The kalaṣa of kalaṣüm

Kalaṣüm, land of the Kalaṣa

Native Name: kalaṣa. The kalaṣa comprise at least three ontologically distinct peoples: the väi, vai or (also called varǰan 'Upper People'), the čima-nišei, and the vântä. In addition, the name "Kalaṣa" is used for other peoples of the region who do not speak Kalaṣa-alâ, including speakers of the Nuristâni languages Âṣkuňu and Tregâmi and speakers of the Indo-Aryan language kal'aṣa-m'un in Chitral.

Other Names: "Waigali" (from wâigal, the Pashto-Persian name of the valley), "Wai" (from the name of the largest ethnic group).

Location: the väigal (Wâigal) Valley (a tributary of the lower Pech), over the upper watershed to the east into the veligal (Helgal) and ćüki Valleys (tributary to the Kunar), and over the watershed to the west into the upper Pech and lower Pârun Valleys. The upper basin of the šigal Valley is traditional väi territory, but is mostly occupied by Afghâns and Gujars. In addition, the village of zamiâ in the čapadara Valley (a southern tributary of the middle Pech) contains kalaṣa emigrants from the Wâigal Valley. The kalaṣa of the Wâigal Valley call their land kalaṣüm.

Population: perhaps 10,000 – 30,000.


Multi-Ethnic Language Name: kalaṣa-alâ. Village dialects include väi-alâ, ameš-alâ, ẓönči-alâ, nišei-alâ, čimi-alâ (covering the speech of müldeš, kegal, and akuṇ). A non-native name is "Waigali", from the Pashto-Persian name of the valley.

Linguistic Position of Kalaṣa-alâ: Kalaṣa-alâ forms with Âṣkuňu and Tregâmi the Southern Group of Nuristâni languages (see the Table of Languages). A major dialect division exists between the väi and the čima-nišei. Minor variations within these dialects occur from village to village. The dialect of the vântä is probably that of nišei-alâ. Morgenstierne's earlier field data (1954) have been mostly superseded by those of Buddruss, as analyzed by Degener (1998; see also Strand's [1999a] review of Degener). Strand's field data on the nišei-alâ dialect appear in the Comparative Lexicon on this site.

History: According to their traditions, the Väi fled the Ghaznavid invasion of Kâma, following the Kunar up to mâdeš and samâlâm in the Shigal Valley and thence over the watershed to their main community of väigal. Accounts of the Gawâr people state that the Väi expropriated the current site of Väigal from the Gawâr, who fled to the Kunar Valley. As the Väi expanded, they established the communities listed above.

At a probable later time, Âṣkuňu-speaking immigrants from the community of Nakara in the Titin Valley in Laghmân migrated eastward, settled the community of gřâmsaňâ gřâm in the middle Pech Valley, and thence moved further on into the lower Wâigal basin. There they established the community of nišeigrâm and gradually settled the district of čimi, which includes the communities of müldeš, kegal, and akuṇ. The čima-nišei, as these people call themselves, drove out the native preǰvře˜ inhabitants to the neighboring valley of Tregâm. They apparently adopted the language, väi-alâ, of the upper valley inhabitants (varǰan); so that today both the Čima-Nišei and the Väi speak Kalaṣa-alâ, although with a distinct division of dialects.

The inhabitants of the hamlet of vânt were originally refugees from later Muslim invaders in Tregâm; they speak Kalaṣa-alâ but are not reckonned as either Väi or Čima-Nišei.

Because the appellation "Kalaṣa" applies to peoples of diverse origin over a wide area, we may infer that the name originally designated some multi-ethnic regional political movement. It may have been that "Kalaṣa-ism" originally represented a cult of the Hindu god Indra, centering on sâma with its famous orchard reputedly planted by Indra himself, in contrast to a northern cult of the god Yama Raja (Kâmviri imr'o) with its center at üš'üt in Vâsi Gul (Pârun). Both these cults may have been millenarian responses of refugee Hindu communities to the impact of Islâm brought by encroaching Afghâns. "Kalaṣa-ism" may then have been carried from its Pech Valley homeland into the southern Wâigal basin by the Čima-Nišei, and thence to the Väi.

The Väi expanded eastward to Veligal and apparently into the Lanḍai Sin Valley as far as the present site of Pitigal, judging by the distinctively Kalaṣa-alâ sounding place names in that region that begin with the prefix a- ‘at' or end with deš ‘community'. Such expansion put them in direct contact with the ancestors of the present-day Indo-Aryan speaking Kalaṣa of southern Chitral, who were exploiting upland portions of the Lanḍai Sin basin for summer pastureland. One group of Kalaṣa from Väigal apparently invaded lower Chitral in the fifteenth century A.D. and set up a ruling dynasty that gained hegemony over the indigenous population, imparting to them the name kalaṣa, which in the local Indo-Aryan language came to be pronounced with accent on the second rather than the last syllable. The names kâsv'o and kâsi'o, used respectively by the Kâta and Kom for the Kalaṣa of Chitral, may reflect an earlier name (*kâs'ivo) of those people before they became "Kalaṣa."

During one period the Väi made yearly raids across the Kunar on the people of the present site of Râmrâm in southernmost Chitral. According to one tradition that I heard in Väigal,

"The god de lived in erâmgal [cf. Kâmviri âromgal ‘Râmrâm']. Every year men from Väigal would go there and come back with a golden bird on one of their quivers. One year they couldn't find the bird, so they settled there to await its return. They are still there, but now they speak Gawâr-bati."
The bygone intrusion of immigrant Väi communities into southernmost Chitral may explain in part the significant stratum of early Nuristâni loanwords (e.g., ćuna ‘dog', current Kalaṣa-alâ ću˜) in the Indo-Aryan language currently spoken in dåman (Khowar dam'eḷ) in southern Chitral.