the night here in the road. The hotel is less then a mile away. We've got to get him there."
Finally Horse gets up and stumbles on.
"Noor Mohammada, zer makkhi lar shah. Haghwi Punjabian akhairi kambray ba akhlee, ou beir munga ba suh oku?" Habibullah tells me calmly in his low gravelly voice.
"Habibullah's right," I tell Mirza. "I'd better go ahead to the hotel quickly before those Punjabis get there and take the last two rooms. I'll take Herc."
I swing onto Hercules' massive back and head up the road. Behind me I can still hear the other horses' bells as our weary caravan struggles up the road in the rapidly darkening dusk. Hercules can sense the urgency of our flight and gallops up the road under me. We pass the four Punjabis and jump the small stream that crosses the path leading to the hotel.
The Kalash Hotel faces east, back down Bumburet Valley. The two-story, wooden building looks out over a large, semicircular grass field. The north side is bordered by the road, the south is ringed by a rock strewn ravine in which 30 feet below the Kalash River rushes noisily by. As I ride up to the hotel I can see some long haired tourists upstairs on the porch. I can smell the familiar sweet scent of charras in the air. Some Pakistanis and Kalashis standing around the front of the hotel watch in surprise as I gallop up. I dismount and quickly tie Hercules to one of the poles holding up the porch.
A short man approaches me followed by two others. He's wearing a Nuristani (pakul) cap over his greasy black hair that hangs down behind his ears grimy with dirt. His pocked complexion also has an unwashed pallor and he looks at me through close-set, small, piercing black eyes.
Abdul Khaliq is the proprietor of the Kalash Hotel. I explain our situation to him. By the time we hear the horse bells approaching the hotel hasty preparations have been made. Several fellows go off to cut and fetch fresh, green cornstalks for the horses' dinner. The sound of the bells waxes louder and our footsore little caravan appears in the approaching night.
"What's happening, Noor?" Mirza asks me wearily.
"Look, come, we'll unload the horses here in front of the hotel. Then we can stake them over there." I point with my hand in the darkness to the edge of the field bordering the river ravine. "I've already arranged for some men to bring down fresh green cornstalks from the fields."
As we talk I am still finalizing arrangements with the hotel's jeep driver to drive Habibullah up to the guest house to get the rest of our gear. We leave the other three horses tied to the porch supports and take Horse down to the field under a tree. He collapses and is breathing very hard, lying flat on the short turf. After a time he lifts his head and then rises to urinate. Mirza walks him around. His abdomen is completely swollen. He alternately lies, rolls and gets up on wobbly legs. When he rises Mirza walks him gently until he falls again. We cover him with our blankets.
Ayesha and I unload the other horses in the light of the bare light bulbs hanging on the porch. Habibullah I send off in the jeep to collect our gear. We need the moogays to stake the horses securely for the night, plus we want the animal tranquilizers for Horse.
At a quarter to midnight I'm squatting outside the cookhouse talking and smoking with the cook. He's an Afghan from up the valley in Nuristan. Ayesha and Habibullah are asleep in their respective rooms. Mirza is lying in the field next to Horse, propped up by his saddle and covered with a blanket. I hear him call out to me. I go down and join him next to Horse.
"Horse just had some really bad convulsions," he says.
"Do you think he'll make it?" I ask.
"I don't know Noor. God, I wish now that I knew more about horse medicine. This is all my fault for not knowing more. I brought Horse into this and I don't know enough to get him out."
"It's nobody's fault. These things happen. It is the way God wills it."
Horse gets up and we gently lead him as he walks himself. Then he starts to topple again. He's falling against Herc and Herc can't get away because he's at the end of the rope he is staked to.
"Pull him Noor!" Mirza says hurriedly, pushing him with his shoulder to try to keep him from crashing against Herc. Mirza pulls out the razor sharp knife he wears on a sheath around his neck and with one quick sweep slices through the thick rope, freeing Hercules. Horse hits the grass. He's lying on his side and kicking violently. The cook comes down and squats beside us.
"You should cut a hole in his stomach to let the air out," he tells me in Pashtu. I translate this grisly information to Mirza.
"I've never heard of that," he tells me. "I'm afraid it will kill him. I still think he can make it if he can just make it through the night."
Horse stops kicking and holds his head back stiffly. Low, raspy breaths come from deep down in his throat. It's his death rattle.
"Cut his throat now," the cook tells me. "Halal him, and then at least the Muslim people up the hill can eat him."
I tell Mirza what the cook has said but he can't hear. We both feel that some miracle will pull him through and he'll be recovering in the morning. But it is not to be. It's too late. He's dead.
"He's dead," Mirza said in English.
"He's dead," the cook and I echoed in Pashtu.
"I can't believe he's dead," Mirza said, dazed.
"You should have halaled him," the cook went on, "then the Muslim people could have eaten him. Well, no matter, it's not a waste. The Kafir people don't care about halal, the eaters of filth. They will eat him anyway."
That I didn't bother to translate.
We covered Horse with our plastic tarp and a rain poncho. A beautiful, silvery full moon was rising over the mountains heralded by a pearly glow rimming the hill tops. A few silver-lined clouds highlighted the star-studded sky. The moon and starlight reflected diamonds in the ripples of the stream as it splashed over white stones below us down the moss-covered rock-strewn river banks. Horse's body was laying on the greensward, half-a-ton of lifeless, stiffening meat. Life had fled him as the sun had fled the day's sky. The night was still, quiet and peaceful. It was seven minutes after midnight. Mirza and I watched the silent moon rising, neither speaking....
After a time we went upstairs and quietly entered Ayesha's room. She was asleep, exhausted on a charpoy, still in her travel-stained clothing. On the other charpoy our equipment was piled. On top our rifles and Ayesha's pistol and turban lay perched. At first she couldn't believe, or wouldn't comprehend, that Horse had died. Then she began to softly weep.
I left them alone in the room with their sadness shared and sat at the table on the porch alone in the night and filled a cigarette. As I smoked I looked down on the moonlight bathed field. Over by the tree near the edge of the ravine was the covered lump that had been Horse. Wrapped in my blanket, I gazed at the crystal bright moon in the sky, shivered and thought of sitting on a charpoy cozily with Nasreen on a warm night in Lahore (sweating).
Mirza and Ayesha emerged from the room and we went down to the field so she could see Horse. She petted his soft, cold nose. Only the wind in the leaves and the crickets spoke in the velvet mountain night. The three of us went back to the porch and sat silently at the table until 3:00 A.M., each in our own private thoughts. I went to my room, an eight by eight cubical with the floor covered with colorful quilts, to get a bit of sleep. No need to wake Habibullah I reasoned. He could wait until morning for the bad news.
At 5:30 I awoke and went outside. Horse was still laying there, an olive green covered mass on the emerald dewdrop sparkling grass
His body was completely bloated. Last night had really happened. I hadn't dreamt it.
The other horses were standing oblivious in the quiet morning air. Mirza and I had moved them in the night to the other side of the field. They didn't seem to notice their dead companion as they calmly munched corn stalks. As I stood quietly looking at the pile of cold stiffening meat that was our traveling companion the hotel owner, Abdul Khaliq, came and stood beside me.
"So sorry about your horse," he said shallowly.
"Yeah, so are we," I said, already taking a dislike to the shifty little man. "God knows better."
"What do you want to do?" he started in. "We can't leave him here. It's not good for the hotel. And the local people are superstitious about such things. Yes, we must do something about him right away."
Already some local children were gathering around looking.
"We can get some men and a jeep to haul him away and bury him in the mountains," Abdul Khaliq continued.
"What's going on Noor?" Mirza asked as he joined us sleepily by Horse's side, his blue turban wrapped haphazardly around his head.
"Well, Abdul Khaliq here says he can get a jeep and some men to haul Horse away and bury him in the mountains," I informed him. "We can't leave him here."
"Yeah, we must bury him," he agreed. Turning to Abdul Khaliq he asked, "How much will it cost?"
Abdul Khaliq thought for a moment. He squinted and scanned us with his crafty eyes. "The jeep will be 1000 rupees. And then we must give the men each something for their work."
"You can't get a jeep for less then that?" I asked. It seemed rather dear.
"I don't think so, my brothers. We can't bury him near here. He will have to be taken a long way up into the hills."
"God's blood, it does seem expensive," Mirza said. "But he was our mate. We brought him all the way here to die. We have to bury him."
By now Habibullah and Ayesha had joined our grim little circle and I explained what was happening to Habibullah in Pashtu while Mirza explained to Ayesha in English. Abdul Khaliq stood by and looked at Horse, grinning. Ayesha agreed that the expensive price no matter, Horse must be buried at all costs, what else was there to do? After the events of the previous day we were all in a state of slightly shocked stupor to say the least. Habibullah just stood there silently as I told him. He understood enough to know that, as it wasn't his money what he thought was of no real consequence anyway.
"Okay. I will go see about arranging the jeep," Abdul Khaliq said as he walked off still grinning.
"Hagha mor ghod Kafir, ohgura. War-rawan day po ohkhanday, dah da hagha mor kus ohghaim. Sta po makh banday ghool okama, banchoda!" Habibullah said under his breath.
"What was that, Habibullah?" Ayesha asked.
"Oh, he said," I took the liberty of answering for him, "Look at that no good Kafir. He's smiling as he walks away!"
"Are you sure that's all he said, Noor Mohammad?" she asked, having picked up quite a smattering of Pashtu herself. "I thought I heard some other words I recognized. I think I heard some of them when you were speaking with the truck drivers." she teased.
"Ayesha, my dear, do you doubt my linguistic abilities? Sister, I speak truth! Now let's go back to the hotel and have some breakfast."
We sat at the table on the porch outside our rooms and ate in silence a breakfast of chai, greasy parattas and greasier fried eggs. None of us could think any further into the trip than the present: what should be done with the lifeless carcass of Horse and what to do with the three remaining horses that morning? As we ate, Abdul Khaliq came up on the porch and stood by the table. "I can't arrange a jeep," he started in suspiciously.
"What do you mean?" Mirza jumped in. "We have to do something about our horse."
"Yes, for sure, brother. But my jeep is gone and there isn't another available just now." He hesitated briefly and with a badly hidden grin on his face he continued, "Look, my friends, here is the only solution for you. We need to do something quickly, yes? I can get some men who can cut him into pieces. Then they can carry the pieces up to the mountains in baskets and bury him. It's the only way I can arrange."
Ayesha naturally freaked at the idea of cutting up Horse. Mirza and I looked at each other in bewilderment. Habibullah sat and went on drinking his tea as we were talking in English and he hadn't understood a word of what was going on.
"Look, Abdul Khaliq," Mirza said, "let us discuss this among ourselves. Then we will tell you."
"Okay, talk friends, but decide. We must do something quickly," he said, leaving us alone on the porch.
As we were all in an emotional and physical state of shock we decided there wasn't really anything else we could do. We were stuck in Kafiristan and our horse lay dead on Abdul Khaliq's lawn. The greedy Kafir, Abdul Khaliq, played on the emotional attachment he knew Westerners have for animals. Had we been Pathan we would have just said, "So what, he's dead in your field, Kafir. It's your problem now."
We decided Habibullah and Ayesha would take the horses across the road and up the hill to a rock wall corral to bathe them. Lord knows they needed it; they hadn't had a good washing since down country—and we didn't want them to witness what was going to happen to their dead companion, Horse, though in afterthought I think it was more to satisfy us than any of the horses' needs. For sure we didn't want Ayesha there to witness the macabre scene that would be unfolding in Abdul Khaliq's field.
Five men arrived with baskets, axes and large butcher knives. They wanted to chop him up down by the river where there was water available, plus out of sight of the inhabitants of the hotel. Too heavy for them alone, Mirza, Habibullah, Abdul Khaliq and I helped drag his stiff, lifeless form to the edge of the ravine. We rolled him over the edge and his big, bloated body rolled and crashed down on the rocks of the river bank below. We heard the sickening crunch of the bones in his legs snapping. Just a heavy, cold piece of spoiling meat now, though just yesterday he had been Horse. Well, that's life... and death. One day we all become just dead meat, don't we?
They took out their knives to skin him. They were only visible if you stood on the side of the ravine and looked down but the thudding blows of their axes could be heard in the hotel, the cold thuds of butchers chopping through meat, gristle and bone. Mirza and I walked down the road to look for grass to buy to feed the remaining horses. Or maybe a field of green grass to rent? Before we left I walked over to the edge of the ravine to see the butchers' progress. Just as I arrived at the edge they were chopping off Horse's head. Big, beautiful Horse, his large, sweet eyes. Now just meat. Rather grotesque but we are so far away from the world we had come from.
As we walked down the road a 'hippyish' looking moustached fellow with longish hair approached us. He was a Pakistani artist from Lahore. We introduced ourselves and had a bit of a chat. Even though Mohammad Bugi is a Muslim, from Lahore, he has been working wholeheartedly on preserving the Kalash arts and culture. He was in the process of putting on the first art workshop and show in the long history of Kalash. He had seen us riding in yesterday. He told us of the Frontier Hotel just down the road. It was run by a Muslim and there was room for us. We wanted to get away from the Kalash Hotel and its Kafir owner Abdul Khaliq. We wanted to forget what had happened there.
When we went back to the Kalash Hotel to fetch our little caravan Horse's white skin was laying stretched out on the ground next to the rivulet by the path leading to the hotel (not a good omen).
Now I'm sitting on the porch of the Frontier Hotel. The horses are with Habibullah grazing in a field of grass behind the hotel. The field isn't completely horizontal but it should keep the horses in green grass for at least a week. The hotel proprietor, Shukar Ali, helped us negotiate with a Kafir farmer, Ditullah Khan. It was confusing, the languages flying, but accomplished in the end. Ditullah Khan talking to Shukar Ali in Kalashi, Mirza talking to me in English and Shukar Ali and I bringing it together in Pashtu.
Ditullah Khan and his wife are Kafir. Kafir men wear the same clothes as Muslim men; usually shalwar kameez, waistcoat and woolen pakul caps, though their women dress differently than their Muslim sisters. They wear black, coarse cotton, ankle-length dresses with red, orange and yellow embroidery and caps with similarly-styled embroidery plus a mixture of red and bright phosphorescent colored plastic beads, cowrie shells and coins. They never go veiled. They also wear a profusion of red bead and cowrie shelled necklaces. Many make a paste of burnt goat horn (called Puru) and decorate their faces with black dots and patterns. It appears to be made from mud.
Ditullah Khan's daughter, about 17, also confuses me. She dresses in Muslim clothing but Shukar Ali tells me it isn't unusual in Kafiristan for individual family members to become Muslim, thus making Kafirs and Muslims in the same family. Also some girls choose to become Muslim in order to avoid the obnoxious attentions of Pakistani men tourists, who credit the Kafir women with a very loose reputation (though I find many Pakistani men think that about any woman who is not veiled or in the house).
As I sit here and write, Ditullah Khan's daughter is sitting on the hillside opposite the porch watching me. She smiles coyly every time I look her way. Is she just curious and friendly or is she making eyes at me? Are the Pakistani stories true or have I just become too Pakistani to be able to rightly judge anymore?
This exhibition has been co-organized by the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Drawing from more than 17,000 objects in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, Cerámica de los Ancestros is a celebration of Central America’s diverse and dynamic ancestral heritage. For thousands of years, Central America has been home to vibrant civilizations, each with unique, sophisticated ways of life, value systems, and arts. The ceramics these peoples left behind, combined with recent archaeological discoveries, help tell the stories of these dynamic cultures and their achievements.
The early histories of Central American cultures follow similar paths. By 1500 BC, people had settled in large villages, where they cultivated, hunted, and gathered wild foods. Maize agriculture supported growing populations, and distinct forms of status, leadership, belief systems, and arts emerged regionally. Social and trade networks connected Central American communities to peoples in South America, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean, sharing knowledge, technology, artworks, and systems of status and political organization.
Europeans’ arrival brought further changes. Native peoples have often struggled to maintain distinct identities and lifeways, or have merged with dominant cultures. Despite these changes, the legacy of Central America’s civilizations continues to resonate in their descendants’ lives and those of other Central Americans.
Cerámica de los Ancestros looks at seven regions representing distinct Central American cultural areas. These regions are today part of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Accompanied by an interactive website, a landmark publication, and a full schedule of educational and public programs, Cerámica de los Ancestros represents a pioneering effort by the Smithsonian to promote a better understanding of the creative pre-Contact cultures of Central America while engaging a new Latino audience.