by Ismail Sloan

Khowar is spoken in Chitral, which is in the far North West corner of Pakistan. Khowar is classed as an Indo-European language of the Dardic Group. However, "Dardic" is simply a geographical collection of Indo-European languages spoken in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya Mountains. Among them, only Kalashamun, the language of the Kalash tribe, is closely related to Khowar.

I published a Khowar English Dictionary in 1981. My Khowar English Dictionary was purchased by about 300 university libraries, so it can be found it in many places.

I became semi-fluent in Khowar as a result of being married to a woman, whose name is Honzagool, who spoke only that language. We have a daughter, Shamema. I could already speak the language when I married Honzagool. She later became the linguistic informant for my dictionary.

I took Honzagool to the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Dallas in 1981, and we met a family of missionaries named Munnings there. Due to my influence, David Munnings and his wife and children later went to Chitral and lived for a year or two there. They published a paper about this, which I have never seen, but nothing more that I know of.

In the 1920s and 1930s a Norwegian linguist named George Morgenstierne went there. He reported that Chitral, which has ten other languages spoken in addition to Khowar, is the area of the greatest linguistic diversity in the world. However, those other ten languages are also spoken in other pockets in areas of the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. Khowar is the indigenous language of Chitral.

Here are the reasons why one might become interested in Khowar: It is spoken as the primary language by 250,000 people in Chitral. There are also pockets of speakers in Gilgit. It is clear that the current Chitralis have lived in their mountain home for 3,000 to 4,000 years. Alexander the Great encountered them when he visited the area. The proof of this is that in the histories of Alexander the Great it is written that he encountered strange wooden boxes, which his troops chopped up to be used as firewood. These "boxes" were actually coffins for their dead following the custom which the Kalash Kafirs of Chitral still have of leaving their dead outside in wooden coffins. There is a well-known book, "Alexander of Macedon" by Peter Green (1991), which devotes a page to this.

Alexander the Great also described them as a light skinned race of European type people, which is exactly what they are. This further proves that the same people were there then as are there now. This report of light skinned European people living high in the Hindu Kush mountains was disbelieved by historians until the Chitralis were rediscovered relatively recently.

Also, the Kalash Kafir religion which is still practiced today by about 3,000 people in Chitral has a resemblance to the ancient Greek religion of gods and goddesses. This has led some to speculate that the Kalash got their religion from the invading Greeks. This is unlikely. The Greeks merely passed through in 327 B.C., probably within 50 miles of Chitral, but did not enter Chitral itself and did not stop or stay for long. What is likely is that the Kalash religion and the Greek religion have a common origin. Both came from some proto-Indo European religion which was carried along with the Indo European language when the Chitralis first got there some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.

Thus, it appears that the Chitralis are still speaking today one of the oldest Indo European languages in relatively undiluted form. This is not surprising in view of the remoteness of their area. They are so far up in the Hindu Kush mountains that it would be almost impossible for an invader to conquer them. By far the lowest pass into Chitral is Lowari Top, which is over 10,000 feet high, too high for an invading army easily to cross. The path up the Kunar river from Jalalabad becomes so narrow below Ashret that no invading army that I know of has ever tried it. There have been several attempts to invade Chitral within relatively modern historical times. One group came across Boroghol Pass, were defeated and went back. Another group came across Urtsun Pass (near where my wife Honzagool lives). The British in 1895 simultaneously came across Shandur Pass and Lowari Top in a mission to rescue a group British hostages which had been taken. They conquered the area, which is the reason why Chitral is now part of Pakistan.

The British expedition in 1895 across Shandur Top and into Chitral consisted primarily of a regiment of Gurkhas from Nepal. The Gurkhas were armed with six cannons, a weapon which the Chitralis had never seen before. The Gurkhas easily defeated the Chitralis, and thereby established their reputation as incredibly fierce fighters. Meanwhile, the other half of the pincer attack defeated the Pathans at Malakand Pass and crossed Lowari Top into Chitral, with deaths from altitude sickness and cases of snow blindness. Many British army officers first became famous thorough this military expedition into Chitral. One was elected to the British Parliament on the strength of this. Although Sir Winston Churchill was not himself part of the Chitral campaign, he wrote a book about it in 1898 entitled "The Malakand Brigade", which first made Churchill famous as an author and military strategist.

During the recent War in Afghanistan, these high mountain passes into Chitral, which are mostly in the 12,000 to 14,000 foot range, were extensively used by the Afghan freedom fighters and refugees, because the Soviet Army could never occupy or close them. Richard Strand, a linguist with the University of Chicago, did extensive work with the Nuristanis across the border in Afghanistan. Strand is completely fluent in the Nuristani language. (They say that he speaks Nuristani better than the Nuristanis.) However, Strand never published his work, although he often said that he was going to do so some day. I have not heard from Strand in years. Nuristani is also classified as a Dardic language.

For a photo of Honzagool, a native speaker of Khowar, see: Honzagool .

You can very clearly see in Honzagool where the legend that these people come from Alexander the Great derives from.

Ismail Sloan

For more about Chitral and Khowar, see: Honzagool's Family in Chitral , Khowar English Dictionary and Word List, and More about Khowar.
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