The Kohistani of Pakistan
A cluster of 5 related groups in Pakistan.
The British gained control of this territory around 1895, but left in 1947 when Pakistan became an independent nation. Yet, the Pushtun have dominated the Kohistani for years, either buying their land or forcing them out with violence.
Today, there are several different ethnic groups living in the Kohistan region that are subgroups of the Kohistani people. They include the Turvali, the Bateri, the Galo, the Rajkoti, and the Kohistani themselves. The tribes speak several distinct Dardic dialects, but their main language of communication is Pashto, the language of the dominant Pushtun ethnic group. The Kohistani have been described as a powerful, well-built, brave, but quiet people.
What Are Their Lives Like?
In the areas that are irrigated by the kuhls, the Kohistani raise barley, wheat, maize, millet, and rice, supplemented by potatoes and a variety of other vegetables. Since they can only grow one annual crop, the people rely on the "transhumant" herding of their dairy goats and cattle. This means that they transfer their livestock from one grazing ground to another with the changing of seasons. During the summer months, they leave their permanent villages and drive the cattle, goats, and sheep to alpine pastures.
The surrounding mountain ranges and the Afghanistan border tend to isolate the Kohistani. Most of their settlements exist as small independent communities, located at altitudes between 1,000 and 4,500 meters. Families usually have houses in four or five different locations at the higher altitudes. Only in the winter do they live together in their compact villages, which lie along the rivers.
Kohistani villages are made up of several lineages. In addition to farmers, a village population normally includes blacksmiths and carpenters who are bilingual in Pashto. There are also a number of tenant farmers and hired farm laborers.
The Kohistani generally practice endogamy, meaning that they only marry within their own groups. Their societies are also patrilineal, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males. The women are not secluded, as is customary among many other Muslim groups, because they are needed to help with the farm work.
The opening of the Karakoram Highway, which follows the Indus River Valley, has had the greatest economic impact on the Kohistani society. Although the extensive road-building project is providing them with greater access to the mainstream of Pakistani society, it is also encouraging the influx of Pushtun from farther south. There is a growing resentment among the Kohistani toward the Pushtun, who dominate bureaucracy in the district government. However, the government of Pakistan has created the Kohistan district in order to give the Indus Kohistani their own administrative area.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Traces of traditional, pre-Islamic beliefs still linger in a few areas. Some of the tribes practice shamanism. They believe that there is an unseen world of gods, demons, fairies, and ancestral spirits. They depend on shamans (priests or priestesses) to cure the sick by magic, communicate with the gods, and control events.
What Are Their Needs?
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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