Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The lost “Greek” tribe of Alexander the Great

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Paul Raffaele writes in The Critic:

One hundred and twenty-seven years ago, a mysterious Afghan pagan tribe, the Kalash, fled Islamic religious persecution to three secretive valleys in a remote corner of what is now north-western Pakistan. In 1998, when I was visiting Lahore, a Pakistani friend told me that little was known about the Kalash, except that they still lived largely as their people had back in their homeland for more than 2,000 years.

The Kalash, rarely visited by outsiders, claimed descent from Alexander the Great’s troops who had campaigned through their Hindu Kush homeland. In their refuge, they were said to still practice a similar culture and religion to that of ancient Greece, even worshipping Zeus as their paramount god.

In 330BC, Alexander established many cities across what is now Afghanistan — with thousands of his soldiers left to inhabit them, keep order, with his generals to rule them. More than 10,000 of his troops married local women and stayed behind. He gave the cities Greek culture with artists, musicians, architects and artisans. They built outdoor theatres and gymnasiums, and erected countless marble statues of Greek gods.

Nudging the remote north-eastern edge of Afghanistan, the mountain town of Chitral, the provincial capital, was ruled by the ul-Mulk royal family until 1947, when it was swallowed by Pakistan. At breakfast the morning after I arrived in search of the Kalash, Prince Siraj, the grandson of Chitral’s last king, told me that near the turn of the nineteenth century, the entire Kalash tribe of about 50,000 spread across the high mountains of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush bordering Chitral.

Scorned by Afghan Muslims as kafirs, their homeland was a secluded, mysterious place called Kafiristan, or Land of the Unbelievers. That was where Rudyard Kipling set his epic story, “The Man Who Would Be King”, first published in 1888 in Kipling’s collection of short stories, The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales. It was later made into a fanciful but entertaining film. Two rogue British soldiers, played by Michael Caine and Sean Connery, travelled to Kafiristan, where the Connery character is mistaken for a god.

So little was known of the ethnic group in 1888 that the Bombay-born Kipling based his story on vague rumour and his fertile imagination. The movie plunged even further from the truth with John Huston, the director, depicting the Kafirs, or Kalash, as resembling shaven-headed, ancient Egyptian priests clad in white robes.

Towards the nineteenth century’s end, the Sultan of Kabul, Abdur Rahman, brutally put down 40 rebellions during his 21-year reign. Following the gruesome example of the invading Mongols five centuries earlier, he built towers formed from the heads of thousands of defeated rebels who dared challenge him.

In 1895, he turned his attention to the Kalash. He decided their presence in his domain, with their free-wheeling, timeless lifestyle — a religion with multiple carved gods, rampant wine drinking, especially at their bacchanalian religious festivals, and exuberant fornication, even sanctioned adultery — was an abomination, a flagrant public insult to Islam, and thus to himself.

“The Sultan ordered all the Kalash to convert to Islam immediately,” Prince Siraj told me, “if not, he would declare a jihad against the Kafirs, and his troops would slaughter, by beheading, all those who resisted — men, women and even their children.”

Invading Kafiristan, he renamed it Nuristan, Land of the Enlightened, and offered the Kalash a simple choice: convert to Islam immediately or die by the sword. Almost all converted. Those who resisted and were captured, were slaughtered.

Siraj alerted me to an account of the massacre in mountain climber Eric Newby’s classic book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. The prince had the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Books, History, Religion

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