The vâsi

vâsi gul, land of the vâsi

Native Name: vâs'i.

Other Names: "Prasun", from Kâmkata-vari přâsʹü˜; pâruni, from the Persian name of the valley.

Location: central Nuristân's high Pârun Valley, called vâsʹi gul in Vâsi vari.

Population: 3,000 – 6,000.

Settlements: six villages, mostly on the right bank of the Pârun River; from lower- to uppermost they are: uṣʹüt, zumʹu, üšʹüt, üćʹü (left bank), sʹeć, and ṣupʹu.

Agnatic Groups (tʹâdbâ):

Native Language Name: vâsʹi vari (ṣupʹu dialect), vâsʹi vare (uṣʹüt dialect) 'Vâsi language'.

Linguistic Position of Vâsi-vari: Vâsi-vari forms with Kâmkata-viri the Northern Group of Nuristani languages (see the Table of Languages). Having undergone radical phonological changes that were probably engendered by influences from the neighboring Eastern Iranian language Munji, Vâsi-vari is phonologically so aberrant that it is totally unitelligible to other Nuristânis. According to Prof. Georg Buddruss (Strand 1973: 299), Vâsi-vari has three dialects: that of the lowest village of uṣʹüt, that of the uppermost village of ṣupʹu, and that of the intervening villages. Buddruss's extensive field data on Vâsi-vari remain unpublished; until then we rely on Morgenstierne's (1949) account.

Subsistence: Irrigated cereal cultivation; peas; apricots. Summertime livestock grazing in mountain pasturelands; wintertime stall-feeding around villages.

History: The Vâsi were closely connected with the Kâta after they were expelled from the region of Kâmâ by Mahmud Ghaznavi a millenium ago. After wandering up the Pech Valley, they occupied the region around Ktivi. Leaving the Kâta in Ktivi, the Vâsi crossed the watershed into the Pârun Valley and spread out to occupy their present sites.

Until the imposition of Islâm by the Afghân ruler Abdur Rahmân Khân in 1896, the Vâsi were at the center of pre-Islamic religion in Nuristân. The temple of the creator god Imro (Vâsi vari mʹârâ, cf. Sanskrit yama râjâ) was situated in the village of üšʹüt. Elements of this religion were propagated among the Kom and Vâi by emigrants ("Uto's Boys") from Vâsi Gul, and the Kalaṣa of Chitral apparently imported their religion wholesale from Vâsi Gul around the 15th century A.D. (Parkes 1991).

For an account of the culture and history of the Vâsi by one of their eminent personalities, see Topics in Vâsi Ethnography