( From Chitral news.com)
Tarra and Kalash Culture -letter
Kalash culture surviving in the three valleys of Chitral district, is thousands of years old. The religion of the Kefirs (Black Pagans) does not prohibit consumption of alcohol. A wine fermented from grapes has been made and used since time immemorial. It is consumed on festivals and special occasions and is relatively low on alcohol content (i.e. low proof) and chances of alcoholic intoxication with wine are rare. However, since last decade or so a new form of alcoholic drink known as ‘Tarra’ has been introduced in the village Krakaal, Bumboret Valley of Kalash. It was previously unknown to the Kalash society. It is a strong alcoholic drink that has caused many tourist deaths in recent years due to intoxication.A bottle of tarra costs approximately Rs 500 and is a source of business for about a dozen households in the village where it is produced illegally. It is made from various fruits such as apricots, mulberries etc in earthen utensils and the crude process involves heating a mixture for a long time and the concentrate gathered from it is passed through cooling pipes and finally collected in a bottle.
A local brewery in Bumboret The result
is an extremely strong (i.e. high proof) colourless alcoholic beverage.
Tourists from Punjab and other areas are drawn to this village in Bumboret to specifically engage in this vice. Aside from the known physical and mental health hazards of alcohol many deaths have also occurred due to consumption of tarra which can be lethal in over-dose. The visitors are welcomed inside the houses where tarra is produced and are offered drinks privately. Invariably, most of the tourists end up getting drunk and engage in inappropriate manner. They misbehave with the Kalash women and try to get physical with them. At times, these tourists will gather in a house and pay money to hold a private drunken party with music and dancing which goes on till late hours after midnight disturbing the peace of the entire neighbourhood. This is all in stark contrast with the Kalash tradition.
In view of the ever-increasing problems caused to the community due to the illegal practice of Tara consumption, an influential person belonging to the Kalash tribe gathered a large assembly of Muslim and Kalash elders of the area on 16 May 2007 and discussed the matter at great length.
A resolution was adopted at the end of the meeting which reads out: “…We the people of Bumboret strongly condemn the use and sale of alcohol in our region and deem it necessary to eliminate this bad practice as it is being carried out publicly. In the absence of any authority exercised by the administration and the club, immoral visitors from outside are consuming alcohol in Kalash households and then act inappropriately in a drunken state… and the dwellers of the area are not safe from their debauched behavior. Especially those Kalash people who work at the fields or are away, their households and women are not safe from such people. This practice is bringing the Kalash culture into disrepute. Therefore, we the people of Bumboret demand an end to this vice (Tara) and resolve to carry on our lives with dignity and respect. — Signed (dozen elders of the area comprising both Muslims and Kalash)”
It is relevant to mention here that a similar meeting was held last year by locals to curb the practice of tarra production, sale and consumption in the valley and the help of the administration was sought at that time. The SSP Chitral had appointed local police officials to look into the matter, but according to a prominent Kalash gentleman who requested anonymity; the officials posted here encouraged the practice and instead started engaging in tara use themselves. Moreover, he revealed that of late several low ranking government officials including policemen and scouts are now regular visitors to this village for drinking purposes and therefore the enforcement of law has become impossible in the present state of affairs.
HKCA/ KEPS* an NGO working in the Kalash area since many years, arranged my visit to the place in question the other day and I personally witnessed a man staggering on the main road in Bumboret in a drunken state in broad day-light. When an attempt was made to talk to him he responded in an incomprehensible manner. On enquiring from the Kalash people I was told that he was the government appointed forest guard and that he stayed drunk most of the time and spent all his time in Bumboret though his actual job was to be up on the mountains and prevent timber cutting and smuggling. When I asked the locals if they had lodged any complaint, they replied, “What difference will it make. The officials whose job is to stop the evil have themselves become its abettors”
On this visit I had been tipped off that a certain house produced tarra. I therefore entered it on the pretence of being a tourist where I witnessed tarra production first-hand and photographed the apparatus used. (See enclosed photo)
It is now the responsibility of the Government to ensure that tarra production, sale and consumption is banned from the Krakaal village and long-term effective measures are taken for the enforcement of law as desired by the Kalash and Muslims of the area themselves.
Furthermore, if the government administration fails to perform its due responsibility and ban tarra there is a grave risk that the conservative Muslims of the surrounding area who have been issuing threats from time to time may be forced to take law into their own hands and burn down the Kalash village, which would be an extremely untoward and devastating consequence of government’s failure to nip the evil in the bud.
Dr Ali Jan
Frontier Heritage Trust,